Home » WNBA draft 2024: Nyadiew Puoch heads Australian cohort relishing success

WNBA draft 2024: Nyadiew Puoch heads Australian cohort relishing success

The largest cohort of Australians in more than two decades have been selected in the WNBA draft, a milestone which has been marked by Basketball Australia’s announcement that it is seeking investment in the WNBL.

Forward Nyadiew Puoch and guard Isobel Borlase were selected by the Atlanta Dream straight from the WNBL, at picks 12 and 20 respectively. They were joined in the draft by Nebraska guard and former WNBL rookie of the year Jaz Shelley, who was selected at pick 29 by the Phoenix Mercury.

The draft drew record interest thanks to No 1 pick Caitlin Clark, who set a new points record in college basketball during her four years at Iowa, and has drawn millions of fans to the sport with her dynamic play and scoring ability.

Rachael Sporn, a former Opal and WNBA player, said the interest Clark prompted in the draft was “just amazing” and, given the standard of the college system, it was “super to have the representation” of three Australians drafted.

“It’s wonderful for Australian basketball for the light to shine on us,” the former Olympian said.

Basketball Australia (BA) is looking to leverage the increased interest in women’s basketball, announcing on Tuesday it is seeking equity partners in the WNBL.

The men’s league, the NBL, was sold to telecommunications and property investor Larry Kestelman in 2015, however the WNBL has remained under the BA umbrella.

BA’s chief executive, Matt Scriven, said the increasing interest in women’s basketball partly triggered by Clark would help drive investment in the WNBL.

“Our sport is such a global sport, and we are intrinsically connected to the US,” he said.

“We’ve got more NBA players than ever before, and now more WNBA players than ever before, so the connection to US basketball is enormous, and that then has a flow down effect as well into this market.”

Nyadiew Puoch and Isobel Borlase play against each other in the WNBL in February. Photograph: Kelly Defina/Getty Images

EagleHawk Capital has been appointed to seek investment in the local women’s league under a restructure, and Scriven confirmed BA was open to giving up majority ownership as long as it retained roles in terms of integrity, community programs and overall structure of the local game.

“We have seen what other women’s sports have done in recent years and we strongly believe that the WNBL is a fantastic product with great potential that will garner significant interest from investors both domestically and globally,” Scriven said.

The selection of two WNBL players in the WNBA draft underlines the potential of the Australian league. Shelley also played in the WNBL in 2018-19 before going to college at Nebraska.

The NBL is widely considered the second most competitive men’s league in the world after the NBA, and prospects including LaMelo Ball and Alex Sarr – who is in contention for the No 1 draft pick this year – have chosen to develop their game in Australia before their professional careers in the US.

Kestelman has long been linked with a move for the WNBL. Several clubs have NBL and WNBL teams.

He said the WNBL “deserves better”, and that the NBL is a “close friend and ally” of the WNBL and is “here to help”.

“There could be better partners than I am, there might be people that can do a better job than I can, I don’t think we’re the only game in town,” he said.

Women’s college basketball attracted record US television audiences this year.

South Carolina’s victory over Caitlin Clark’s Iowa in Sunday’s women’s NCAA championship game had a preliminary audience average of 18.7 million on ABC and ESPN.

skip past newsletter promotion

LSU’s Angel Reese (pick No 7) and Iowa’s Caitlin Clark (pick No 1) before the WNBA draft. Photograph: Adam Hunger/AP

Within sport, only American football, the World Cup and the Olympics have drawn larger American audiences since 2019.

In Australia, women’s sport is increasingly proving its value to broadcasters and advertisers. The Matildas’ match in the semi-finals of last year’s women’s football World Cup reached more than 11 million viewers, becoming the most-watched television program since 2001, when the existing rating system was established.

Scriven said the selection of three Australians by WNBA teams, all of whom played in the WNBL and are graduates of the centre of excellence in Canberra, demonstrated the “growth trajectory” of the local sport and the quality of its pathway programs.

Puoch, 19, won the WNBL title this year with the Southside Flyers, where she played alongside Lauren Jackson, who was picked No 1 in the 2001 WNBA draft as one of four Australians.

“Still got plenty of development to go,” Puoch said on ESPN. “Lauren said it’s going to be a test, but I can’t wait.”

Borlase was an WNBL first-team selection, averaging 15.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.5 assists while also making her Australian Opals debut in Brazil earlier this year.

“Being challenged by the best in the world and the opportunity to play against them, I can’t wait,” the South Australian, who is also 19, said.

Sporn has known Borlase since she was a child, and un-retired the Adelaide Lightning’s No 14 jersey to allow the younger fellow South Australian to take it on.

“I got to see Izzy play quite a bit as a junior and always heard how she was dominating,” Sporn said. “I’ve watched in admiration her development, and her becoming an Opal and hopefully an Olympian in July.”

Shelley, 23, won WNBL rookie of the year honours in 2018 with the Melbourne Boomers.

“I am so excited for the opportunity and couldn’t be happier about being picked up by Phoenix,” she said.

Shelley has played against Clark’s Iowa side in the Big Ten final this year, which attracted more than 4 million viewers and was won in overtime by Iowa.