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International prospects for the 2020 WNBA Draft
NEWCASTLE (Paul Nilsen’s Women’s Basketball Worldwide) - There are only two or three certainties in life and you can add Sabrina Ionescu being crowned as the number one pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft to that list.
Has there ever been a bigger lock in sport?
Of course, with Coronavirus (COVID-19), all conventions have been torn up. So, needing to put aside the endless issues surrounding that mammoth challenge facing the April 17 draft (now a digital/virtual only) and the WNBA season itself, who are some of the non-American prospects that might be considered?
Satou Sabally - Germany
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The Oregon standout will surely join her Ducks teammate as a top three pick. Another sensation in the NCAA, fans don't need any introduction of course, while from an international angle, Sabally will fly the flag as the primary European pick. The versatile forward is one of several talented Germany players coming through their system and we all know about her younger sister Nyara who is also surely destined to be a leading prospect in the future – if she can get healthy.
Yuan Li - China
The arrival Stateside of Xu Han was a game-changer last year. The towering center, with her giant smile, showed the WNBA is a worldwide magnet and that for young girls living in China, it remains a dream. Potentially following in her footsteps is Li. Although my head tells me there is only a small chance for her, since point guard is the last position on court that (in general) WNBA clubs like to farm out to a non North American - unless they are pretty special for that playmaker role (that's why I am looking forward to seeing if Julie Allemand gets minutes for the Fever). Li is a big talent for sure. She starred for her country at youth level, with individual accolades coming her way. She has played as a teenager for the senior team at the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2018, the FIBA Women's Asia Cup 2019 and most recently the FIBA Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament. She is smart and efficient.
Jihyun Park - Korea
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Yet another talent from Asia, she has watched her fellow Korean ace Jisu Park blaze a trail and this should give her namesake some hope that she could maybe following that same path. Jihyun is a forward with super footwork, poise around the basket and she can really finish in so many different ways. I like her game a lot. She is perhaps not the usual athletic and powerful, but is so busy and effective, she just gets things done. The Woori Bank Wibee player stepped out at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup when she was only 18-years-old, also appearing at the FIBA Women's Asia Cup 2019. She looked excellent again when she led Korea in points, rebounds, and efficiency at the FIBA U19 Women's Basketball World Cup 2019 in Bangkok.
Luisa Geiselsoder - Germany
Germany have a few candidates from their special generation of talented players that saw them win the FIBA U18 Women's European Championship in 2018. I have watched Geiselsoder since she was 16 and Germany made history by reaching the U16 Final in Udine where they eventually lost to Spain. She is playing in the DBBL in her homeland with XCYDE Angels Noerdlingen where even as one of the youngest players in the league, she is absolutely killing it with almost 19 points per game and shooting a spectacular near 60 percent. A proficient rebounder too, I could see the forward developing and she was the one real standout player for Germany at the FIBA U19 Women's Basketball World Cup in Bangkok. The only question mark is whether she has the athleticism, which the WNBA seems to crave more than any other league and is almost 'too-European' - if that is even a thing.
Billie Massey - Belgium
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The success of Emma Meesseman and Kim Mestdagh in being crowned WNBA champions with the Washington Mystics has put a spotlight on Belgian basketball – as well as the aforementioned arrival of Allemand. So now you better also watch out for Massey. A former MVP of the Basketball Without Borders global camp, she is not your conventional 'big'. A walking double-double at youth level, she has recently made the transition to the senior Belgian team, having absolutely rolled over everyone in her path at in those junior ranks. She tore it up in EuroCup Women at club level with more eye-popping numbers too. In the All-Star Five at last year's FIBA U19 Women's Basketball World Cup in Thailand, she was a one-woman wrecking ball. Any question marks over athleticism disintegrates with her power, great shot blocking and good hands. She is an absolute beast on the boards, but crucially, she also has real leadership qualities and her IQ means she is often in the right place at the right time.
Mingling Chen - China
Very much an outside shout by some way, there is no doubting that Chen is another great option for the China senior team in these coming years and will be part of a superb 3-4 player rotation that could become the most feared in the world. She is a good finisher, works relentlessly at both ends of the floor, is super efficient, a real team player and probably very much a 'coach's player'. But, she will probably get punished because she is at the opposite end of the spectrum to 'flashy' and also in terms of her athleticism. She lacks anything unique (like Xu Han with her incredible height) so I can see her not making the draft. But, she could still look forward to becoming the silent assassin for China at international level behind the likes of young headliners Xu Han and Yueru Li.
Kitija Laksa - Latvia
Needing little introduction on both sides of the Atlantic, Laksa could finally be snapped up in this draft. Anybody who knows the value of production from the wings and and a consistent three-point shooter would do well to sit up and take note. Of course, she is much more than that, as demonstrated via her performances in the NCAA at the University of South Florida (before her ACL injury) and the many super outings with Latvia at all levels on the international stage. She has played for the senior team since she was a kid so has great experience of big tournaments - also appearing last season in EuroLeague Women too. Her potential drafting has been one of those complex cases, but if she does get picked up, someone could get themselves a probable medium term WNBA sleeper that might just be the difference-maker off the bench one day.
Leonie Fiebich - Germany
Arguably the most interesting of all the options I have outlined above, Fiebich intrigues me. She always has. When she was younger it was all about figuring out her position as an adult and professional player because she was utilized in so many different positions. Even now, she still offers that useful versatility of being able to play multiple positions. A European U18 champion a couple of years ago alongside Gieselsoder, as well as making that U16 Final in 2016, Fiebich has shown she has big talent. She is a do-it-all player and flexible forward that has so many different upsides, as well as a decent body for playing at a high level professionally. My only question is not really about whether she is good enough, but whether she can add more consistency into her shooting game and if so, then she could be a viable option.
Finally, as well as the Coronavirus (COVID19) restrictions, there are other dynamics to this year's draft and indeed those in the pipeline for the next few years. Namely, how the dynamic of international players might change (or not) in the wake of the enhanced conditions for players that has been well heralded. I will be watching with interest, not least because the 2019 champions had Europeans in the mix and of course the Finals MVP was not American either.
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