Moments before Rhyne Howard went to Atlanta with the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said the league is working very hard to help bring Brittney Griner back to the United States
NEW YORK — Moments before Rhyne Howard went to Atlanta with the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said the league is working very hard to help bring Brittney Griner back to the United States.
Griner, one of the league’s biggest stars, has been detained in Russia since arriving at a Moscow airport in mid-February. Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges that allegedly contained oil derived from cannabis, which could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
“I want to take a moment to reiterate the WNBA’s support for Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner,” Engelbert said before the draft started. “Please know that getting her home safely continues to be our top priority and while we are facing an extraordinarily complex challenge, there is strength in community, especially the WNBA.”
Howard, who was the first Kentucky player to go No. 1 in the draft, will be close to home, having grown up about 90 minutes from Atlanta.
“For it to be so close is huge. A lot of family and close friends can come and support me,” Howard said. “To go first, I don’t have words for it right now. Still shaking. Super exciting and proud of myself and thankful for everyone that has been on this journey with me and helped me get here.”
The Dream traded up two spots last week to acquire the No. 1 pick from the Washington Mystics.
Atlanta finished 8-24 last season and has missed the playoffs four of the past five years. The franchise got new ownership last year and brought in a new coach in Tanisha Wright and new general manager Dan Padover. The Dream also had the No. 1 pick in 2009 and used it to draft Angel McCoughtry.
Indiana, which has four picks in the first round, drafted NaLyssa Smith from Baylor with the No. 2 pick.
“We have four top picks, so there is the opportunity for this team to grow tremendously,” Smith said.
The Mystics chose Shakira Austin from Ole Miss third.
The WNBA season tips off on May 6, with training camps opening later this week.
Here are other tidbits from the draft:
Engelbert announced before the draft that there would be a league-wide charity initiative spearheaded by the Mercury to honor Griner.
“We’re working very hard to get Brittney home. We will have a league-wide philanthropic initiative modeled after BG,” Engelbert said. “As we lead to tipoff less than a month away, BG’s heart and sole shoe drive, the Mercury will lead it. Remind us of BG’s spirit of giving, doing the work she would be doing if she were here.”
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