The NCAA tournament is often the last chance for WNBA prospects to showcase their skills in front of general managers, coaches, and scouts. The performances players put on during March Madness often create the lasting impressions teams and fans will remember for years to come.
Of course, recency bias tends to influence fans much more than GMs, which is clear when considering the many notable players in the past that have stood out in the tournament only to land later in the draft. However, as recent drafts suggest, it’s not necessarily when the player is selected that matters. Instead, it’s all about finding the right opportunity to make an impact.
This year should be no different. Expect a handful of players that slip later in the draft to still make a difference on a WNBA roster. Here are the five players who are most likely to be WNBA sleepers during this year’s draft:
1. Ashley Joens, Guard/Forward, Iowa State (Late First/Early Second Round)
This wing fits the mold of being a true sleeper. Like many others who have come before her (such as Naz Hillmon, Dana Evans, and Crystal Dangerfield), Joens is a high-volume scorer who won’t get nearly as many touches in the WNBA as she receives in college. In some ways, that might not matter because she’s a pure shooter with a solid stroke.
Depending on who you ask, the Iowa State wing is a potential late first rounder, but all indications point to her slipping to the second round. It’s less about what she isn’t doing and more about what her peers are doing. There are many talented guards making strong arguments for first-round selection, and several of them have better cases than Joens.
All that being said, shooters tend to figure out a way to stick in the league, and she certainly fits the bill. Joens is efficient and has the size needed to make a name for herself in the WNBA. She won’t need a lot of playing time to be effective, and sometimes that’s enough to make a roster.
2. Ashley Owusu, Guard, Virginia Tech (Second Round)
Since returning to the team in late January after recovering from her injury, Owusu hasn’t seen the floor much due to what appears to be a coaching decision. It’s hard to determine why Virginia Tech coach Kenny Brooks cut her playing time so drastically, especially given some of her performances this year.
Owusu’s body of work suggests she’s a WNBA talent. She was instrumental in Maryland’s success her first three years and is a known prolific scorer. Her lack of playing time will likely bludgeon Owusu’s draft stock, but this has little to do with her ability.
Owusu might choose to take a fifth year of college eligibility and possibly transfer again. However, if she stays in the draft, whoever drafts her will likely give a long look at allowing her to make the roster. She has a high basketball IQ and knows how to get teammates involved. Among the prospects on this list, she’s the only player who we won’t see take the court much—if at all—in the NCAA tournament. But WNBA teams won’t forget her, and in the right situation, she is good enough to crack a rotation.
3. Laeticia Amihere, Forward, South Carolina (Second Round)
You’ll hear from South Carolina fans—and probably other college basketball fans—about Amihere’s case for being a first-round pick. She has everything you want in a WNBA prospect: She’s long, athletic, protects the rim, and possesses a game perfect for the way the league plays. In the SEC tournament, Amihere had dominant performances against Mississippi and Arkansas.
With that said, I have yet to hear a solid case for considering her as one of the first 12 names called. Her body of work in the regular season isn’t great. But part of that is due to limited minutes and being on a stacked roster. Prior to the SEC tournament, she was a third rounder (at best), but she is likely to rocket up draft boards. Still, even with great performances, it won’t be enough to consider her as a first-round talent.
Instead, don’t be surprised to see her as a second-round selection. On the right team, she’ll have a chance to prove she belongs in the league as a backup utility player who is capable of playing almost every position.
4. Hannah Jump, Guard, Stanford (Late Second/Early Third Round)
With Allie Quigley out of the league this season, the W will need someone to replicate her impressive performance during the three-point shooting competition. And out of all the rookies in this year’s class, Jump is in the best position to lead the league as the next prolific distance shooter (until Caitlin Clark is drafted).
Jump is shooting 43.0 percent from distance on 216 threes, good for third in all of women’s college basketball. Jump will mostly be used as a specialist, and she might fall a bit for that reason. But whoever takes her will strongly benefit from her shooting prowess, which is partially thanks to her ability to use her length at 6’0” to create separation from her defender.
5. Dorka Juhász, Forward, Connecticut (Third Round)
Even when UConn isn’t graduating a star prospect, the Huskies have a strong track record of producing WNBA talent. Juhász has passing abilities on par with last year’s starting center, Olivia Nelson-Ododa, and she shoots well from midrange for someone her size. Her game fits the modern WNBA, especially given the pace UConn plays at.
Of course, there’s a chance Juhász will make more money and receive better opportunities playing overseas. Plus, she would be closer to her family in Hungary. However, on ability alone, she’s good enough to make a roster. Because of the sheer number of talented bigs eligible this year, she will probably go late in the draft, but her selection won’t reflect her overall potential.
Expect 2023 to be another year in which late draft picks earn a real chance to make the league. With a number of teams facing drastically different rosters compared to last season, expect to see rookies competing for training camp spots—maybe even winning them. WNBA fans would be remiss to think the top of the draft are the only players capable of making an impact this season. There’s plenty of talent coming into the league, and it’s up to GMs and scouts to find the true diamonds in the rough.