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Wings take Collier, Kuier top two in WNBA draft

The Dallas Wings drafted Texas post player Charli Collier with the No. 1 pick in the 2021 WNBA draft on Thursday.

Collier is the first Longhorns player to be the WNBA’s top pick and the second from the Big 12, following Baylor center Brittney Griner in 2013.

The Wings took another post player, Awak Kuier of Finland, with the No. 2 pick. The 6-foot-5 Kuier is the seventh international player who did not play U.S. college basketball to have been selected in the top five of a WNBA draft.

The 6-foot-5 Collier averaged 19 points and 11.3 rebounds per game, while shooting 51.1% from the field for the 21-10 Longhorns, who advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight. Collier is a draft-eligible junior because she turns 22 this calendar year.

She will be playing for a pro team in her native Texas; she is from Mont Belvieu in the greater Houston area.

“My heart is racing right now because I worked so hard for this,” Collier told ESPN’s Holly Rowe. “This is a game that I love, I deserve to be here and I’m built for it. This is my moment.”

Collier is the third true junior to be the No. 1 pick after Notre Dame guards Jewell Loyd in 2015 and Jackie Young in 2019. Tennessee’s Candace Parker was a junior in eligibility when she was No. 1 in 2008, but she had been in school four years, having redshirted what would have been her first season in 2004-05.

Kuier, 19, plays professionally for Ragusa in Italy, where she has averaged 8.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game this season. She doesn’t turn 20 until August.

Kuier was born in Cairo after her parents fled war-torn South Sudan. When she was 2-years-old, her family immigrated to Finland. She becomes the first Finnish player drafted in WNBA history.

Dallas went 8-14 and missed the playoffs at ninth place in last year’s condensed season in Bradenton, Florida. Like the rest of the WNBA teams, the Wings will be back in their home market this season, playing at College Park Center in Arlington, Texas.

Vickie Johnson is in her first season as coach of the Wings; she previously was a head coach in San Antonio and played 13 seasons in the WNBA. In Collier and Kuier, Johnson and the Wings get two players with great size as well as scoring and rebounding ability.

“An elite basketball player, so happy that she will be my teammate. Been following her, watching her game,” Collier said of Kuier. “6-foot-5, long, versatile. Can’t wait to get to play with her and know her as a basketball player and a teammate.”

Dallas also added Arkansas scoring whiz Chelsea Dungee at No. 5 with their third first-round pick. Dungee gives the Wings another offensive-minded guard along with third-year pro Arike Ogunbowale.

The Atlanta Dream took NCAA tournament star Aari McDonald at No. 3. The guard led Arizona to the national championship game, and becomes the first Wildcat player to be taking in the first round of the WNBA draft.

The first big surprise of the draft came at No. 4, when the Indiana Fever took West Virginia guard Kysre Gondrezick, who was projected by most to be in the second or third rounds. She led the Mountaineers, 22-7, with 19.5 points per game this season.

New York chose Michaela Onyenwere of UCLA with the sixth pick.

For the second season in row, the three-round draft was virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert, who announced the picks from her home last season, was in an ESPN studio in New York while players were at home appearing virtually when they were drafted.

With potentially as few as 144 roster spots in the WNBA and so many players under contract or still on their rookie-scale deals, there are not many spots open for players to make teams. There’s a good chance that less than a dozen draftees will be on opening-day rosters this season.

Training camps open around April 25 and the season starts on May 14.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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