WNBA Draft to Be Held as Scheduled Without Fans, Media, Draftees Amid COVID-19

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMarch 26, 2020

FILE - In this Sept. 29, 2019, file photo, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert speaks at a news conference before Game 1 of basketball's WNBA Finals between the Connecticut Sun and the Washington Mystics, in Washington. The WNBA draft will be a virtual event this year. The league announced Thursday, March 26, 2020, that its draft will still be held April 17 as originally scheduled, but without players, fans or media in attendance due to the coronavirus pandemic.  “The WNBA draft is a time to celebrate the exceptional athletes whose hard work and dreams are realized with their selections in the draft,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

The WNBA announced Thursday it intends to hold the 2020 WNBA draft as scheduled on April 17 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

However, the event will be held virtually, without any players, guests and media in attendance.

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert released a statement about the decision:

"The WNBA Draft is a time to celebrate the exceptional athletes whose hard work and dreams are realized with their selections in the draft. Safeguarding the health and well-being of our prospects, players, employees, and everyone connected to our game as well as the general public is paramount. With that in mind, we will work diligently with our broadcast partner, ESPN, to create a memorable but virtual event that appropriately honors these accomplished athletes."

Because of the tighter restrictions on when players can enter the league, the potential composition of a WNBA draft class generally doesn't fluctuate much from year to year.

The 2020 class could be an exception after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 NCAA basketball tournament.

CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein reported winter sport athletes are unlikely to receive an extra year of eligibility to compensate for the inability to compete in postseason tournaments. The Associated Press' Doug Feinberg noted the NCAA's official ruling should arrive before the April 7 deadline for players to declare for the WNBA draft.

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Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu is widely expected to be the New York Liberty's selection with the No. 1 overall pick. Ionescu is the all-time leader in triple-doubles and became the first Division I player with 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists.

The Ducks will likely have two players among the top five picks after Satou Sabally announced in February she was making the leap to the pros following the 2019-20 campaign.

Texas A&M star Chennedy Carter is the biggest wild card in the 2020 class. Carter will have one year of remaining eligibility regardless of the NCAA's decision, so she could potentially return to College Station and position herself as the No. 1 player in 2021.

Carter has averaged 22.5 points and 4.1 assists through her first three seasons, and she's arguably the fourth-best prospect available after Ionescu, Sabally and Baylor forward Lauren Cox. The Atlanta Dream, who have the No. 4 pick, could be out of luck if Carter delays her move to the WNBA.

Along with holding the draft itself, the WNBA announced it will honor Alyssa Altobelli, Gianna Bryant and Payton Chester, who died Jan. 26 in a helicopter crash, at the event. The other victims were Kobe Bryant; John and Keri Altobelli; Christina Mauser; Sarah Chester; and Ara Zobayan.

Altobelli, Bryant and Chester were teammates at Mamba Sports Academy.

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