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My 10 Non-American prospects for the 2019 WNBA Draft
NEWCASTLE (Paul Nilsen’s Women’s Basketball Worldwide) – Building on my previous column about non-American prospects for the pending WNBA draft, who are the main candidates as time ticks down to the big event in April?
I should probably re-phrase that actually and adjust it slightly. Who would be my 10 main non-American draftees. With due respect to some of the draft sites and maybe event the WNBA clubs themselves, I was surprised when I read about some of the players who would be targeted and where they may be picked.
Of course I am no WNBA and certainly no WNBA draft expert by any means and as many followers told me last time, there are wider factors than mere talent or potential to consider. The plus point is that I think most sites have got the main four prospects who are all from the FIBA Asia Region, which is interesting in itself.
The debate probably concerns European players, with arguably no absolute standout player (like Maria Vadeeva last year which was a debate that really took off and I enjoyed). Additionally, I am probably better placed to comment on who the prospects are from the 2022 Draft onwards, having done much work on rising stars of late.
Anyway, here are my 10 Non-American prospects for 2019 and I guess you can also read into my assessment of who is not on my list and yet on other draft sites.
Xu Han – China
For me, the best prospect. I appreciate there is the complication of how much she will be able to play due to commitments with the China national team, but this kid is potentially special. Her sheer height and size for one thing, plus she also moves across the floor amazingly well for her size and has now proved she can have an impact at the highest level after playing last year at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup. I met her in Tenerife and she was a delight off the court. Learning English and with a smile from ear to ear, her marketing potential alone must be astronomical. I have followed her closely, writing about her at Blue Star Media and breaking the news she harbored genuine WNBA ambitions back in 2016 in Zaragoza.
Alanna Smith – Australia
The more obvious candidate to be drafted higher than any other non-US player, most draft sites have Smith right up there in the First Round. I would not disagree with this having seen her international progress at various youth competitions (stretching back 4-5 years) and then at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2018 when she helped the Opals make the Final with some rock solid performances. Another dimension of course to the Stanford-centric viewpoint which understandably dominates Stateside. I also enjoyed one of the best articles I have read about any player recently involving the background of the Australian.
Ezi Magbegor – Australia
Following a very similar pattern to Smith for the Opals in terms of standing out at youth tournaments and making the transition to the senior team which culminated in that silver medal at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup last year, Magbegor also has one other major plus. She got a huge endorsement from Liz Cambage in Tenerife when I spoke to the WNBA star about her young colleague. I remember seeing Magbegor at the FIBA U19 Women's Basketball World Cup back in 2015 in Chekhov when incredibly, she was playing against players several years older. Magbegor was just 15-years-old! She always had the athleticism and size to punch above her weight. Now, it is all about whether she has the IQ and ability to refine her post moves and work on that shot to be top drawer. Mot importantly. she is a truly great kid and she still has a lot of untapped potential.
Yueri Li – China
Likely to be a thorn in the side of so many nations at FIBA events for the next 10-15 years playing alongside her compatriot and fellow potential draftee Han, there is no doubt that China have a twin towers combo for the ages. Li has that fearless factor, the kind of game that can seem 'crash, bang, wallop' at times, but dig a little deeper and you appreciate there is more depth than you might think. She can score and rebound freely, has been dominant at age groups and now also has a senior global tournament under her belt after also playing in Tenerife. She has been on the center of my radar since she was 16-years-old and then made an incredible splash at the FIBA Women's Asia Cup in 2017.
Kitija Laksa – Latvia
I don't have to talk too much in depth about Laksa, since everyone Stateside knows what she can do from her performances in the NCAA with the University of South Florida. I see Laksa as a precious metal in the women's game. That is what players with her shooting ability have become (I note that Kim Mestdagh of Belgium is interesting Washington Mystics by the way) and it is not just in College where she has proven herself. While currently dealing with the setback of serious injury, if she did recover for this summer, Laksa would be ready to play at her 4th FIBA Women's EuroBasket Final Round tournament. That is astonishing. Really it is. She has also played at the Worlds in Tenerife last year and knows what it takes to make it at the elite level. Whatever happens WNBA-wise, I would be scrambling to sign her as a GM of a EuroLeague Women club.
Zala Friskovec – Slovenia
One of my favorite players in the women's game right now, I could watch Friskovec play for hours and hours and hours. Skilled, smart, cool as ice and with an IQ off the chart, there is very little not to love. I predict she has a massive future and I can't believe how little consideration has been given to her. The guard will play her first FIBA Women's EuroBasket Final Round this summer, having stepped into the senior set up seamlessly - playing in all 6 Qualifiers and basically squeezing every last drop of efficiency out of those games to further demonstrate her qualities. There are some exciting players coming through the Balkan pipeline and to see more get drafted and hopefully play in the WNBA would be great. I love her game.
Maite Cazorla - Spain
I can completely see why Cazorla would be drafted. She is a safe choice and credit to her because she has every chance of continuing the recent line of Spanish guards either playing in the WNBA or getting drafted - think Anna Cruz, Marta Xargay, Leticia Romero for example. What she has done with Oregon has been impressive and when I saw her playing at youth level for Spain, that leadership, determination and drive (in addition to her skills) pointed towards a big future. My only reservation at this stage would be that she has not yet got a track record at senior level with Spain and is also yet to play pro. But, the smart money would be on her cracking both.
Livia Gereben - Hungary
My last three choices are those that would admittedly come out of leftfield from the perspective of those Stateside, but will be of little surprise to followers of the European Game. First up is Gereben, a player who has been exceptional at youth level for Hungary and could make her FIBA Women's EuroBasket Final Round debut this year. She has played in EuroLeague and EuroCup Women with KSZ Szekszard and I have not quite seen a player who can score so readily around the basket for her limited size. She just knows where that bucket is and has such a wonderful finish. Something exciting is happening to women's basketball in Hungary and she could be one of those at the heart of it moving forward.
Klara Lundquist – Sweden
Lundquist is the real deal. I recently did an in-depth piece with her for what looks like being her FIBA Women's EuroBasket Final Round debut later this year. The Swedish guard is an offensive machine and what you have to love about her is that unlike a lot of the players who have done it against kids in College, she has already shown she can be prolific against seasoned pros. She racked up an amazing 20 points per game in her rookie season recently and at senior level with Sweden, has played impressively alongside the likes of WNBA players like Amanda Zahui. This kid has got game.
Melisa Brcaninovic – Bosnia and Herzegovina
Last but not least of my three leftfield choices, Brcaninovic is a player who has amazed me every time she has played. There have been issues and it hasn't all been plain sailing mind you. She has been overworked and overplayed at youth level for Bosnia and Herzegovina - but I can understand that temptation with her being an amazing talent. There has also been a few different moves at club level, although I did chuckle recently when I saw she was loaned out to a club in the Italian Second Tier and just racked up massive scores. To look at, you see a lack of athleticism and wonder how she can be one of the best of her generation in Europe. But the you see her play you see her score from all over the floor and you realize that she is a special talent. In that kind of Jelena Milovanovic-ish forward mould. I would have her in my team in a heartbeat.
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