By DOUG FEINBERG
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — Charli Collier said she wrote down goals with her late father when he was hospitalized with cancer five years ago, and being selected No. 1 in the WNBA draft was one of them.
She checked off that goal on Thursday night when the Dallas Wings took her with the first pick.
“He’s here with me. He’s with me in the moment,” Collier said of her dad, who died in 2016. “My dad is so proud of me. Wish he could see this in real life. Nothing can take this moment away from me.”
The Wings also had the No. 2 pick and a rare opportunity to transform the franchise. They chose Awak Kuier, who became the the first Finnish player to be drafted in the WNBA.
It’s the first time in league history that a team had picks No. 1 and 2. The Wings acquired the top pick in a February trade after being awarded the second choice in the draft lottery.
“Needless to say, we are thrilled with the results of the draft for our organization,” Wings president and general manager Greg Bibb said. “We took another big step forward tonight with the progress of our team. Obviously with drafting Charli and Awak we got the two best players in the draft.”
The 6-foot-5 Collier helped the Longhorns reach the Elite Eight. The junior center finished the season averaging 19.0 points and 11.3 rebounds per game, while shooting 51.1 percent from the field. The 19-year-old Kuier played professionally in Italy, averaging 8.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks.
“An elite basketball player, so happy that she will be my teammate. Been following her, watching her game,” Collier said of Kuier. “Six-foot-5, long, versatile. Can’t wait to get to play with her and know her as a basketball player and a teammate.”
The Wings added Chelsea Dungee of Arkansas with the fifth pick.
Between the Dallas picks, Atlanta chose Arizona guard Aari McDonald, who had a stellar NCAA Tournament, and Kysre Gondrezick of West Virginia went fourth to Indiana.
New York chose Michaela Onyenwere of UCLA with the sixth pick. Los Angeles took Jasmine Walker of Alabama seventh, Chicago drafted Australian Shyla Heal eighth and Rennia Davis of Tennessee went to Minnesota ninth.
Stephanie Watts of North Carolina went 10th to Los Angeles. The defending champion Seattle Storm took Aaliyah Wilson of Texas A&M. Wilson didn’t stay in Seattle for long as she was traded to Indiana for Kennedy Burke. WNBA finalist Las Vegas drafted Iliana Rupert from France to close out the first round.
Dallas closed out its four picks in the first 13 by choosing Dana Evans of Louisville, who had been projected to be taken a lot sooner.
“It’s a blessing, excited to finally hear my name,” an emotional Evans said. “It’s motivation, didn’t expect to [fall] this far. I’m ready to take on whatever I got to do.”
For the second straight season, the draft was held virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced picks from an ESPN studio in New York and players were at home appearing virtually when they were drafted.
With potentially as few as 144 roster spots in the WNBA and so many players under contract or still on their rookie-scale deals, there are not many spots open for players to make teams. There’s a good chance that less than a dozen draftees will be on opening-day rosters this season.
“It’s really difficult to find a spot in this league and stick,” Los Angeles coach Derek Fisher said. “Coming off 2020, last year with the draft where players that got drafted didn’t get an opportunity to go to training camp and earn a spot … it will be difficult for every player who was drafted tonight to stay with the team.”
The Sparks drafted five players Thursday night.
Training camps open around April 25 and the season starts on May 14.