NEW YORK — In the last eight days, Tina Charles earned an All-America selection, was voted the Associated Press’ women’s player of the year and helped the Connecticut Huskies complete a second straight undefeated season for their seventh national championship.
On Thursday, Charles is the favorite to be selected No. 1 overall by the Connecticut Sun in the WNBA draft. The WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury are without a first-round pick and will pick 24th and 36th overall.
“Tina is WNBA-ready,” Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said in a conference call. “Her game is so suited for our level, whether its her ability to score in post-up situations, or her offensive rebounding.”
After Charles, the choices aren’t so predictable among a pool deep with perimeter players, including fellow All-American Monica Wright from Virginia, Oklahoma State’s Andrea Riley, LSU’s Allison Hightower, UConn’s Kalanna Greene and former Rutgers guard Epiphanny Prince, who skipped her senior season and is playing overseas in Turkey.
“There are a lot of great players out there to choose from, who will do well in the WNBA and have the potential to have long and outstanding careers,” Los Angeles Sparks coach Jennifer Gillom said.
Minnesota, sixth in the Western Conference at 14-20 last season, has the second and third picks and will be looking to bolster a lineup that added some veterans in the offseason after being one of the youngest teams in the league the last two years.
“We feel like we’ve got a really good core group of players,” said Reeve, entering her first season with the Lynx after nine years as an assistant with the Detroit Shock who were sold and moved to Tulsa in the offseason. “We’re looking to add some depth on the perimeter and then certainly to add another post player that we think can help.”
The Lynx held the top pick — acquired from New York in a multi-team trade before the start of last season — after the draft lottery. However, they sent it to the Sun in a deal along with Renee Montgomery, who played with Charles for three years at UConn, in exchange for former University of Minnesota star Lindsay Whalen and the second pick.
The Sun, tied for fourth in the East at 16-18 last season, figure to get a boost from Charles — who averaged 18.2 points, 9.5 rebounds and 62 percent shooting from the field her senior season — on the court as well as in the stands. The Sun play in Uncasville, Conn., about 23 miles from the UConn campus.
The Sky select fourth, followed by San Antonio, Washington, the Sun again, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Seattle, Indiana and the Sparks again to close the first round.
The top post players available include Stanford All-American Jayne Appel, whose team lost to UConn in the NCAA title game Tuesday night. Appel’s production dipped as she recovered from a knee surgery last June. She also played through an ankle injury the last few weeks and averaged 13.2 points and 8.7 rebounds, down from 16.1 and 9.2, respectively, as a junior.
“If you do your homework and you know Jayne Appel, it’s a compilation of her career, it’s not just a senior year evaluation,” Reeve said. “That’s a player that really understands how to involve her teammates, is a good team player on both sides of the ball.”
Other potential first-round picks include Nebraska All-American Kelsey Griffin, Florida State center Jacinta Monroe and Michigan State’s Allyssa DeHaan. Kansas’ Danielle McCray is also available in the draft, but suffered a torn ACL in her left knee on Feb. 4 and will miss this season.
Gillom, who replaced Michael Cooper in Los Angeles after serving as the Lynx interim coach last season, will be looking to improve the Sparks’ guard play to help a strong frontcourt that includes Candace Parker, Tina Thompson and DeLisha Milton-Jones.
“We definitely want to get a shooting guard to complement (Parker), so that players can’t double team her a lot, and spread the floor,” Gillom said. “Definitely a guard who can shoot the 3 because we weren’t that great at 3-point shooting last year.”
Tulsa coach Nolan Richardson, the former men’s coach at the University of Arkansas, has the dual challenge of adapting to the women’s game and building a roster that will likely be missing most of the Shock’s key veterans from Detroit. Katie Smith signed with the Mystics and Cheryl Ford, Deanna Nolan and Taj McWilliams-Franklin are unsigned.
The Shock traded their first-round pick, No. 7 overall, and a second-rounder in 2011 to Connecticut on Wednesday in exchange for Amber Holt and Chante Black.
“We’ve got a lot of gaps,” Richardson said. “It’s not the same Shock team.”
With one fewer team following the demise of the Sacramento Monarchs, the league will have 11 fewer players this season. Reeve stressed that a lot of players accustomed to being stars on their teams will have to adjust to being reserves in the WNBA.
“It’s not an indicator of their talent level,” she said. “It’s more of an indicator of where this league is talent-wise. … It’s just a very, very competitive environment.”
Hightower hopes playing for former Houston Comets coach Van Chancellor at LSU has given her some advantages over other players.
“Some of his stuff that he’s run (at LSU) he ran in the WNBA, such as pick-and-roll,” Hightower said. “He gave me great advice on what I need to work on and what I need to do.”
Prince also hopes to have gotten a boost by getting an early jump on her professional career overseas, and is looking forward to showing what she’s learned.
“The biggest difference you’ll see is me knowing when to pick my poison, just knowing when to score and when to get everybody involved and just how to run the team better,” said Prince, who once scored a record 113 points in a game as a senior in high school in New York.