Atlanta Dream selected Kentucky guard Rhyne Howard with overall No. 1 in the 2022 WNBA draft Monday night in New York.
The Washington Mystics won the draft lottery in December, but swapped the top spot for Atlanta last week when the Dream moved up from No. 3 to ensure they got Howard.
6-foot-2 Howard, the SEC’s player of the year as a sophomore and junior, averaged 20.5 points and 7.4 rebounds during his senior season, leading the Wildcats in points, rebounds, 3-pointers, steals and blocks. The only other SEC player to have done so in the last 20 seasons was Mississippi State’s Tan White (2003-04 & 2004-05).
“I’m shaking right now,” Howard told ESPN’s Holly Rowe after being named No. 1. “It’s a dream come true.”
Baylor’s 6-foot-4 forward NaLyssa Smith, the 12 big player of the year the last two seasons, was number 2 of Indiana Fever, who had four first-round picks.
“I’m coming in hungry,” said Smith, who can play either the power forward or small forward position in the WNBA. She is known for scoring in the paint and believes her range will continue to grow.
The top three picks went as expected when the Washington Mystics selected Ole Miss 6-foot-5 center Shakira Austin as No. 3. Austin averaged 15.2 points and 9.0 rebounds for the Rebels in 2021-22 and may be a force in the internal offensive. and defense of Washington.
The fever was expected to go big in defense and posts with their picks in the early rounds, and the last one in the lottery suited both: Louisville striker Emily Engstler, who helped the Cardinals reach the women’s Final Four.
Engstler finished No. 4, but Fever’s choice of No. 6 came as a surprise: Stanford guard Lexie Hull, who many expected as a second round. But Hull, who helped Stanford win the NCAA title in 2021 and return to the Final Four last season, impressed Indiana General Manager Lin Dunn with her uninterrupted rush and ability to hit 3-pointers.
Election # 5 brought another “sister act” to the WNBA as Oregon center / forward Nyara Sabally heads to New York. Her older sister, Satou Sabally from Oregon, went to Dallas with the No. 2 election in 2020.
Wings, meanwhile, had the No. 7 pick this year and went with Northwestern guard Veronica Burton, who was this year’s Big Ten and WBCA defender. 5-foot-9 Burton is considered a top-tier perimeter defender for a Wings team that could use an upgrade there.
Another surprise came at No. 8 when Las Vegas took on Colorado striker Mya Hollingshed, who helped the Buffaloes clear the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013. Tennessee winger Rae Burrell, who helped Lady Vols to the NCAA Sweet 16, was Los Angeles’ No. 9 nomination.
Howard is the second player that Dream has selected No. 1 after Louisville’s Angel McCoughtry in 2009. McCoughtry led Dream to three appearances in the WNBA Finals.
Howard’s 284 career 3-pointers are part of what makes her a multidimensional threat, as she is also big enough to stand up to most defenders. Howard could seize the opportunity to become a signature player for a Dream franchise that went 8-24 last season and has missed the playoffs four of the past five years.
Howard, who was the first Kentucky player to become No. 1 in the draft, will be close to home as he grew up about 90 minutes from Atlanta.
“Being so close is huge. A lot of family and close friends can come and support me,” Howard said. “To go first, I have no words for it right now. Still shaking. Super excited and proud of myself and grateful to everyone who has been on this journey with me and helped me get here.”
Smith averaged 22.1 points and 11.5 rebounds in the most recent season for the Bears, who won the 12 major titles in the regular season for the 12th season in a row. She was part of Baylor’s 2019 national championship team as a rookie.
The Draftees were able to attend the event in person for the first time since 2019, as the draft had to be carried out externally in 2020 and 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The WNBA season tips May 6 with training camps opening later in the week.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.