Busy offseason continues for Mercury with three selections in historic draft

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Friday’s WNBA draft is a look into the near future for sports selections everywhere, as they are the first league to hold its draft digitally and in compliance with social distancing policies. The Phoenix Mercury held three selections in the draft, and used those picks to shore up depth in preparation for the future.

Round 1, Pick 10 (10th Overall) – Jocelyn Willoughby, Small Forward, Virginia (Traded to New York Liberty for guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough)

The Mercury were active during the early stages of the offseason, first starting off by picking up two first round picks from the Connecticut Sun in the DeWanna Bonner trade in February. Phoenix flipped one of those picks (seventh overall) as well as their own at fifth overall for talented point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith. This left the Mercury with the 10th overall selection, and the organization used it to fill a position that was left open after Bonner was dealt. Willoughby was soon after traded to the New York Liberty for third-year guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough

Before being acquired by the Mercury, Walker-Kimbrough was traded to the Liberty from the Washington Mystics in a deal involving former league MVP Tina Charles. Last season with the defending champion Mystics, Walker-Kimbrough averaged a career-high 6.7 points per game and 43.2 percent field goal percentage.

Round 2, Pick 6 (18th Overall) – Te’a Cooper, Guard, Baylor

ESPN had Cooper slotted at 10th in its pre-draft rankings, and Draft Site had Cooper going eighth overall in its final mock draft. It is safe to say this is an absolute steal for the Mercury, adding to a backcourt that has only gotten stronger as the winter rolled along.

Cooper found herself in three different programs throughout her college career, as she had stops at Tennessee, South Carolina, and finishing up at Baylor. She earned all-SEC Freshman honors her first season for the Volunteers before having to miss her second year with a left knee injury. She transferred to South Carolina in 2017, but did not suit up for the Gamecocks due to conference transfer rules.

Cooper earned all-SEC second team honors in her only season in Charleston before heading to Baylor. Her final collegiate year for the Bears saw her score 13.6 points per game to go along with 4.6 assists. She was a key contributor on a Baylor team that put together a 28-2 record heading into the Big 12 conference tournament.

The backcourt got a little more stability with the acquisition of Diggins-Smith, but Diana Taurasi is not going to play forever. Cooper can be a fantastic role player for the Mercury early on, and her 41% shooting from three will be another dangerous weapon to help fix a 2019 struggle.

Round 3, Pick 5 (29th Overall) – Stella Johnson, Guard, Rider

The Mercury go with another great scorer, this time nabbing Stella Johnson from Rider University. While not playing in a big conference can sour perception of a player, pouring in 2,167 points is always impressive.

Johnson averaged 24.8 points per game in her senior season, the best average in all of NCAA Division I. She proved to be more than a scorer during her collegiate career as well, grabbing 750 rebounds (6.0 per game), 336 steals (2.7 per game) and dishing 428 assists (3.8 per game). While her three-point shooting percentage decreased in her junior and senior season, she still shot 36% behind the arc.

Her fantastic four-year career was showered with many honors as well. She was the 2019 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Player of the Year, and was named the conference’s player of the week nine times during her senior year. Johnson is a player who was not all that highly touted coming out of high school, but made her name known during her collegiate career and will get a shot in the WNBA with one of the league’s historic franchises.