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‘Virtual’ WNBA Draft will be first league event since shutdown

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Stanford v Oregon Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The WNBA Draft on April 17 was supposed to be a big deal for the New York Liberty. With the first overall pick — and the need to find a superstar to lead them into Brooklyn — Joe Tsai’s Liberty was planning for a big day. Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu, a Jason Kidd-like point guard, is widely considered a lock for the Liberty.

Now, it’s going to be a big deal for the WNBA and the NBA for that matter. It’s going to be the first live event for the league(s) since the suspension of play on March 11.

That said, it’s not going to look like the NBA Draft held annually at Barclays Center (and still scheduled for June 25). It will be more like the G League Draft, that is, a “virtual” affair in that social distancing will prevent the traditional moment when the commissioner presents cap and jersey to the happy draft pick as cameras flash.

As Howard Megdal of the Times writes...

“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, said in a phone interview on Wednesday from her New Jersey home, where she has worked remotely for nearly two weeks because of the coronavirus outbreak that has brought the sports world to a standstill.

The draft is scheduled to be televised on ESPN at 7 p.m. Eastern time on April 17, with streams from players wherever they are and Engelbert “somewhere in New Jersey, announcing the draft picks live.”

“And that’s an honor for them,” she said. “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.”

The draft almost wasn’t on ESPN. Originally, the worldwide leader programmed the Draft on ESPN2. Then, led by Ionescu, the network retreated.

Ionescu commented, “This should be on ESPN!!! But that’s just my opinion ”

The unanimous national player of the year has already had two disappointments this month, the cancellation of the NCAA tournament and the postponement of the Olympics where she was expected to play a big role in Team USA’s pursuit of a seventh straight gold medal.

Ionescu is looked upon as a big piece in the Liberty’s move from Westchester County Center in White Plains to Barclays Center. Of course, there’ no certainty that the league will start on time. Its first game is scheduled for May 16 in Connecticut with the home opener planned for the next night. As coronavirus cases mount in New York, that’s getting less and less likely.