The Daily Gamecock

WNBA executives, experts give their opinions on Gamecock draft prospects

<p>Senior guard Zia Cooke rushes down the court on a breakaway during the Final Four match between the University of South Carolina and the University of Iowa on March 31, 2023. Cooke put up 24 of the Gamecocks' 73 points, but the team was 4 points short of the win.&nbsp;</p>
Senior guard Zia Cooke rushes down the court on a breakaway during the Final Four match between the University of South Carolina and the University of Iowa on March 31, 2023. Cooke put up 24 of the Gamecocks' 73 points, but the team was 4 points short of the win. 

WNBA executives and expert analysts shared their thoughts on the four draft prospects from the South Carolina women’s basketball team Thursday ahead of Monday’s draft selection show. 

Forward Aliyah Boston, forward Laticia Amihere, guard Zia Cooke and guard Brea Beal all drew praise for their ability to defend at a high level. 

Boston is projected to be the No.1 overall pick in this year’s draft. Experts believe her size and skills in the paint will translate well to the next level.

“I am so excited to watch Aliyah Boston play with WNBA rules,” ESPN women’s basketball analyst LaChina Robinson said. “For four years, teams have been able to surround her defensively and collapse on her. In the W, you have defensive three seconds. You have a wider lane. And I'm just so happy that we'll get a chance to see this young woman without four sets of defensive feet and arms around her.”

Boston also received praise for defense, shot-blocking and rebounding skills. She was the 2022 Naismith Women’s Player of the Year and is the USC’s all-time leader in double-doubles. WNBA executives said they believe she can help a team win at the professional level right away. 

“Her size, her basketball IQ, her character, her leadership skills, she just brings an enormous amount to the table,” Indiana Fever General Manager Lin Dunn said. “I really think she's going to have, whether she’s picked first, second or third, she's gonna have an immediate impact on this league.” 

Boston is projected to be drafted by Indiana who has the No. 1 pick. Dunn said she is thankful Boston decided to declare this year instead of using her COVID fifth-year option because it makes the draft class stronger. 

“I think Aliyah Boston is a legitimate first-pick option,” Dunn said. 

The Fever may be interested in drafting another Gamecock after Boston. 

Mock drafts from ESPN, The Athletic and CBS have the Fever taking Beal with the seventh pick. Beal and Boston could potentially reunite with former Gamecock Destani Henderson, who was a 2022 Fever draft selection. 

“The best college defensive team in the country has been South Carolina, and so if that's what your GM values, there's a great chance that you have to go there,” ESPN women’s basketball analyst  Rebecca Lobo said. “Could some other South Carolina players go to Indiana at seven or 13 or even 17? Yeah, absolutely, because defense is a premium.”

Cooke boosted her stock after her play in the tournament. She averaged 16 points and 4.6 rebounds in the NCAA tournament games, impressing both the experts and the executives late in the season. 

“We once again were re-familiarized with how tenacious she can be on the offensive end, and how competitive she is and when it comes to scoring the ball,” Robinson said. “A lot of what they do around Boston, I think Cooke often gets lost, but she definitely reminded us of what she can do with the ball in her hands.”

Cooke’s offensive production in particular shined late in the Gamecocks’ season. Her scoring display made front offices take notice. 

“In the last month and a half, two months, (Cooke) really showed up for them and looked well at the tournament,” Atlanta Dream coach Tanisha Wright said. 

CBS has Cooke being selected as the last pick in the first round, but Lobo said she could see Cooke going anywhere in the middle of the first to "earlyish" in the second round. 

Meanwhile, Amihere was praised for her ability to play multiple positions and defend anyone on the floor. 

“She can play the one, she can play the four, she can play a variety of spots that has great size and length,” Lobo said. 

Minnesota Lynx President of basketball operations Cheryl Reeve said she remembers watching Amihere play for the Canadian national team during the 2022 FIBA World Cup. She said watching her play against older competition gave her extra insight into how her game could translate. 

“It's always interesting to see a player outside of the college setting into a national team setting, in the different roles a player will play,” Reeve said. “I think probably the consistent thing that she does is in terms of her energy, the way she approaches the game.”

ESPN’s mock draft has Amihere being selected right after Beal at eight going to Atlanta. The Athletic also has her going in the first round to Seattle at nine. 

“What that skillset actually is, she's still sort of defining,” Reeve said. “I think Dawn used her heavily, as well as Canada, in terms of her defense. As a player who's got considerable length and athleticism, she can really impose those characteristics on an offensive player. That can really be disruptive.”

Both the experts and the executives agreed that it doesn't matter what number pick players are in the draft, but it’s where they go that can make or break their WNBA career. There are only a few spots that every WNBA player competes for year in and year out. 

“That's really what this draft is about, is getting to the right team and having an opportunity,” Lobo said. “There are a number of players across the board. It just really is about fit and opportunity to come in and make a difference.”