Last year’s draft tied the 12 team era mark for most legal international draft picks. The strength of that draft class internationally was known for a number of years, but the 1999-born group has been steadily gaining momentum as the players have gotten older. Could last year’s total be in danger after this draft? Here are some of players who could hear their name called next year and some lesser known players who could be surprise picks (name, potential position, national team, club team with country listed if not the same as national team):
Ezi Magbegor, PF, Australia, Melbourne Boomers
Generally considered the safest international prospect in this draft, Magbegor enters it having decided against heading to the United States for college, instead playing professionally. Economic realities for almost all Australian players mean that she will be looking to come over as soon as possible and is more likely to be available whenever possible than internationals from other countries. That means that a team might need to be willing to use a roster spot on her before she can produce as her skill level catches up to her athleticism, but for a team with a set rotation drafting later, her value could be hard to pass. An injury has limited her club minutes this season, but executives will be hoping that they get more of a chance to see her for the rest of the season before they pull the trigger.
Monique Conti, PG, Australia, Melbourne Boomers
Having played national league minutes for several seasons, Conti is no stranger to tough competition and a well known name from youth national team exploits. A particularly young prospect in this draft class, she most certainly would not back down from a challenge. Australia is historically a reliable place to find WNBA talent as financial realities mean that coming here is the best option, but that has changed somewhat in recent years. In the case of Conti, teams will wonder about her long term commitment to basketball as she also plays Australian Rules Football, but she will have been on the radar for longer than most of the players on this list.
Li Yueru, C, China, Guangdong
Having consistently put up numbers since her professional debut, Li has fallen behind some of the other names in attention, but her production has not slowed this season with Guangdong. While there is no doubting her ability locally, the questions about her long term potential due to athleticism and motor do persist. Her extensive experience playing with and against WNBA players should make her ready to contribute on the offensive end very quickly even if she needs to expand her skills long term. Her club’s reliance on her now over more established veterans will mean that there will be plenty to evaluate before the draft.
Han Xu, C, China, Xinjiang
A big game against the United States at the World Cup moved Han from a player that everyone was looking forward to seeing to a player who could have the tools to be considered the top international prospect in the draft. In that game, the flashes of offensive ability that she showed in other settings came together for an impressive scoring outburst. While she may not be quick, her height and defensive instincts should make her an imposing figure in the paint in the near future. Paired with the league’s most lethal scoring threat for most of the season, her club numbers are not spectacular, but show that she continues to play her role as she adjusts to this level of play for the first time and her recent increase in production is noteworthy.
Livia Gereben, SF, Hungary, Szekszard
The commitment to developing young players by Hungary in recent years has been commendable with plenty of domestic league time devoted to giving minutes and experience to new players. They are still looking to have an elite talent from this generation that can make it on a European if not global scale and Gereben is the hope of their 1999 birth year players. Playing key minutes for Szekszard for several seasons now, her continued development will be focused on rounding out her skillset to be a more complete small forward. There will be no shortage of tape for evaluators to watch before they decide on whether to risk a late round pick.
Tima Pouye, PG, France, Tarbes
The trend among French prospects has moved towards coming to the United States for college with minutes hard to come by in a very deep professional league, but there has tended to be at least one draft-caliber prospect staying and being eligible for the international route each season. This birth year’s talent is Pouye, a young point guard who helped Tarbes make a surprise run to the finals last season. The team has opted to give her a bigger role this season, with somewhat inconsistent results, but the talent is clearly there. The question will be whether teams feel that it is at a level where the pick needs to be made now or if she will be a possible free agent target in the future.
Zala Friskovec, SG, Slovenia, Celje
Few young players have been putting up numbers like Friskovec at both the club and youth national team levels. She has been playing for local powerhouse Celje and has now gotten her chance to play on a bigger club stage. The youth friendly region has had a history of producing draft picks, but her team is filled with young players and it will be difficult to determine whether her production is due to being a bigger talent than her teammates and how much of her game will transfer at higher levels. If her shooting ability at this age is any indication, she could one day be considered one of Europe’s best in that category.
Melisa Brcaninovic, SF, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Gyor (Hungary)
Having left her homeland at a very young age to pursue better economic opportunities, Brcaninovic has certainly been highlighted as a prospect for this draft for a while. She spent a year off the radar in Lebanon before Schio astutely snapped her up on a long term deal, loaning her out to the second division in Italy, where she carried on the Bosnian tradition of players that can do a little bit of everything. The next step was supposed to be this season in Hungary, but it has been radio silence since a productive preseason with only spot minutes of national team play. She is certainly a player who could work her way back into the draft picture in the upcoming months.
Ilayda Guner, C, Turkey, Istanbul University
Already a productive member of the full national team, Guner will be putting up impressive stats this season in the deepest league outside the WNBA. She is getting this opportunity because her club has backed away from being one of the top teams in the league, playing their youth instead of signing big name foreign players. That does mean that her stats are inflated, but it also gives teams the chance to compare her better directly with the top players that she is facing regularly.
Inci Guclu, C, Turkey, Galatasaray
Is there a height at which a player should automatically be considered a prospect? Guclu was last measured standing at 6’9″. Her lack of youth national team play last summer and few minutes at the club level last season left her as a bit of mystery coming into this season, but she has gotten spot minutes this season. As might be expected with her youth, she is still raw, but teams will certainly be trying to figure out what she could become given a few more years of development. With picks at the end of the draft often wasted, could a team find long term value late?
Klara Lundquist, PG, Sweden, Sodertalje
After producing several eye-catching scoring outputs in Sodertalje’s foray into continental play, Lundquist has certainly increased her notoriety in Europe after solid youth national team play and an introduction to the full national team. Her team will only have the domestic league to worry about now, which makes it harder to compare her accomplishments, but it will also give her the chance to demonstrate some of her playmaking abilities. While she is an accomplished scorer, the current uptick in her shooting percentages will have to be watched to see if she has made the genuine strides in that area which will make the difference when she hits the next level.