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Rebecca Lobo: 'I don't know that we have seen this type of excitement' about WNBA Draft class

NS_headshot_clearbackgroundby:Nick Schultz04/11/24


WNBA Mockdraft AFI

As women’s basketball soared in popularity this year, the stars were out in full force. Iowa had Caitlin, LSU had Angel and Stanford had Cameron, just to name a few.

Those three players all have something in common – beyond being the centerpieces of their respective programs, of course. They’re all getting ready to head to the WNBA in the early part of Monday’s draft. While they generated plenty of excitement at the college level, they will now look to help take that momentum with them to the professional level.

So far, they’re succeeding.

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“In terms of off the court, Caitlin’s kind of in a world of her own, but I don’t know that we have seen this kind of excitement across the board,” ESPN’s Rebecca Lobo said on a Zoom call with reporters Thursday ahead of the draft.

Women’s basketball surged in popularity this year as Final Four ticket prices soared and viewership records fell multiple times. Add in the fact that those big names could profit through NIL, and Lobo said fans got to know who they are.

As a result, anticipation is growing to watch them in the WNBA.

“Angel Reese has a massive following, Cameron Brink has a large following of people – whether it’s following them on social media or following them throughout the course of their college career,” Lobo said. “We have women coming into the draft this year who people are very much aware of and eager to see how their game is going to translate at this level.

“And I don’t know if we have – even Caitlin aside, because of how NIL has changed things – I don’t know that we have seen an entire class that has this much attention off the floor that they are also going to bring to their on-court performance here in the W.”

Top WNBA Draft talent flourished in NIL space

Of the projected lottery picks – the top four – in this year’s WNBA Draft, three of them ranked in the On3 women’s college basketball NIL ranking last week as their college careers came to an end. Clark led the charge, boasting an On3 NIL Valuation of $3.1 million prior to the national championship. Brink came in at No. 14, while Kamilla Cardoso checked in at No. 24. They all came in as the respective top selections in ESPN’s Michael Voepel’s updated mock draft.

Clark and Brink were able to capitalize in the NIL space in a big way, particularly in the shoe market. Nike signed Clark to a landmark deal and helped honor her as she rewrote the NCAA basketball record book. Brink also had a partnership with New Balance and appeared in a campaign alongside the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Zach LaVine.

Reese was also a notable figure in the NIL world. Her $1.8 million NIL Valuation sat right behind Clark at No. 2 and was No. 8 in the On3 NIL 100, the first of its kind and defacto NIL ranking of the top 100 high school and college athletes ranked by their On3 NIL Valuation. Voepel projected her to go No. 8 overall to the Chicago Sky in his last WNBA mock draft.

Reese has the biggest social media following of the group with more than 6 million across X, Instagram and TikTok and was able to capitalize in the NIL space. She notably became one of the first college athletes to appear in SI Swimsuit. She also made an appearance in a Latto and Cardi B music video, and joined Clark as the latest Panini America signee.

Rebecca Lobo: Players in this draft can have ‘significant impacts’

Going back to the on-court product, though, the top of the draft features plenty of decorated talent. Clark, of course, broke more than 40 records during her career – including the Division I all-time scoring record previously held by Pete Maravich. Brink won Naismith Defensive Player of the Year and the Lisa Leslie Award as the nation’s top center this season, as well as her second Pac-12 Player of the Year award. Cardoso won WBCA Defensive Player of the Year while helping South Carolina to a second title in three years while earning Most Outstanding Player honors.

So while they all have high profiles, Rebecca Lobo noted their performances in games speak for themselves. That’s why, no matter where they end up going Monday night, the high-profile talent is primed for success at the next level.

“They’re going to be impactful on the court, especially the players who go to teams or situations where they’re going to get a lot of chances to play,” Lobo said. “Whether it’s Caitlin in [Indiana] or if Brink either goes 2 or 3 or 4 to L.A. or Chicago, those are players that are going to have a lot of opportunity to play.

“So depending on which team you go to and the fit and the minutes that you get, there are players that can have significant impacts on their team.”