Dream select Rhyne Howard with first No. 1 selection since 2009

Dream executives were tucked in the corner of the Renaissance Midtown hotel decked out in red-and-blue garb. A phone placed in the center of the ballroom’s oblong table had a connection to the WNBA as they received the draft call and celebratory reaction from a collaborative front office.

The WNBA had the name of the Dream’s No. 1 pick, their first since 2009, stashed inside an envelope nearly ready to send across the basketball world. Not only that, it had the Dream’s most-important foundational piece for a first-year front office tasked with starting a rebuild.

ExploreGeorgia Tech’s Lorela Cubaj goes to New York Liberty in WNBA draft

Inside the envelope, the pick was in and announced by Commissioner Cathy Engelbert: Rhyne Howard, guard, Kentucky.

“I have a will to never give up and always fight. I think that’s what helped me become successful,” Howard said to reporters from New York on Monday night. “I want to continue making everyone better.”

The Dream hadn’t made a first-round pick since 2009, when They took a star in Angel McCoughtry. Now the Dream hold the same star-studded aspirations for Howard.

At the time of the selection, a loud roar echoed through the hotel hallways. The loudest yell came from franchise co-owner Larry Gottesdiener. The brain trust grinned in excitement, and assistant general manager Darius Taylor gave celebratory fist pumps.

Those leading the draft decision were filmed with a group announcement of Howard’s pick. Team President Morgan Shaw Parker, who took the position about six months ago, joyously congratulated the Dream’s public relations team. She walked away impressed that the Dream already had jerseys and Howard-related merchandise available for sale only moments after the pick. Co-owner Suzanne Abair relayed the message: “Everything looks how it is supposed to look.”

Co-owner Renee Montgomery walked into the media workroom and congratulated those on the selection. The value of the 2022 draft will affect the Dream in numerous ways because the franchise is in the beginning of a rebuild.

Dream general manager Dan Padover, in his first draft, acquired two players he hopes will remain on the roster through training camp. Besides Howard, the Dream selected Michigan power forward Naz Hillmon with the No. 15 selection.

Padover made a last-minute trade to select Howard – the player he saw leading the Dream’s rebuild toward contention. He traded the original No. 3 selection to the Washington Mystics for the top selection, No. 14 pick and the rights to swap the 2023 first-round pick, traded to the Dream in the Los Angeles Sparks’ acquisition of second-year guard Chennedy Carter.

“She’s hands down the best player in the draft,” Dream coach Tanisha Wright said of Howard. “It’s a thrill because we moved up to No. 1 in order to get her.”

Padover provided a timeline of events to local reporters. The Dream received a call weeks ago from the Mystics because coach and general manager Mike Thibault had interest in an acquisition. The trade the parties discussed on the first day ended up being the final decision three weeks later.

“You make that trade with the idea of a specific plan at No. 1,” Padover said. “We knew we’d have to move up to get her.”

Padover said the franchise considered moving into the first round to select Hillmon but felt like she would fall. Hillmon was third on the Dream’s list of overall prospects, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

“I’d give this an ‘A’ today,” Padover said Monday night. “We got the player we wanted at No. 1, and we got the player we wanted at No. 15.”

Howard has long been regarded as a college star, with numerous conference first-team honors and All-American nominations. Howard averaged 20.5 points and 7.4 rebounds as a Kentucky senior as a leading piece to the team’s SEC championship.

Hillmon averaged 18.3 points and 8.9 rebounds per game as a senior at Michigan.

Montgomery, in the midst of the celebration, asked the public relations staff’s opinion on Hillmon’s selection. The co-owner called Hillmon the “steal of the draft” due to her versatility.

“I think she’s an amazing steal at 15,” Wright said. “I’m shocked she dropped that far but excited we have the opportunity to bring her in.”

Last season, the Dream took Arizona guard Aari McDonald with the No. 3 selection.

A winning season might not be in the Dream’s immediate future, but Monday’s draft gave the franchise a glimmer of hope.

Locally, Georgia Tech forward Lorela Cubaj was selected with the 18th overall pick by the Seattle Storm, and her draft rights were traded to the New York Liberty. Georgia’s super seniors, Jenna Staiti and Que Morrison, were not selected, but they should receive invitations to the coming league training camp.