WNBA will be calling on Notre Dame players soon

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Arike Ogunbowale and Asia Durr have dueled the last couple seasons for Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year honors, and each senior is expected to be named a WBCA All-American for the second straight season later this week, but if they had to duel less-decorated junior Jackie Young for higher selection in the WNBA draft, both might come up short.

At least if Kara Lawson were doing the picking.

During a teleconference conducted Tuesday by the league, Lawson compared Young favorably to both Ogunbowale, her Notre Dame teammate, and to Durr — the Louisville star projected by both ESPN and DraftSite.com to be the No. 2 overall pick in the April 10 draft.

“They’re all three to me in the same tier, and then it just becomes buyer’s choice,” said Lawson, a pro and college basketball analyst for ESPN who played 13 years in the WNBA.

“Jackie is the more physically prominent of those perimeter players,” Lawson said. “She’s got better size, better strength than Arike and Asia, and a little more versatility defensively because of that size, and a little more versatility offensively as well, so she gives you the ability to play more positions and also defend more positions.”

It’s not like Lawson’s down on Ogunbowale, either.

“I love Arike,” the former Tennessee star said. “She’s in the conversation for the No. 1 pick in my book. She’s tough, she’s physical, she’s got great range, she’s efficient in transition, she can create her own shot, she’s become a better passer. I like her as much as I like any prospect in this draft.”

Noted Lawson of Young, though, “Every time she gets more responsibility, it seems like she flourishes with that.”

Young, who can declare for the draft based on the fact that she turns 22 this calendar year, has not announced whether she’ll leave Notre Dame a season early.

She was noncommittal when asked in early February, adding that any decision would probably come after the season ends.

Irish coach Muffet McGraw said a discussion with Young would probably wait until after the season, but added that “I would fully expect her to come back.”

Defending champion Notre Dame (34-3) faces Connecticut (35-2) in Friday’s second Final Four semifinal at Tampa, Fla., following the 7 p.m. Baylor (35-1) vs. Oregon (33-4) matchup.

The title game will be at 6 p.m. Sunday.

Young — and any other eligible non-seniors still playing this weekend — will only have until 24 hours after their team’s final game to declare their intention to the WNBA, according to league spokesperson Ron Howard.

Among the Irish seniors, Ogunbowale, Jessica Shepard, Brianna Turner and Marina Mabrey are all considered WNBA prospects — and all drew praise during Tuesday’s teleconference.

Young did not draw any from the four participating coaches — which included Bill Laimbeer of Las Vegas, Derek Fisher of Los Angeles, Cheryl Reeve of Minnesota and Katie Smith of New York — but that’s because they were not allowed to comment on non-senior college players.

Only Lawson and fellow ESPN analyst LaChina Robinson were able to do so. Robinson said Young “would benefit from another year if she decided to stay” at Notre Dame.

“I think Jackie is just scratching the surface, because she’s kind of allowed the seniors — and it’s such a strong senior group for Notre Dame — to take the lead in a lot of ways,” Robinson said, “but like we saw (in Monday’s Elite Eight win over Stanford), you can put the ball in her hands and she can make plays.”

Robinson called on Young to improve “her comfort in shooting the 3.”

“I think Muffet’s asked her to do that more often as the season has gone on, and she’ll look at it,” Robinson said, “(but) she doesn’t look very comfortable from long range. … I think her comfort from 3-point land would only improve her stock.”

Young, listed at No. 5 overall to Dallas, is one of three non-senior college players in ESPN’s latest mock draft, joined by overall No. 1 pick Sabrina Ionescu of Oregon to Las Vegas and late second-round pick Tynice Martin of West Virginia.

DraftSite.com has Young at No. 7 to Los Angeles, also has Ionescu No. 1, and has Miami’s Beatrice Mompremier coming out early as a mid-second round choice.

Each outlet has Durr going No. 2 overall to New York, Teaira McCowan of Mississippi State going No. 3 overall to Indiana, and three international players being taken during the three-round, 36-pick draft.

Among the Irish seniors, ESPN has Ogunbowale slotted at No. 9 to Connecticut, Shepard No. 14 to New York, Turner No. 20 to Minnesota and Mabrey No. 27 to Chicago.

DraftSite has Ogunbowale 10th to Washington, Tuner 21st to Connecticut, Shepard 24th to Seattle and Mabrey not being chosen.

Reeve, who is general manager in addition to being head coach for Minnesota, spoke highly Tuesday of both Shepard and Turner as interior players.

“Without those two, there’s no way Notre Dame’s as successful as it has been,” said Reeve, whose Lynx hold four picks in the draft.

“They have a chance to win the whole thing (again) largely because of what Jess Shepard and Turner have done,” Reeve said. “From the rebounding standpoint, Arike’s not always very efficient in her field goal percentage, and I think they are just huge Band-Aids for Notre Dame’s offense, and you saw in the first half (against Stanford), when they don’t get opportunities in the paint, this is a team that’s very vulnerable to losing.

“I think (Shepard and Turner) just have a relentlessness about them that’s fun to watch.” Robinson, who was a four-year starter at Wake Forest, said Turner and Shepard both offer attractive attributes for pro teams.

“(Turner’s) upside is tremendous,” Robinson said, noting that the three-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year has lost time in her development while rehabbing both shoulder and knee injuries. “She’s getting up and down the floor very well despite coming off that (knee) injury. We’ve seen her shot-blocking ability. Defensively she’s solid, but she’s also of late gotten the ball in isolation situations and been able to make plays there. … She gets with the right team, she can make a major impact.”

Robinson called Shepard “underappreciated” by some observers.

“Her basketball IQ is what separates her and her passing ability at the WNBA level will be very much appreciated,” Robinson said. “Defensively, the speed of the game could be a little quick for Shepard. Though we’ve seen her make a physical transformation this year, I think she would need to continue to just improve her overall game speed.”

Robinson predicted Mabrey will be the last Notre Dame player selected “just because there’s so much depth in this draft at the guard position.”

“She did start to play more point guard as her career went on,” Robinson said of Mabrey increasing her versatility, “but she’s not a natural point guard, but her shooting ability is really second to none. She’s been a tremendous shooter from long range, and that can be an asset to any team.”

If any of the Irish players are to wind up playing for a fellow ex-Domer in Laimbeer, it will likely have to come through a trade.

Las Vegas’ only pick in the draft at the moment is the overall No. 1.

Laimbeer, who is also president of basketball operations for Vegas, mentioned McCowan and Durr on Tuesday as possible choices, but also said he’s looking at dealing the pick.

Wherever players do wind up, it’ll be a quick turnaround from college.

WNBA training camps open May 5 and the regular season starts May 24.

Notre Dame’s Brianna Turner (11) grabs a rebound during the NCAA regional final Monday in Chicago. Like the rest of the Irish, Turner’s stock is high heading into the WNBA Draft.
Notre Dame’s Marina Mabrey’s shooting range is expected to draw interest from the WNBA.