Sparks take Tennessee’s Rae Burrell in first round of WNBA Draft – San Bernardino Sun

LOS ANGELES — The Sparks were more than happy to select Tennessee guard Rae Burrell with the ninth pick in the first round of the 2022 WNBA Draft on Monday night.

The feelings are mutual.

“I’m honored to be able to play with such great players,” Burrell said when asked what it means to her to be drafted by the Sparks. “This is probably one of the best days of my life.”

Burrell, an athletic, 6-foot-2 wing from Las Vegas, shot 40.2% from 3-point range as a junior and 32.5% from behind the arc as a senior. Outside shooting, length and athleticism are three traits Sparks coach/general manager Derek Fisher covets.

“Specifically with Rae, it’s who we circled and watched all four years at Tennessee,” Fisher said. “We have prioritized length and versatility (this offseason). … Rae is a player we think can help us going forward in that regard.”

Fisher said he wasn’t sure Burrell would be available for the Sparks to select with the ninth pick but his coaching staff has already spent hours strategizing how she can make their team better.

“We love the versatility she possesses on the offensive end … her length defensively,” said Fisher, who later added that he sees Burrell as a long-term player in the organization.

Meanwhile, Burrell said she met Sparks captain Nneka Ogwumike during a recent meet and greet for soon-to-be rookies with the WNBA players’ association (WNBPA).

“I got to speak with Nneka,” Burrell said. “I was asking her a lot of questions, she was so helpful to me.”

The annual draft, which was held in New York City, started as expected, with the Atlanta Dream making Kentucky guard Rhyne Howard the No. 1 overall pick. The Indiana Fever took Baylor’s NaLyssa Smith second and the Washington Mystics selected Mississippi’s Shakira Austin third.

In addition to No. 9, the Sparks had the 16th, 19th and 27th picks in the 2022 WNBA Draft. Three of their four choices come from top women’s college basketball programs in Tennessee, Louisville and Connecticut.


With the 16th pick (second round), the Sparks drafted 6-foot Louisville guard Kianna Smith.

Smith, who graduated from Troy High School in Fullerton, was named the 2017 Orange County Register Girls Basketball Player of the Year. She attended Cal during her freshman and sophomore seasons before transferring to Lousiville, where her career culminated with a trip to the 2022 NCAA Women’s Final Four in Minneapolis.

Smith is also the daughter of a college basketball coach. Her father John Smith, who played collegiately at UNLV, is the head men’s coach at Cal Poly. Meanwhile, her grandfather Fred “Lucky” Smith was selected in the 1968 NBA Draft by Milwaukee Bucks.


The Sparks had another selection in the second round and used the 19th pick to select 6-foot-5 Connecticut center Olivia Nelson-Ododa.


”She played in a lot of high-level games (at UConn),” Fisher said.

Nelson-Ododa was the starting post player on a UConn team that made it to the national championship game against South Carolina earlier this month.


The Sparks used the 27th pick to draft Hawaii guard Amy Atwell, a 6-footer from South Perth, Australia, who Fisher described as a high-level shooter. She was the Big West Conference Player of the Year this past season while leading Hawaii to the Big West regular-season and conference tournament titles.

The draft added an infusion of young talent to a team that currently has 14 players with WNBA experience under contract for training camp but will have to cut that to a roster of 12 before the start of the season.

“Overall, we feel really good about the draft,” Fisher said. “This is a hard league to get into … when you only have 144 players in the world that suit up each season … it’s just not easy.”

As he navigated free agency and acquisitions that brought WNBA All-Star center Liz Cambage and talented guard Chennedy Carter to the Sparks, Fisher said he always knew he wanted to save enough money to be able to afford to pay a 12th player’s salary.

“We’ve done everything we can to make sure we could carry 12 players … it is important to have that additional roster spot to be able to maintain that relationship with a player who we think can help us now and in the future,” Fisher explained.

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