Spotlight on WNBA, as league navigates draft on lockdown

NEW YORK (Reuters) - All eyes will be on the WNBA this Friday as it becomes the first major professional league in North America to carry out a “virtual draft” since the coronavirus outbreak that put the start of its season on hold.

Oregon’s guard Sabrina Ionescu is all but assured to be the first overall pick, going to the New York Liberty, as the league navigates the challenges of a draft with coaches and personnel on lockdown.

“If things start to happen on draft night – trade talks, moving up, moving down – those things are a little unique this year, because you just can’t turn to your left or your right and have those conversations,” Connecticut Sun general manager and head coach Curt Miller told reporters on Wednesday.

“I look at it as we’re trailblazers and not guinea pigs,” said Miller. “It keeps eyes on our league, it keeps momentum in our league.”

Miller, whose team lost in the finals against the Washington Mystics last year, said the “top-heavy” draft has its deepest position at point guard.

For the Dallas Wings, who have the second, fifth and seventh overall picks, that could mean a chance to turn around the ugliness of last season that saw the team go 10-24.

“We certainly could use depth at the point guard position,” Wings general manager Greg Bibb told Reuters. “If the right player is there, we certainly will act upon the opportunity.”

Knowing his team would have plenty of moves to make on draft night, Bibb said he “doubled down” on travel and scouting months before the coronavirus pandemic forced team personnel indoors.

For the reigning champion Washington Mystics, their most dramatic move came on Wednesday, when they gave up their first-round pick in a three-team deal to acquire seven-time all-star Tina Charles from the Liberty.

The move set in place the potential for a terrifying starting lineup that includes two-time WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne and post-season standout Emma Meesseman.

“Somewhere down the road we’re going to have to get another young guard, it doesn’t have to be now,” head coach Mike Thibault told reporters. “We’re in a very luxury spot right now. There’s nothing we have to do.”

The 2020 WNBA draft is set to begin at 7 p.m. ET (2300 GMT) on ESPN.

Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Toby Davis