The sports world has been shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, but new Liberty coach Walt Hopkins is staying busy while preparing for next week’s WNBA Draft.
The Liberty have the No. 1 pick and are widely expected to draft Oregon point guard Sabrina Ionescu. The Liberty also have the first pick of the second round (No. 13 overall) and the second pick of the third round (No. 26 overall).
This will be Hopkins’ first draft as a head coach. He was hired in January to replace Katie Smith, whose contract was not renewed. Hopkins had been an assistant with the Minnesota Lynx.
In an interview posted to the Liberty’s Instagram account Monday, Hopkins told Chris Shearn of the YES Network that he is enjoying the work that goes into getting ready for the draft.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” he said. “I got to be really involved in the draft process in Minnesota and it’s one of the best times of the year. It really is like Christmas. Draft day is like Christmas because you spend so much time preparing.”
Coming off a 10-24 season, the Liberty are in position to get the best gift. If they choose Ionescu, they will get a player considered to be a generational talent. She finished her college career with 26 triple-doubles (the NCAA record for men and women) and was the first player in NCAA history — men or women — to reach 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists in a career. Ionescu swept every major individual award this season, winning the Wooden Award, Naismith Award, Wade Trophy and Nancy Lieberman Award.
The Liberty’s second pick of the draft likely will be a player who has a good chance to make the final roster.
“We have so much time left, really, and the way that we’re working, it feels like a lot of time,” Hopkins said. “I know that it’s not, but it’s like every day it’s just jam-packed with calls to the prospects now. This week we’ve been able to call. We have our staff calls and talk through everything. It still does feel like we have tons of prep time.”
The WNBA will hold a “virtual draft” on April 17 without players, guests and media in attendance because of the coronavirus pandemic. WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert will announce picks live on ESPN at 8 p.m., with players selected participating remotely.
“It’s a big, big moment and I know it’s going to be a little bit unorthodox this year,” Hopkins said. “I imagine there’s no way around that. I trust . . . Cathy’s been doing an unbelievable job. Cathy Engelbert, our commissioner, I have a ton of faith in her, so I know we’re going to find a way.”