No. 1 overall pick still a mystery

Will Angel McCoughtry, Renee Montgomery or Marissa Coleman hear her name first? US Presswire/Getty Images

Angel McCoughtry's eyes light up when she talks about Lisa Leslie. McCoughtry knows that she'll have one season to play in the WNBA at the same time as the Los Angeles Sparks legend.

"I was watching her when I was 10 years old," McCoughtry said. "It's amazing. It's just like yesterday I was sitting at home as a child, watching her."

Not to make Leslie, who has announced she'll retire after this season, feel old or anything … but this does speak to what the WNBA has meant to young basketball players in its 12 seasons. It has provided them with role models in professional team sports. It has given them something very tangible to aspire to join.

That said, McCoughtry, like other top seniors at the Women's Final Four this past weekend, has not necessarily spent a lot of time thinking about the specifics of the next step. Because it comes so quickly after the end of the college season -- the WNBA draft is Thursday, beginning at 3 p.m. ET (first-round coverage on ESPN2; second and third on ESPNU and NBA TV) -- there is little time for them to speculate.

"I know this," UConn's Renee Montgomery said, ticking off the top teams in the draft order: Atlanta, Washington, Chicago. "But this is what I don't know: what the Atlanta Dream needs, what the Chicago Sky needs. But I think everything will take care of itself. Wherever I'm supposed to be, that's where I'll be."

In a conference call set up by the WNBA this past Wednesday, Atlanta coach and GM Marynell Meadors described the Dream's needs as being twofold.

"Looking at our roster, we've changed it around quite a bit from last season," she said, referring to pickups such as Chamique Holdsclaw, Michelle Snow, Nikki Teasley and Sancho Lyttle. "We're going to need a one, a three and a five. I'm not sure which order we're going to go in. I'd like to have a backup five. We're mainly focusing on the guard situation first, though."

Which would suggest McCoughtry, a versatile 6-foot-1 guard/forward, might have an excellent chance of being the Dream's selection with the top pick.

Players who did not compete in the Final Four have had a bit more time to look ahead to Thursday afternoon's draft, but that doesn't necessarily mean they've developed any more theories on how it will turn out than a player like Montgomery has.

Auburn's DeWanna Bonner, in St. Louis as part of the State Farm All-America team, said anticipation of the draft helped her get past the Tigers' disappointing exit in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

"I'm excited, and there's so much going on right now," Bonner said. "I'm going on to a new phase and have no idea where I'm going to end up. You just want to be a great addition to somebody's team. And I just want to go somewhere where it's sunny. I don't really like the cold weather."

Of course, with the WNBA being a summer league, much of the time spent with any team (even Minnesota) will allow you to mostly avoid cold weather. But you understand what Bonner means -- this is all a new adventure for her and her fellow seniors.

In the conference call Wednesday, Maryland's Kristi Toliver, Rutgers' Kia Vaughn, Duke's Chante Black and Cal's Ashley Walker offered their thoughts about where they might fit in best. Black and Vaughn said Connecticut, Toliver and Walker said Phoenix.

The bottom line, though, is just getting into the league and sticking there. Being picked in the first round is no guarantee of job security, let alone being picked in later rounds.

There are now 13 teams and 11 players on each roster. Detroit coach/GM Bill Laimbeer, who has proven as shrewd a judge of talent as anyone affiliated with the WNBA, was frank about what he might get with the Shock's No. 11 selection.

"We've picked at 11 two or three times already, and it's hit or miss," Laimbeer said. "Especially with 11 roster spots, the league is so difficult to make. I've picked 11 or 12 in the past few years and we've gotten Tasha Humphrey and Ivory Latta, neither of whom is with us.

"So, 11, 12 and 13 picks are tough. You have to have the right mix of players and draft-board leverage to move to someone else. We're looking for a guard or a small forward. We've got a lot of good bigs. I have three very good backcourt players and I'd like to add to this depth, whether it's by this draft or signing and trading someone."

Starting in 2006, the WNBA opted to move the draft to right after the Final Four -- rather than its previous time in late April -- and locate it in the Final Four city. There was good and bad to that. The idea was to get the media covering the Final Four more involved in the WNBA draft, and also to carry over the momentum from one event directly to the next.

But in 2006, it also meant that the day after losing a very painful national championship game, Duke's Monique Currie had to smile for the cameras at the WNBA draft. Which she did admirably.

Plus, there is only so much media that covers women's hoops, and only so much time in a day. The NCAA tournament is nearly all-consuming, and there's not a great deal of opportunity to project how the draft will turn out.

This year, the decision was made to keep the draft soon after the Final Four, but not be in the Final Four city. It's more economical and efficient for the league to hold the draft where it used to be, at the NBA Entertainment Studios in Secaucus, N.J. Instead of the draft being the day after the title game, there's a day in between.

It's still a whirlwind for those involved.

"You do think about it," McCoughtry said. "You are focused on your [college] team, but at times you wonder: 'Where will I go? Who can I help out?'"

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.