WNBA draft: Penn on edge

CHAMPAIGN — Karisma Penn asks that you give her a little space Monday night.

For this University of Illinois women’s basketball All-American, there definitely are no plans for a WNBA draft party. Even the thought of an intimate gathering of her closest friends around the TV makes Penn a bit uneasy.

“I’m just really nervous about if I don’t get drafted I don’t want to have a bunch of people around me because that’s super awkward,” she said. “So I’m probably going to watch by myself.”

By most accounts, the 6-foot-2 Illini senior need not worry about whether her name will be called. The feedback Penn has received from several WNBA coaches indicates she likely will be selected in the second round of the three-round draft. ESPN and BTN women’s basketball analyst Stephanie White, who is entering her third season as an assistant coach for the WNBA’s Indiana Fever, concurs with that projection. And the website draftpick.net — in its WNBA mock draft — has Penn being chosen in the second round with the 20th overall pick by the San Antonio Silver Stars.

Still, Penn is making no assumptions even as she eagerly awaits the draft.

“I’m excited, but at the same time I don’t really know how it’s going to go,” said the

Illini’s all-time blocks leader and No. 2 career rebounder. “I could go anywhere from the second round to not being drafted at all, so I guess I’m hopeful more than anything.

“And even if I don’t get drafted, I still want to work out with teams and try to make it that way. ... I just want the opportunity.”

Based upon her experience in New Orleans last week during the Final Four, three teams appear to have the most interest in Penn. The Shaker Heights, Ohio, native had interviews with head coaches from the Seattle, Indiana and San Antonio franchises.

Unlike Illini teammate Adrienne GodBold, Penn chose not to participate in the New Orleans women’s basketball scouting combine — which included individual workouts and games — for pro hopefuls. The $300 entry fee figured largely in that decision, but “at the same time I feel like all the (WNBA) coaches have seen me in the last four years,” Penn said.

What they saw of Penn this season, White says, no doubt greatly enhanced her draft stock. Playing in a new offensive system under first-year Illini coach Matt Bollant, Penn was utilized away from the basket far more than previously in her college career. That allowed WNBA scouts to assess the three-time All-Big Ten player’s ability to handle a transition to forward — her projected position as a pro.

“I think the biggest advantage that she gained from this year is moving around a lot more, playing in a lot more places offensively,” said White, who played for five seasons in the WNBA and has coached in the league since 2007.

“For the first three years of her career, everyone strictly saw her on the low block ... playing basically a 5 position. And now in Matt’s system you saw her shooting the three. You saw her working in the high post. You saw her working face-up on the baseline.”

In this expanded offensive role, Penn responded with a career-best scoring average of 19.2 points while shooting 50.6 percent with greater range.

“She’s not big enough to play at 5 in the WNBA so she has to play the 4 and this year was able to work on some of those skills from a 4 position,” White said. “A lot of times, a 4 in our league is like a perimeter player. So I think the way she was used this year really opened people’s eyes.”

If White is confident that Penn will be drafted, the former Purdue great is far more cautious about predicting an immediate WNBA future for the four-year Illini starter. White describes the competition for roster spots in the 12-team league as “really cutthroat.”

“You’re talking about a league that has 11-man rosters and who does not have a lot players that are retiring,” said White, the 1999 Wade Trophy National College Player of the Year. “I would not be shocked if you see first-round picks that don’t make teams. There aren’t enough spots. There are too many returning core players for each team, and it’s really (draftees) fighting for those 10th and 11th spots with people who have been pros before.”

Whatever transpires for Penn during and after the draft, she’s committed to continue her basketball career. And if that means going to Europe, the Illini’s all-time No. 4 scorer says she’s ready to take that step.

A step, White says, that could be a steppingstone to Penn’s goal of playing in the WNBA.

“She would not be alone in the fact that most of these college kids when they come out will need that experience in Europe before coming back and making teams maybe a few years down the road,” White said. “But after they do that and they‘ve gone overseas and they’ve become more experienced at the professional level, they flourish.”

A look at the 2013 WNBA draft:
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Rounds: Three. Twelve picks per round for a total of 36.
TV: ESPN2 will televise the first round, with ESPNU carrying rounds two and three.
Illini draft history: 2000 — Tauja Catchings by Phoenix in third round; 2004 — Cindy Dallas by San Antonio in second round; 2005 — Angelina Williams by Phoenix in second round; 2010 — Jenna Smith by Washington in second round.
Penn will wind up ... in
the second round, according
to Scott Whittum from
collegesportsmadness.com:
Round 1
1. Phoenix — Brittney Griner, C, Baylor
2. Chicago — Skylar Diggins, PG, Notre Dame
3. Tulsa — Markel Walker, SF, UCLA
4. Washington — Elena Delle Donne, SF, Delaware
5. New York — Angel Goodrich, PG, Kansas
6. Seattle — Tianna Hawkins, PF, Maryland
7. Washington — Sugar Rodgers, SG, Georgetown
8. San Antonio — Carolyn Davis, PF, Kansas
9. Indiana — Kayla Alexander, C, Syracuse
10. Los Angeles — Lindsey Moore, PG, Nebraska
11. Connecticut — Alex Bentley, PG, Penn State
12. Minnesota — Destiny Williams, PF, Baylor
Round 2
13. Washington — Chelsea Poppens, PF, Iowa State
14. Minnesota — A’dia Mathies, PG, Kentucky
15. Tulsa — Monique Oliver, C, Rutgers
16. San Antonio — Brittany Chambers, SG, Kansas State
17. New York — Karisma Penn, PF, Illinois
18. Seattle — Kelly Faris, PG, Connecticut
19. Atlanta — Kevi Luper, SG, Oral Roberts
20. San Antonio — Shenneika Smith, SG, St. John’s
21. Indiana — Davellyn Whyte, PG, Arizona
22. Los Angeles — Taleya Mayberry, G, Tulsa
23. Connecticut — Anna Prins, C, Iowa State
24. Minnesota — Tayler Hill, SG, Ohio State
 

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