Star-Studded WNBA Draft Will Define the League’s Next Era

The Indiana Fever’s pick of Caitlin Clark, as well as the selections of Cameron Brink, Kamilla Cordoso and Angel Reese, gave draft night a palpable buzz.
Caitlin Clark seems ready to shoulder the pressure of lifting not only the Indiana Fever, but the entire WNBA to new heights.
Caitlin Clark seems ready to shoulder the pressure of lifting not only the Indiana Fever, but the entire WNBA to new heights. / Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Throngs of fans crowded inside the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Monday night, swarming Caitlin Clark as the former Iowa superstar calmly signed autographs and smiled for selfies ahead of the 2024 WNBA draft. Just minutes later, with the festivities underway, the crowd leapt to its feet when commissioner Cathy Engelbert uttered Clark’s name as the Indiana Fever’s No. 1 pick. The move may have been devoid of suspense, but as is the case with most things involving Clark these days, it still inspired plenty of fanfare. With all eyes on her, the 22-year-old appeared poised, posing for pictures next to a Fever jersey, but a glimmer of emotion crossed her face, too.

“I feel like this was definitely a little bit more emotional for me. I think that's because when you're in the heat of competition, you don't have time to really feel your emotions,” said Clark. “But when you're kind of just sitting at a table waiting for your name to be called, I think that really allows the emotions to feed you, and you're with your family.” 

For Indiana, the selection marks a franchise-defining pick, altering the trajectory of the Fever on and off the court (36 of the team’s 40 regular season games will be nationally televised to showcase Clark’s arrival). 

“I can't imagine a more perfect fit, a better place for me to start my professional career, an organization that really just believes in women's basketball and wants to do everything the right way. So I couldn't be more excited to get there,” said Clark, emphasizing that the objective is to get back to “championship habits.” The Fever haven’t been to the postseason since 2016. Clark will have help achieving that lofty goal from Aliyah Boston—the 2023 No. 1 pick and reigning WNBA Rookie of the Year—who was on hand for Monday’s draft. “She’s going to make my life easy,” Clark said of Boston.

Indiana and Clark may have assumed the role of the evening’s headliner, but the 2024 draft class is also one of the deepest in recent memory, creating plenty of intrigue through the first round and beyond. How the lottery picks would shake out was a major story line heading into Monday, as Cameron Brink, Kamilla Cardoso and Rickea Jackson emerged as compelling pro-ready prospects. 

Ultimately Brink held onto the No. 2 spot, with the Stanford star selected by the Los Angeles Sparks. Tears filled her eyes as the West Coast native hugged her mom on her way to the stage. “I had great conversations with the Sparks and Raegan Pebley and Curt [Miller], and they're amazing, but you just never know, and I didn't want to assume anything,” said Brink. “It's just such a high-stress environment, as well, so when they called my name, just a huge wave of emotions hit me. When I saw my mom tearing up and my dad, that definitely hit home.” Brink will link up with Jackson, who was selected fourth by L.A., imbuing a squad that just lost Nneka Ogwumike to free agency with needed size and firepower.

Kamilla Cardoso poses with WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert at the 2024 WNBA draft
Kamilla Cardoso is moving onto the Chicago Sky after helping South Carolina win its second national title in three years. / Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Cardoso, a newly crowned national champion out of South Carolina, helped her draft stock with a dominant March Madness showing, was picked third by the Chicago Sky. She’ll join forces with SEC rival and fellow former national champion Angel Reese of LSU, who was selected seventh by Chicago. “No one is going to get any rebounds,” joked Cordoso of the pairing. The two stars will be foundational pieces to new coach Teresa Weatherspoon’s rebuild, adding moxie to a team ready to curate a new identity. “My conversations were great with T Spoon,” said Reese. “As you know, she was coached by Coach [Kim] Mulkey, so I kind of thought maybe I'll go there. Knowing like the conversations were so good and she felt like a mother to me.”

Beyond what each team gained, the 2024 draft also served as a turning point for the league as a whole. In a star-studded draft that invited fans back for the first time since 2016, and in an event that was littered with household names and splashy fashions, a question began to emerge: How will this momentum translate to the WNBA? Commissioner Engelbert had an answer: “We are ready for this moment.” The pandemonium was balanced by the latest draftees who were sure to acknowledge the WNBA legends before them, and Engelbert emphasized that “women's basketball is not a fad.” The league’s storied history was acknowledged and honored—and an invitation to new fans to unearth that history was made—but it also became clear that the 2024 WNBA draft will likely be looked back on as a tipping point years in the making.  


Published
Clare Brennan

CLARE BRENNAN

Clare Brennan is an associate editor for Sports Illustrated focused on women’s sports. Her work includes coverage of the WNBA and women’s soccer; and she previously wrote for Just Women’s Sports.