May 30, 2024
These are exciting times in the WNBA, particularly in the Bay Area, where the Golden State expansion team is preparing for its inaugural season in 2025.

These are exciting times in the WNBA, particularly in the Bay Area, where the Golden State expansion team is preparing for its inaugural season in 2025.

Monday night’s draft offered a sneak peek at some of the star power the yet-to-be-named franchise could add in next year’s edition, though nobody is likely to match the attention drawn by Caitlin Clark, the Iowa star who was selected No. 1 overall by Indiana after captivating fans nationwide with her deep shooting.

Stanford’s Cameron Brink, the reigning Pac-12 player of the year, went to Los Angeles at No. 2, followed by Chicago drafting Kamilla Cardoso fresh off an undefeated title run at South Carolina.

The 2025 draft order has yet to be decided, so it remains to be seen where Golden State will make its initial pick but interest is already high: The team announced Tuesday that it had already collected more than 6,000 season ticket deposits with more than a year to go before its first game. Monday’s draft, driven by Clark’s selection, drew 2.4 million viewers, ESPN announced, good for its most ever and more than the 2023 MLB and NHL drafts combined.

“It is such an incredible time to rally the Bay Area community around women’s basketball and the WNBA,” said Golden State women’s basketball president Jess Smith. “Viewership and excitement for the recent NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament and the 2024 WNBA Draft are just the beginning. We cannot wait to continue building a team worthy of the support we’re seeing to date.”

There haven’t been expansion teams in the WNBA since 2008 and 2006, when Atlanta and Chicago had first-round draft picks at No. 4 and No. 6 overall, respectively.

The two franchises struggled in their first year, with Atlanta going 4-30 and Chicago going 5-29.

Who might be available to Golden State at the top of the draft board next year?

Here’s a look at the projected top five prospects in the 2025 draft class:

1. Paige Bueckers, 22, G, Connecticut

Bueckers seems to be the unanimous No. 1 pick, if the draft were held today.

The UConn star was a freshman sensation four years ago, when she became the first freshman to earn a major national women’s college player of the year award and led the Huskies to the Final Four. A left knee injury hampered her sophomore year, though she still helped the Huskies reach the national championship game. She missed her entire junior year after she tore her ACL, but returned in top form this past season, when she averaged 21.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.2 steals per game while shooting 53% from the floor and 41.6% from 3-point range.

A brilliant ball-handler who can attack the basket, she’s also a terrific passer, having broken the UConn record for most assists by a freshman (168).

2. Aneesah Morrow, 21, F, LSU

Morrow is listed as a guard on LSU’s website but played more as a forward during her junior season, when she utilized a terrific shot, dominant inside presence and graceful spin move to average 16.4 points and 10 rebounds on the year.

She also recorded 93 steals, third-most in LSU history, while collecting at least four steals in 10 different games. Her record was nine steals in a win over Kent State.

She doesn’t take many 3-pointers and shot just 20% from long range last season, but is a force inside. She finished the year shooting 46% from the field and 80% from the free-throw line.

Before LSU, she spent two prolific seasons at DePaul, where she averaged 25.7 points (No. 4 in NCAA) and 12.2 rebounds (No. 7 in NCAA) as a sophomore.

LSU guard Aneesah Morrow (24) passes the ball during the first half of a Sweet 16 college basketball game against UCLA in the NCAA Tournament in Albany, N.Y. Saturday, March 30, 2024. LSU won 78-69. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink) 

3. Kiki Iriafen, 21, F, transfer portal

Stanford is losing a player of the year candidate in Iriafen, who enjoyed a breakout season alongside Cameron Brink while providing another inside presence for a strong Cardinal team.

Her breakout was a bit of a surprise seeing as she barely played her freshman season and averaged just 6.7 points and 3.8 rebounds per game as a sophomore. But she worked on her dribble drive and developed a mid-range game on her way to a junior year in which she led the team with 19.4 points per game while finishing second to Brink with 11 rebounds per game.

“People know me for being a driver, so when they started taking that away and taking charges, I had to buy into my jump shot,” Iriafen told this news organization in March. “I think I love it a little bit too much now. That is something I honed in on so I wouldn’t be so predictable.”

She put up a remarkable 41 points with 16 rebounds in a second-round overtime win over Iowa State in the NCAA Tournament, but Stanford fell out of the Sweet 16 at the hands of North Carolina State.

After veteran coach Tara VanDerveer retired, Iriafen entered the transfer portal and has yet to decide on her next school.

Stanford’s Kiki Iriafen #44 scores a basket against Norfolk State during the first round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament at Maples Pavilion in Stanford, Calif., Friday, March 22, 2024. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group

4. Olivia Miles, 21, G, Notre Dame

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As a freshman in 2021-22, Miles’ name was up there with Clark’s as the only two players in the country to average at least 13 points, seven assists and five rebounds per game.

Miles finished her award-winning freshman season while averaging 13.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 7.4 assists, second only to Clark in assists among D-I players.

She was even better her sophomore year, but it was cut short due to a knee injury that required surgery and caused her to miss her entire junior year while taking a redshirt season.

But she returned to practice in February, when Notre Dame standout Sonia Citron told The Next, “If we can defend her, we can defend anyone in the country.”

Miles will return to play next season along with Citron and Hannah Hidalgo on a Notre Dame team that looks like a true contender.

Notre Dame’s Olivia Miles celebrates on the sideline during the first half of a first-round college basketball game against Kent State in the NCAA Tournament Saturday, March 23, 2024, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Michael Caterina) 

5. Azzi Fudd, 21, G, Connecticut

Continuing the theme of players who were injured and will return for another collegiate season, Fudd was the Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year as a senior in high school, when ESPN ranked her No. 1 in the recruiting class in 2021.

Fighting through a foot injury during her freshman year at UConn, she averaged 12.1 points per game while shooting 46% from the field and 43% from 3-point range. She averaged 15 points per game her sophomore year but played in only 15 games due to a knee injury. Her junior year, she played in only two games before she tore the ACL in her right knee for the second time.

The long-range threat is expected to return to full health next season, when UConn will feature Fudd and Bueckers in a high-powered offense.

UConn’s Azzi Fudd (35) drives the ball around North Carolina State’s Zoe Brooks (35) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Karl B. DeBlaker)