Top prospect inclusions add intrigue to WNBA draft

Seattle Storm coach Jenny Boucek has been working on her draft board for months, evaluating the possibilities with the No. 1 and No. 3 picks in the WNBA draft. But if you are going to have to scrap those plans and start fresh, it might as well be for a good cause.

The WNBA draft, which will take place on Thursday, April 16 at the Mohegan Sun (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET) was shaken and then stirred this week when a pair of All-Americans entered the draft even though they had college eligibility time left.

Minnesota center Amanda Zahui B. and Notre Dame guard Jewell Loyd each declared in the past few days that they would be ending their college careers early to begin their professional careers in the WNBA.

At 6-foot-5, Zahui B. had a breakout season at Minnesota as a sophomore. The Swedish native averaged 18.8 points, 12.9 rebounds and 4.1 blocks this season, leading the Gophers to their first NCAA appearance since 2009. Loyd, meanwhile, was already a star. The junior guard, who led Notre Dame to the national title game for the second year in a row, was espnW's national player of the year and an All-American for the Irish. Both players were eligible to enter the draft early because they will be 22 years old during the calendar year of the draft.

Now Boucek's choices -- it was widely speculated Seattle would take Connecticut guard Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis with the No. 1 pick -- have widened considerably.

And by choices, that means both quality of players she could draft to improve her rebuilding team and to possibly acquire a veteran player through a trade.

Boucek said there is a "100 percent chance" that she will be picking either Zahui B., Loyd or Mosqueda-Lewis with her No. 1 pick.

As for the No. 3?

"We are really exploring a lot of options with that pick," Boucek said. "We are looking for the two best players at those spots and two pieces for the future."

The late additions of Zahui B. and Loyd have Boucek's phone ringing as teams around the league see opportunity, as well.

"Our No. 3 pick just became our No. 1 pick, and both picks just got a lot more popular," Boucek said.

Tulsa Shock coach Fred Williams, whose team has the No. 2 pick, also said he is looking into options.

"We could go either way," Williams said. "If there was a trade that was likable to our needs ... but I like what I see in the draft. There are so many high-quality athletes, especially in the top tier, and we are still contemplating that."

Zahui B. said Friday that she felt it was the right time in her career to play professionally.

"It's really exciting. It's been hectic, a lot of people texting and calling," Zahui B. said. "I am blessed to be in this position and this situation. I don't want to feel any kind of pressure or stress at all. I'm just blessed to be here."

Zahui B said she started thinking about entering the draft late in the season.

"I took some time and sat down and talked to people who mean a lot to me. It was a roller-coaster of different thoughts. But when I decided, it felt great and it felt right."

Connecticut Sun coach Anne Donovan, whose team has the No. 4 pick, said the entire draft board is going to benefit from the addition of Zahui B. and Loyd.

"It's a nice shake-up for all of us," Donovan said. "I'm thankful for the two additions because it drops players down that we really didn't think we would be able to consider before."

ESPN analyst Carolyn Peck said that what started out as a "unique draft has turned into a very special draft, and no one is happier about that change that Seattle.

"Seattle has three options with their two picks that could significantly impact their team."

Donovan admitted she was surprised to see Loyd enter the draft.

"I'll be honest, I have to say I was very surprised," Donovan said. "Coming from Notre Dame, I wasn't going to see that jump anytime soon. It's got a lot of people talking outside of the WNBA and women's basketball, and it's bringing a different look into the league and providing an opportunity for some outsiders to talk about it."