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Atlantas first-year franchise, Gainesvilles Humphrey prepare for Aprils WNBA draft
Gainesville grad Tasha Humphrey is projected to be a first-round pick in this month’s WNBA Draft. - photo by Times file photo

It doesn’t have quite the allure that its male counterpart does, yet the WNBA Draft is looming, and for local women’s basketball fans it’s an exciting time for two reasons: The Atlanta Dream will be finalizing its roster for its inaugural season, and the professional placement of Gainesville’s own Tasha Humphrey will take place.

On Wednesday, WNBA coaches Michael Cooper of the Los Angeles Sparks, Steven Key of the Chicago Sky, Bill Laimbeer of the Detroit Shock and Marynell Meadors of the Atlanta Dream assessed the pool of talent they have to choose from in this year’s draft, which will take place at 1 p.m. April 9 at the Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Fla.

“I think it is such a deep and strong draft,” Meadors, coach of the first-year Atlanta Dream, said. “Every team is going to be able to get some quality players that are going to be around for 10 years....We go very deep into the second round before it starts tapering off a little bit.

“For an expansion team like the Atlanta Dream, I think we are going to have the opportunity to pick up a couple of players that are going to be pretty good franchise players for us, and we are looking forward to the draft.”

In an expansion draft held Feb. 6, the Dream selected a bevy of guards, including former North Carolina point guard Ivory Latta, former Louisiana Tech guard Betty Lennox, former Connecticut small forward Ann Strother and former Michigan State point guard Kristin Haynie but have yet to add a marquee or franchise-building name to the roster.

“We’re trying to solidify what we have,” Meadors said. “I know we have a couple of point guards who will make a significant contribution in (Ivory) Latta and (Kristin) Haynie. We have some role players but we also have some players with a lot of upside. We’re going to try to get a guard or post player, or the best available player, who will help our team.”

The likely top pick in the draft, going to the Sparks, will be Candace Parker of Tennessee, with LSU’s Sylvia Fowles, the reigning SEC Player of the Year, presumably going second to the Sky.

What happens after that, including where three-time All-American and four-time All-SEC performer Humphrey will be picked, is anyone’s guess.

“My own personal belief,” Laimbeer said, “I’d expect Atlanta to take her at eight.”

And why not? Humphrey grew up in Gainesville, had a heralded career at at the University of Georgia in Athens and will, if nothing else, draw fans to Philips Arena when it becomes the home of the Dream.

“She’s one of the better players in that first round,” Meadors said. “She can post up or step out at the three. She realizes how good she can be if she works real hard and she’ll be a fantastic player. I don’t know who we’re going to select just yet but, if she’s there, I’d have to give it a hard look.”

For Humphrey, who will be participating in this weekend’s pre-draft camp at the University of Tampa, there’s much personal anticipation regarding starting a new era in her basketball life.

“It’s just a very exciting time right now especially getting ready for the draft and everything,” Humphrey said. “I’m real excited with the pre-draft camp being this weekend, I’m really excited to go showcase my skills and show what I have to offer to the next level.”

The former McDonald’s All-American and three-time Class AAA state champion with the Lady Red Elephants knows her perceived weaknesses coming into the draft but is also aware that her ability to not only play with her back to the basket, but step out and hit a 3-pointer is appealing.

“I think I need to be better at being a more consistent basketball player,” Humphrey said. “But I think a strength of mine is my versatility because I’m able to do a lot inside and outside.”

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