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Aces take forward, guard in 1st round of WNBA draft

Updated April 12, 2022 - 11:40 am

Natalie Williams entered her first WNBA draft in search of one specific type of player. The Aces’ new general manager wanted a stretch power forward to add shooting, defensive versatility and size to her roster.

There was only one problem.

“There weren’t that many,” Williams said after Monday’s draft in New York.

The Aces had five picks, including two first-rounders. They took Colorado forward Mya Hollingshed with the No. 8 pick — hoping she’s the stretch player they need — and Florida Gulf Coast guard Kierstan Bell at No. 11. Louisiana State guard Khayla Pointer, Virginia Tech guard Aisha Sheppard and LSU center Faustine Aifuwa were their second- and third-round picks.

“The coaches, the staff, everybody’s super happy,” Williams said.

Former Liberty High School guard Rae Burrell was taken with the ninth pick by the Los Angeles Sparks. She overcame an early-season leg injury to average 12.3 points and 3.9 rebounds this past season for Tennessee.

Las Vegas originally had three selections, but acquired the Nos. 8 and 13 picks from the Minnesota Lynx on Sunday for its 2023 first- and second-round selections. Williams said she made the move after being approached by Minnesota.

Hollingshed averaged 14.1 points and 7.4 rebounds and shot 39.6 percent from 3-point range this past season. The 6-foot-3-inch Houston native wasn’t one of the 12 players invited to the draft, but Williams thought the team’s need and Hollingshed’s potential fit in the shooting-heavy, space-and-pace style new coach Becky Hammon wants to play was the most important factor in making the decision.

Williams said the Aces considered drafting wing help at No. 8 and hoping Hollingshed would be available at No. 11, but decided they didn’t want to take that chance.

“Mya Hollingshed is not only an incredible athlete, but her 3-point shooting is hard to come by,” Williams said.

The Aces then turned their attention to finding help on the wing and drafted Bell, who was projected as high as No. 4 by some publications.

“We didn’t think Kierstan Bell would still be there,” Williams said.

Bell averaged 22.8 points this past season, her second at Florida Gulf Coast after transferring from Ohio State. She shot 47.1 percent from the field and averaged 7.3 rebounds.

Two picks after grabbing Bell, the Aces took Pointer, the niece of Aces president Nikki Fargas. Pointer averaged 19.6 points and had a career-best 168 assists this past season at LSU.

With the 23rd pick, Las Vegas took Sheppard, who brings more of the versatility and shooting ability the team wanted. She is Virginia Tech’s all-time leading scorer and the Atlantic Coast Conference’s career leader in 3-pointers with 402. She shot 38.7 percent on 3-pointers this past season.

Aifuwa was taken with the 35th pick. She shot better than 50 percent from the field for the first time in her career this past season.

After the draft, the Aces signed free agent guard Deja Winters, who played at Minnesota this past season. She also played at Seton Hall and North Carolina A&T.

Williams said she thinks the Aces addressed their biggest needs and that the rookies will bring a high level of competition to training camp.

“We knew going into the draft what we wanted,” Williams said. “We’re happy to get everything we wanted.”

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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