Naz Hillmon will set another Michigan basketball record in the WNBA Draft


Naz Hillmon has already rewritten the Michigan basketball record book. She is the first All-American in program history. She is the only player, male or female, to reach 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. She has scored 50 in a game, more than any male or female Wolverine.

On Monday night, she will likely set another record. Hillmon will almost certainly be the best Michigan player ever picked and is guaranteed to be the first drafted in 17 years.

Hillmon will be one of 12 prospects in the draft, which will be held at Spring Studios in New York (7 p.m. ET, ESPN). There are 12 picks per round, and draft prognosticators are split on whether Hillmon will be among the top dozen.

Her stellar college career makes it a virtual certainty that she won’t make it past the middle of the second round. Hillmon averaged 18.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per game over four seasons while shooting 59% from the field. She tallied 18 double-doubles as a senior, helping Michigan to its first-ever Elite Eight.

There is no mystery when it comes to his draft profile. It is an exceptional rebounder. She is an excellent goalscorer around the basket. And she plays hard all the time. Just ask, well, anyone.

“Naz Hillmon is ready for the pros in terms of effort and how hard she plays, ESPN analyst LaChina Robinson said Thursday.

“I love her engine. It’s relentless. She works hard all the time,” said fellow ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo.

“One thing that stands out is his engine,” Seattle Storm head coach Noelle Quinn said.

“I think every coach appreciates someone with the drive they have,” added Washington Mystics head coach and general manager Mike Thibault.

As Thibault noted, it sounds great when a prospect can “do a bit of everything pretty well.” But for someone like Hillmon, an excellent rebounder and elite finisher, teams know what they’ll get.

“I think the teams could give you the opportunity to develop other things as you go along,” Thibault said.

And Hillmon needs to work on expanding his game, especially his outside shot. She never made 3-pointers at Michigan (she only tried six times) and rarely shot outside the paint. She’s a decent free-throw shooter (74 percent last season; 70 for her career), but has often shied away from shooting outside in the flow of the offense.

Hillmon is 6-foot-1, undersized for a WNBA post player. Her height hasn’t stopped her from dominating the Big Ten, but the players are taller and more athletic at the higher level.

“The only problem with Naz is that she’s 6-1,” Lobo said. “If she did everything she does in a 6-5 body, that would be incredible. She would have an incredible ability to translate that from college to professional play. The only question you hear about her is her size.

What does this mean for Hillmon’s stock project? ESPN predicts she will go late in the first round, No. 11 at the Las Vegas Aces. SB Nation tied her early in the second round, at age 15, to the Atlanta Dream. The fictional drafts from CBS Sports and The Athletic only screened the first round and did not include Hillmon.

It’s been a long time since a Michigan player has been drafted. No Wolverine was taken in the inaugural WNBA Draft, 1997; six were selected between 1998 and 2005; and nothing since. Michigan State has had four draft picks since the last Wolverine was chosen; Central Michigan had two.

This makes Tabitha Pool the most recent Wolverine drafted and, after reaching No. 23 overall, tied for the highest pick in program history. (Kysre Gondrezick was ranked fourth last year, but only spent one season in Michigan before ending her career in West Virginia.)

Hillmon may also be the most productive Wolverine in WNBA history. Pool, like 2002 third-round pick Alayne Ingram and 2001 fourth-round pick Anne Thorius, was waived a month after being drafted and has never played in a WNBA game. Jennifer Smith, a third-round pick in 2004, played seven minutes in total.

Stacey Thomas (1998, third round) and Pollyanna Johns Kimbrough (2000, second round, No. 23 overall) each played six seasons in the league and posted modest numbers, failing to score six points or four rebounds per game for a season.

Time will tell if Hillmon can top that, although everything about her career at this point suggests she can. Both Lobo and Thibault said Hillmon’s work ethic will help him improve on his current weaknesses.

“It makes her very attractive as a prospect for the notion of understanding that she will come to a camp and work,” added Quinn, the Seattle coach. “It’s very intriguing.”


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