W.N.B.A. Will Hold ‘Virtual’ Draft in April

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The W.N.B.A. plans to carry its draft as scheduled in April, utilizing video conferencing in hopes of recreating the second so many athletes say they dream about: when a league commissioner palms them a jersey and their skilled lives start.

“We want to make sure that the players who are the draftees get their moment in the limelight,” the W.N.B.A.’s commissioner, Cathy Engelbert, mentioned in a cellphone interview on Wednesday from her New Jersey home, the place she has labored remotely for nearly two weeks due to the coronavirus outbreak that has introduced the sports activities world to a standstill.

The draft is scheduled to be televised on ESPN2 at eight p.m. Eastern time on April 17, with streams from gamers wherever they’re and Engelbert “somewhere in New Jersey, announcing the draft picks live.”

“And that’s an honor for them,” she mentioned. “So that while it’ll be virtual, and I won’t be with them, maybe they’ll be with their families and could be streamed in at home.”

In a approach, it’s not a lot totally different from the standard draft — groups are usually not all in the identical place anyway — but it surely presents an uncommon mix of alternative and problem for the W.N.B.A. in what a pivotal yr for gaining followers and elevating its profile. This was to be the debut season of the Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu. This yr was additionally anticipated to convey a doable seventh straight gold medal for the U.S. girls’s basketball crew on the Olympics and elevated promotional and monetary funding from the W.N.B.A. in its gamers.

While the coronavirus pandemic has threatened the season, the league is holding its choices open.

“One thing I learned is, don’t take any plans off the table prematurely,” Engelbert mentioned. “Everything’s changing hour by hour, if not day by day.”

No choice has been made about when or if the season will begin this yr. The common season was initially deliberate to start out May 15.

For the league’s coaches and normal managers, the April 17 draft date will nonetheless permit them to complete scouting and arranging offers. Nicki Collen, the top coach of the Atlanta Dream, mentioned that with the crew workers living everywhere in the nation, a lot of the work was performed by teleconference, anyhow.

The Liberty have the primary decide within the draft, adopted by the Dallas Wings, the Indiana Fever, the Dream and the Phoenix Mercury.

“Draft preparation has not changed too drastically, as video has always been an extensive part of the evaluation process,” mentioned Cheryl Reeve, the top coach and normal supervisor of the Minnesota Lynx.

Reeve, whose crew has the sixth general decide, mentioned the cancellation of the N.C.A.A. basketball event did have an effect on how groups might put together for the draft.

“What we miss is watching the next class of W.N.B.A. talent rising up, making big plays to help her team win on a big stage,” Reeve mentioned. “But most of the evaluation work had already been completed prior to the N.C.A.A. tournament.”

As for underclassmen who want to declare early for the draft — eligible in the event that they flip 22 any time in 2020 or if they’re 4 years previous their highschool commencement date — the deadline stays April 7. The league’s dates for coaching camp to start, April 26, and the common season’s tip in mid-May, nevertheless, appear unrealistic, given widespread orders to remain home and restrict contact with different individuals. Whether the league can play in any respect this yr shall be determined largely by outdoors forces, like authorities and well being officers who’ve urged towards giant gatherings.

The N.B.A., whose crew house owners partially personal the W.N.B.A., postponed its season on March 11 after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz examined optimistic for the coronavirus. Engelbert was assembly together with her crew within the W.N.B.A. places of work that evening when she heard concerning the shutdown. But seeing how the virus was advancing, she had already begun planning for such an eventuality.

The subsequent morning, she checked in with Terri Jackson, head of the W.N.B.A.’s gamers’ union, and began producing plans for a season delayed by 30 days, 60 days or 90 days. A day later was imagined to be a work-from-home check for league officers. Instead, it grew to become the primary day of a brand new actuality, with all people working from home.

Should males’s and girls’s professional seasons finally begin and overlap dates, Engelbert famous that there are only a few W.N.B.A. groups that play in N.B.A. arenas, making the N.B.A.’s plans much less of a stumbling block than they might have been within the early days of the league, when extra groups shared area. Only the Sparks (Staples Center in Los Angeles), the Lynx (Target Center in Minneapolis) and the Liberty (Barclays Center in Brooklyn) had been scheduled to play in N.B.A. arenas in 2020.

Even these overlaps might supply possibilities to develop the league’s footprint, each by taking part in some home video games in alternate venues or by pairing W.N.B.A. video games in doubleheaders with N.B.A. video games.

“One of our transformational goals is to expand the fandom, expand the reach of the W.N.B.A. beyond our 12 cities to get more exposure to our players in our potential fan population,” Engelbert mentioned. “So we could actually be creative here and think about other cities.”

The suspending of the Tokyo Games additionally offers the league with three further weeks this summer time that had been off-limits when the season was initially scheduled. The W.N.B.A. usually goes on a midseason hiatus in Olympic years in order that its gamers can compete within the Games. The U.S. girls’s basketball crew has received six consecutive gold medals, relationship to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Playing video games this yr is paramount, Engelbert mentioned. Even if the league should play in empty arenas for security’s sake, she mentioned, she and her crew are reimagining what experiencing reside sports activities may appear and feel like. It might imply taking part in video games in a single, centralized location that has been cleared for followers or taking part in in entrance of no followers in particular person however emphasizing different reside types of engagement, like social media.

“Getting live sports back on television, I think we have almost a public service responsibility to do everything we can,” Engelbert mentioned. “Because it’s clear that everybody’s missing live sports.”