With Brittney Griner's status uncertain, Phoenix Mercury select front court depth in WNBA draft

Jenna Ortiz
Arizona Republic

The Phoenix Mercury addressed its depth concerns in the front court in the 2022 WNBA draft with its two selections. The Mercury added Notre Dame forward Maya Dodson and IUPUI center Macee Williams with the No. 26 and No. 32 overall picks in the draft. 

"I think they’re two extremely talented players who had a lot of success at the collegiate level and we think they have a lot of potential. We need some more depth at our post position and they both can do that," Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard said.

The status of center Brittney Griner remains up in the air as she remains detained in Russia, leaving room for competition in the front court alongside newly acquired veteran center Tina Charles and fourth-year forward Brianna Turner.

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"We’re planning for all potential options at this point so we just don’t know what our situation is going to be, but we will be prepared for any possible outcome," Mercury general manager Jim Pitman said.

Notre Dame's Maya Dodson (0) reaches for a loose ball in front of Louisville's Liz Dixon (22) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)

Dodson, a 6’3” forward, spent the first three seasons of her NCAA career with Stanford and went to Notre Dame this season as a graduate transfer. She opted out of the 2020-21 season at Stanford, but finished in the program’s all-time top-10 in career blocks (78) and career field goal percentage (.497). 

Dodson's comparable qualities to Turner and collegiate success made Pitman excited when her name was still available in the third round. 

"I think that she's got a real desire to play, she's a great defender and rebounder. She just fits the skillset that we're looking for in that position as a bench player," Pitman said. "We didn’t think she’d drop to us, so I’m very happy that we were able to select her."

At Notre Dame, Dodson started in all 33 games and averaged 14.7 points on 63 percent shooting during the NCAA Tournament.

"Maya is a shutdown defensive player. Throughout her college season this year, we saw her match up against some of the best college players and best post players and she guarded them one-on-one. They didn’t have to bring doubles because she did such a great job defending," Nygaard said. 

Williams, a 6-foot-2 center, averaged 18.7 points and 10.6 rebounds in her final season at IUPUI. Williams was a four-time Horizon League Player of the Year during her five seasons, the first to earn the honor four times. 

"She’s a bit of an underdog and I’m a bit of an underdog. I’m always happy to bring in an underdog and see what they can do with their versatility," Nygaard said.

The Atlanta Dream selected Kentucky guard Rhyne Howard as the No. 1 pick in the draft. 

Griner's presence in the draft

Before the draft, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert held a press conference and emphasized the efforts made by the league in bringing Griner back from Russia as she remains detained. Engelbert said the league will have a philanthropic initiative to honor Griner this season. Engelbert also dedicated a moment to Griner before the first selection was made.

"It’s so wonderful to hear all of the players jumping right in to have her back. We can’t think anything of the WNBA without thinking about BG. We have to keep that in the front of our head and they dedicated that time and the commissioner started with that comment about her and it was present throughout the whole broadcast. It was really amazing," Nygaard said.

ESPN’s Holly Rowe reported during the WNBA Draft show that the Mercury will not suspend Griner and she’ll receive her full salary during the season. Rowe also mentioned the Mercury may receive roster relief if approved by the WNBA. 

In the post-draft press conference, the Mercury could not comment regarding the status of the request as the matter pertains to the league.

But throughout the night, the feeling of a usually upbeat night was bittersweet as Griner's absence still lingers over the Mercury and the league.

“It’s something that’s always on our minds. She’s always there for us and we want to make sure that we continue to focus on everything we can do to get her home quickly and safely. That’s all we can do at this point. She’s always in the back of our minds with anything that we’re doing at this point,” Pitman said.  

Follow Jenna Ortiz on Twitter @jennarortiz