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How the Atlanta Dream are preparing for the 2020 WNBA virtual draft

Notre Dame's Jackie Young, right, poses for a photo with WNBA COO Christy Hedgpeth after being selected as the No. 1 pick in the draft by the Las Vegas Aces in the WNBA basketball draft, Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Notre Dame's Jackie Young, right, poses for a photo with WNBA COO Christy Hedgpeth after being selected as the No. 1 pick in the draft by the Las Vegas Aces in the WNBA basketball draft, Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Credit: Julie Jacobson

Credit: Julie Jacobson

The Dream made major changes to their roster following the 2019 season, including the departure of two-time Olympian Angel McCoughtry.

The team will look to make new additions Friday during the WNBA draft, which will be held virtually at 7 p.m. on ESPN. The Dream have four picks: No. 4, No. 17 (second round), No. 25 and No. 27 (third round).

“When you have a lottery pick, you feel like you can get a player that can impact you,” coach Nicki Collen said. “We need someone that can impact us. And we should be able to get a player at four who can impact us.”

The three-round draft is expected to last two hours.

For now, the team is still discussing potential picks and how they fit on the court and culturally. While she did make it to the SEC tournament, Collen's other March scouting trips to the Ivy League and NCAA tournaments were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Her preparations since have focused on watching video and making the usual calls to potential draftees and the people around them: coaches, assistant coaches, trainers.

“We’re still doing a lot of the same things,” she said. “And actually, with the world of Zoom, it allows you to kind of decide, ‘We’re going to do this on Zoom so that I’m looking you in the eye when you tell me a little bit about yourself or how you use something.’”

On draft night, instead of the usual stage, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert will announce the picks remotely. Instead of a “war room,” such as what the Dream used last year in their Marietta Street offices, the team will work within a “Zoom Room,” as they work to practice social distancing.

Dream President and General Manager Chris Sienko currently is in Connecticut, Collen is in Atlanta, assistant coaches Darius Taylor and Mike Petersen are in Athens and Dallas, respectively. The group is still working out logistics: how they’ll talk with each other, how they’ll talk with other teams, how they’ll talk with the league.

“Last year, we were in a situation where we knew with (the No. 11 pick), that if a certain player didn’t drop to us, or a certain number of players didn’t drop to us, that we were prepared to pull the trigger on a trade,” Collen said. “Well, you have to do that in about 90 seconds.”

Current roster and draft options 

The biggest need for the team going into the draft is a point guard who can create scoring opportunities for the newly acquired Courtney Williams and Shekinna Stricklen or for a team veteran such as Tiffany Hayes.

Currently in the guard spot, WNBA vet Renee Montgomery will be in the last year of her guaranteed contract this season, and 2019 second-round draft pick Maite Carzola is still on her rookie contract. Alexis Jones, Blake Dietrick and Elina Babkina were signed to training-camp contracts during free agency.

The top point guards in the draft are Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu, Texas A&M’s Chennedy Carter, South Carolina’s Tyasha Harris and UConn’s Crystal Dangerfield.

New York is expected to draft Ionescu with the top pick. But what player the Dream select depends on what Dallas and Indiana do with the No. 2 and No. 3 picks, respectively. Oregon’s Satou Sabally, Baylor’s Lauren Cox and Carter have rounded out the top four of most mock drafts. Carter has long been projected to go to the Dream.

Carter is a confident, natural scorer who can create shots for herself. Since she carried the scoring load at Texas A&M, she’s also underrated as a passer. Harris is known as a facilitator who has grown recently as a scoring threat. Dangerfield, projected later in the first round, can score and defend.

Collen likes her current roster options in the post — Elizabeth Williams, Kalani Brown, Monique Billings and Glory Johnson, but wouldn't be opposed to adding youthful size.

So, don’t be surprised if the Dream pick Cox or Sabally if they’re available at four. Collen considers a first-round pick to be “a player I see now and I see in the future.” Players picked in the second and third rounds will compete in camp, to determine if they are better than the Dream’s current bench options.

After a player is drafted, she will be connected with a position coach and to the team’s software system to learn team lingo and plays. Whenever camp does start, it’s expected to be a shorter process than originally planned. So players will have short windows to prove themselves.

“The way I look at it is whoever we draft, my expectation is they’re going to come in and compete for a starting spot,” Collen said. “If I don’t think they’re ready or they don’t come in and really beat somebody out for that spot that we figure out what their role is and, you know, adjust accordingly.”