As the 2021 NCAA Tournament gets underway in Texas, ESM has a player from each region for New York Liberty fans to watch.
The 2021 WNBA Draft will be a little more difficult for the New York Liberty this time around.
When the last selection meetings were held last spring, the Liberty had the luxury of taking consensus top pick and college basketball record book author Sabrina Ionescu out of Oregon. This year, however, with the draft far more wide open and no agreeable top overall choice, the Liberty must do their due diligence, especially with the 2021 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament underway in Texas settings. The Final Four will be held on April 2 at The Alamodome in San Antonio with the national title game coming two days later. For the first time, every game of the women’s tournament will be nationally televised, with the games airing on the ESPN family of networks starting on Sunday.
ESM has a player from each region for New Yorkers to keep an eye on as the tournament gets underway…
(For the full NCAAW bracket, click here)
Alamo: G Dana Evans, Louisville
In the midst of this successful Cardinals run, having won at least one tournament game in each of the last nine editions (including a runner-up finish in 2013), the Liberty have more or less viewed them as a de facto farm team. They drafted Asia Durr second overall in 2019 and added Jazmine Jones and Kylee Shook with consecutive picks in last year’s selections. Jones rose to the occasion at the one when Ionescu went down, earning All-Rookie Team honors at the end of the year.
Ideally, the Liberty will welcome back 2020 opt-outs Asia Durr and Marine Johannes, but Evans can provide some insurance at the spot. The ACC’s leading scorer would immediately help a Liberty team that finished dead-last in points per game (71.9, nearly nine full points behind 11th-place Washington) and her propensity for three-point shooting would undoubtedly fit in Walt Hopkins’ vision. Evans’ speed, particularly in transition, has also earned positive reviews, and immediately working with familiar faces like Jones and Shook could help her make an immediate impact.
See her in action: Monday vs. No. 15 Marist (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Hemisfair: F Jasmine Walker, Alabama
Walker has made her WNBA intentions abundantly clear. In a heartfelt piece on FanWord, Walker mentioned that despite a self-described late entry into the game, making the WNBA has become the ultimate dream.
“I started late in the sport, but everything just came so natural,” Walker wrote. “I continued to improve every year, and by the time I was in high school, I had already made up in my mind that I wanted to play in the WNBA. So I always set a goal in whatever I did to be productive in accomplishing that dream.”
Accomplished on and off the court as an SEC Academic Honor Roll member, Walker fulfills not only the Liberty’s scoring requirements but their issues in the interior as well after the departure of Amanda Zahui B. Bringing in veteran free agent Natasha Howard certainly helps, but Walker can provide interior depth. The Liberty are apparently pleased with Kiah Stokes’ attempts to become an outside threat…having attempted 85 tiples after only three in her first four years…but they must make up for the paint deficiencies that may come with Stokes’ new role.
See her in action: Monday vs. No. 10 North Carolina (12 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Mercado: G Arella Guirantes, Rutgers
In this unusual season, perhaps no fifth-year senior has upped their stock more than Guirantes. Formerly of Texas Tech, Guirantes led the Big Ten in scoring and finished ninth in the nation in the same category. Of note, Guirantes put up 22.1 points against opponents ranked in the RPI’s top 50. In a happening one can almost view as fateful, Guirantes know what it’s like to work with Liberty royalty, at least indirectly. This season, she broke Sue Wicks’ record for most successful free throws in the program’s illustrious history. The Liberty managed to get to the line 18.4 times a game last season, good for seventh in the league.
Legendary Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer called out Guirantes’ leadership skills and locker room prescience upon her decision to return for the fifth year.
“Arella is the perfect leader to bring Rutgers women’s basketball to the next level as we continue our resurgence as a national power,” Stringer said, per ESPN’s Graham Hays. “We appreciate her dedication to our program and her commitment to excellence. Her work ethic and competitive drive is second to none, and we are excited to welcome her back for her senior season.”
See her in action: Monday vs. No. 11 BYU (12 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
River Walk: F Rennia Davis, Tennessee
A two-way player, Davis’ drop in three-point production (27 percent this season) might scare some teams off, but the new-look Liberty have been shown to appreciate players unafraid to capitalize on open looks. Davis also fulfills the Liberty’s requirements of searching for rebounding help in the post-Zahui B era, as she has earned 37 double-doubles in her Knoxville career.
She has also appeared to have fulfilled her preseason goals of controlling the ball better and her conditioning. Davis had 11 games in which she had two or fewer turnovers and played at least 35 minutes in 11 more, the best tally being 41 minutes in an overtime tilt against fellow tournament participant West Virginia. Her ultimate resiliency was on display during the SEC Tournament festivities in Greenville. Davis twisted her ankle in the first half but returned to earn a career-best 33 points in the 77-72 quarterfinal victory over Ole Miss. In another notable performance, Davis tallied 24 second-half points when the Lady Vols ended South Carolina’s SEC winning streak on February 18.
See her in action: Sunday vs. No. 14 Middle Tennessee (2 p.m. ET, ABC)
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags