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Sparks ready to restock with No. 2 and No. 4 picks in WNBA draft


Rebecca Lobo has been in the WNBA from the very beginning. The former New York Liberty center played in the league’s inaugural game in 1997, watched the WNBA become the longest-running women’s professional sports league in the United States and witnessed every draft class with stars like Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Candace Parker.

Yet even she is in awe of what Caitlin Clark has accomplished.

“In terms of attention,” the ESPN analyst said, “we’ve never, ever, ever seen anything like this.”

Entering its 28th season, the WNBA is riding a tsunami of interest in women’s basketball after Clark’s record-setting career at Iowa. Not only will the Indiana Fever, who own the No. 1 pick in Monday’s draft, benefit from “the Caitlin Clark” effect, but the whole league is bracing for an increase in ticket sales and viewership with Clark leading a star-studded draft class.

“Caitlin’s kind of a world of her own,” Lobo said during a virtual news conference, “but I don’t know that we have seen this kind of excitement across the board.”

The Sparks, who have the second and fourth picks, are eager to jump on the wave. Stuck in the doldrums of a franchise-worst three-season playoff drought, the Sparks view their first-round draft picks as “foundational” pieces to their new era, general manager Raegan Pebley said.

“They’re an incredible opportunity for our organization,” the first-year executive said. “We definitely want to see two players that not only have the skill set to make an impact early but also a long runway ahead of them. Opportunities to develop, opportunities to not only be excellent in what they do but how they impact the other pieces around them as we continue to build this team.”

Pebley, who is in her first executive role in the WNBA after a 26-year college coaching career, retooled the roster during free agency in February. In addition to returners Azurá Stevens and Dearica Hamby, the Sparks added former UCLA star Monique Billings to the frontcourt. Kia Nurse and Aari McDonald join a crowded guard rotation with Layshia Clarendon, Lexie Brown and Zia Cooke.

But the Sparks are without an established star for the first time in franchise history. Gone are the iconic names of Lisa Leslie, Parker and Nneka Ogwumike. With Ogwumike, the No. 1 selection in the 2012 draft, joining the Seattle Storm in free agency, the Sparks are in need of a franchise cornerstone to galvanize the organization that is in danger of getting left behind in the evolving league.

After Clark, who is expected to be Indiana’s second No. 1 pick in as many years, the Sparks are likely to select Stanford’s Cameron Brink to replace Ogwumike in the frontcourt. The 6-foot-4 senior won the Lisa Leslie Award as the country’s top center and was chosen Naismith defensive player of the year. The Pac-12 Conference player of the year led the country in blocked shots with 3.74 per game and averaged 17.4 points and 11.9 rebounds per game. As New Balance’s first women’s basketball player, Brink is also a recognizable star off the court.

While Brink has been linked to the Sparks in almost all mock drafts since she declared, South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso worked her way into the conversation with a national championship run, Lobo said. The 6-foot-7 center who came to the United States from Brazil at 15, averaged 16.6 points and 10.2 rebounds per game during the NCAA tournament while shooting 63.8% from the field.

“She was dominant,” Lobo said. “She’s very good at passing out of double teams, she’s a very good rim protector on the interior. Especially the effort with which she played over the last three or four weeks of the sason really opened a lot of people’s eyes.”

With two lottery picks, the Sparks could try to pair the dominant centers or select Tennessee forward Rickea Jackson if the 6-foot-2 senior doesn’t go third to the Chicago Sky. Jackson averaged an SEC-best 20.2 points for the Volunteers with 8.2 rebounds per game and made a career-high 22 three-pointers last season. The Sparks were second to last in the WNBA in three-pointers made last season, but expect to boost their shooting with Brown (illness) and sharpshooting wing Stephanie Talbot (knee) back in the lineup.

While this draft class skews more toward post players, UCLA guard Charisma Osborne is still a likely late first-round selection where Connecticut (10th), New York (11th) or Atlanta (12th) could choose the 5-foot-9 Windward alumna as a stout defensive piece. Osborne is one of 15 prospects who will attend the draft in Brooklyn. In her fifth season at UCLA, the four-time All-Pac-12 selection and two-time conference all-defensive choice scored 13.9 points per game with 5.2 rebounds and four assists.

UCLA guard Charisma Osborne, right, tries to steal the ball from LSU guard Hailey Van Lith.

UCLA guard Charisma Osborne, right, tries to steal the ball from LSU guard Hailey Van Lith during an NCAA tournament game in March.

(Mary Altaffer / Associated Press)

After helping USC to its first Elite Eight since 1994, graduate transfer McKenzie Forbes and Kaitlyn Davis could be late-round picks.

Forbes, a 6-foot guard, was USC’s second-leading scorer at 14.3 points per game. She was selected Pac-12 tournament most outstanding player as the Trojans won their first conference title since 2014.

Davis’ impact went beyond her modest six points and 5.8 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-2 forward was a two-time first-team All-Ivy League selection at Columbia before adapting to a reduced role with the Trojans. She influenced games with her gritty defense and hustle. She grabbed a season-high 16 rebounds in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals against UCLA.


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