(Reuters) – Atlanta selected Kentucky’s Rhyne Howard with the first pick of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) draft on Monday as the Dream look to rebuild around the versatile guard.
Atlanta were a dismal 8-24 last season and acquired the top pick from the Washington Mystics last week with the goal of adding Howard.
“To go first, I don’t have words for it,” an emotional Howard said after her name was called at the event in New York City.
“I’m still shaking. I’m grateful to everyone who helped me get here.”
The 6-foot, 2-inch Howard finished last season with an average of 20.5 points per game, producing 102 assists and 39 blocks.
The Indiana Fever, who had the worst record in the league last season, used the second pick to add Baylor forward NaLyssa Smith.
The dynamic Smith averaged 22.1 points and 11.5 rebounds per game last season.
“I’m coming in hungry,” Smith said.
“I can’t wait to come to this program and make a big difference.”
The Mystics selected 6-foot, 5-inch forward Shakira Austin with the third pick and she joins a team that is expected to contend for a championship right away.
“I’m going to add that young vibe, that competitive energy,” Austin said.
“I’m just ready to work.”
The Fever selected defensive specialist Emily Engstler with the fourth pick.
“I think defense is about passion and I bring that a lot in my game,” Engstler said.
“You’re good at things that you love to do and I love to play defense.”
The New York Liberty selected Nyara Sabally to round out the top five in the draft, which was held in-person for the first time since 2019 due to COVID-19 restrictions.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)