WNBA next step for former Irish McBride

CURT RALLO
South Bend Tribune

ESPN women’s basketball analyst Carolyn Peck remembers standing in a corridor outside the Notre Dame locker room this season and looking at photographs of the recent Irish runs to the Final Four.

She focused on one aspect, how Irish senior Kayla McBride grew up from her freshman year.

Peck believes that McBride’s efforts in the weight room will be a big reason that Monday night’s WNBA draft will give the former Irish star plenty of reason to celebrate.

“Kayla McBride has transformed her body to be ready to make this next step into the WNBA,” Peck said. “She has great strength and quickness, and those are the things you have to have in the WNBA.”

McBride, a 5-foot-11 guard, and Natalie Achonwa, a 6-3 post, are both expected to hear their names called on Monday when the WNBA conducts its draft from the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn. The draft will be televised live on ESPN2 at 8 p.m. EDT.

McBride and Achonwa led Notre Dame to a 37-1 record and a national runner-up finish. The Irish lost to Connecticut, 79-58, a game that Achonwa did not play in due to a torn ACL injury.

Named a first team All-American, McBride averaged 17.6 points and 5.3 rebounds a game this season. She averaged 3.8 assists a game, a jump from the 2.4 assists she averaged last season.

Achonwa averaged 14.9 points and 7.7 assists this season.

Peck believes that the competitive McBride should be selected in the 3-4-5 range of the first round.

McBride is thrilled for the opportunity to play in the WNBA and experience draft night.

“I’m excited for the moment,” McBride said. “This is only going to happen one time, so I’m trying to take it all in.”

McBride is versatility to play shooting guard or small forward. She can handle the ball against the press or in transition, and that will make her valuable in the WNBA.

ESPN’s LaChina Robinson believes McBride brings a valuable skill to the league.

“Something that’s special about Kayla McBride is her mid-range game,” Robinson said. “We talk a lot about players who can dominate on the interior, or the 3-point shot, but the mid-range game seems to be a lost art, where you can create your own shot.”

McBride’s mid-range game dazzled Irish fans for four seasons. She would be the perfect player to replace former Purdue great Katie Douglas, a tall guard with a mid-range game who just left the Indiana Fever for the Connecticut Sun as a free agent. Indiana has the No. 5 pick, and McBride has stated that she would love to play for Indiana, because it would allow her to be close to her sister, who plays for Indiana University.

Notre Dame fans would also like the convenience of having McBride play in Indianapolis, but former Notre Dame men’s basketball player Bill Laimbeer, who coaches the New York Liberty, may take McBride off the board before Indiana’s pick.

New York has the No. 4 pick, and Laimbeer said that McBride would fit perfectly into his system. Laimbeer said that the Liberty needs guard help, and he prefers taller guards like McBride who can play multiple positions. Laimbeer saw McBride when Notre Dame played at Maryland on Jan. 27, and was impressed by her improvement in ball-handling from her junior season.

“I think she’s shown this year her ability to handle the ball more than last year,” Laimbeer said. “Nobody takes it from her, and that’s a good sign.”

Laimbeer also likes McBride’s toughness.

“She’s not afraid to go out there and play and shoot the big shots,” Laimbeer said of McBride. “That would fit the mold of what we’re looking for.”

Connecticut has the No. 1 pick, and it expected to take Stanford’s 6-3 Chiney Ugwumike. Tulsa has the No. 2 pick, and the Shock could take Baylor’s Odyssey Sims, which would team her up with former Irish standout Skylar Diggins to give Tulsa a dynamic backcourt. Maryland post Alyssa Thomas, a 6-2 double-double machine, could go to San Antonio, which has the No. 3 pick, or Tulsa.

Other key players in the draft are all familiar to the Irish, UConn’s 6-5 Stefanie Dolson and guard Bria Hartley, Florida State’s 6-3 Natasha Howard, North Carolina State’s 6-5 Markeisha Gatling, Duke guard Chelsea Gray and Tennessee guard Meighan Simmons.

Achonwa, despite her knee injury, could still be a first round pick.

“I think her draft position has dropped two, and a maximum of five spots,” Laimbeer said. “I thought she was going to be in the six or seven range of the first round (before the injury).”

Kara Lawson, an ESPN college analyst who plays for Washington of the WNBA, sees Achonwa going to one of the better WNBA teams that has a higher pick and can afford to select a player and wait a year. Lawson said that a team with multiple early picks could also take Achonwa with a later pick.

Tulsa coach Fred Williams said that Achonwa is still considered a top prospect in the WNBA.

“(Achonwa) will be a good investment if a team has a couple of picks earlier, and can hold her over for a year,” Williams said. “I think she will come back strong and be a tremendous player.”

Achonwa said that she’s prepared for whatever happens on draft night as a result of her injury.

“I was in contact with people from the WNBA, but I haven’t discussed the changes in my status,” Achonwa said. “My next step is seeing where I’m going from here.”

Former Notre Dame guard Kayla McBride won't have to wait long to hear her name called in Monday's WNBA draft. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)