Mystics land U-Conn. star Aaliyah Edwards with No. 6 pick in WNBA draft

Mystics land U-Conn. star Aaliyah Edwards with No. 6 pick in WNBA draft

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

NEW YORK — Aaliyah Edwards looked down and had a quiet thought to herself Monday evening. She said a little prayer and gave herself a message: It’s your time.

The former Connecticut star had just heard WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert call her name as the No. 6 pick of the draft inside the Brooklyn Academy of Music, sending the first-team all-Big East forward to the Washington Mystics.

“She said my name, and that’s when the waterworks started happening,” said Edwards, sporting a white, sleeveless dress and her trademark braided yellow streaks. “Just super grateful for this moment and this opportunity.”

The Mystics also selected Gonzaga guard Kaylynne Truong (second round, No. 21 overall) and Belgian forward Nastja Claessens (third round, No. 30 overall).

The Mystics, a team with no shortage of inside players, were one of the mysteries of a draft that was top-heavy in the frontcourt. The team is also in the process of retooling its roster after the departures of Elena Delle Donne and Natasha Cloud and the retirement of Tianna Hawkins. Part of that roster revamp was signing 6-foot-5 center Stefanie Dolson, a two-time all-star, to a two-year deal. Washington also has two first-round picks in the 2025 draft.

But the first moves came Monday night. Guard and wing were significant needs, but Edwards was considered a borderline lottery pick by many and presented significant upside at that slot. She averaged career highs of 17.6 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.7 steals to go with 1.0 blocks.

A 6-3 power forward, Edwards could be a good complement to 6-5 center Shakira Austin because she has already worked on her midrange game.

“One of the things going into this league that I want to do is just expand my game,” Edwards said. “Might be asked to play a different role, but I’m open to it. I see myself as a versatile player and impacting in any position that I’m asked to play in. Yeah, it’s going to be a tough league, tough first year, but I’m pumped and I’m ready for the challenge.”

Edwards also comes from a strong collegiate program known for ushering WNBA-ready players into the league. In four seasons, Edwards finished 15th in school history in points (1,861) and eighth in rebounds (1,020).

General Manager Mike Thibault envisions her lining up beside Austin and being able to play outside in those situations but also inside in lineups with Dolson, who is a danger from beyond the arc. He called her one of their biggest targets in the draft and added that she and Myisha Hines-Allen are fours who can multiple things.

Thibault also called Edwards one of the best finishers around the rim in the draft and said she is a physical defender who can also get out and pressure people.

“You want to try to get players who complement each other and do different things and be able to play differently,” Thibault said. “Aliyah’s last step will be able to stretch her game to the three-point line. That’s not a consistent, comfortable thing for her yet, but it’s something she practices, and she knows going forward over the next year or two, it’ll be a part of, you know, the plan for her to get better.

“We’re trying to get versatility as much as we can. That doesn’t mean we’re just going to go and just play a power basketball game. That’s not who we are.”

Thibault addressed the backcourt in the second round with the 5-8 Truong, who started all 36 games for Gonzaga as a fifth-year senior. She averaged 11.4 points, a career-high 5.8 assists and 1.3 steals and shot 42.1 percent from three-point range. The assists and long-distance shooting are areas of need for the roster.

Claessens is a 19-year-old who has been a member of the Belgium national team since 2019.

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