Despite the lack of Big Ten teams competing in the Final Four this year, the conference boasts an exceptional graduating class with several WNBA Draft prospects. Though big names like Monika Czinano and Grace Berger have opted to return for the 2022-23 season, a host of equally big (if not bigger) names have declared for the draft this coming Monday, April 11th.
Per the WNBA as of March 29th, 11 Big Ten women’s basketball players have declared for the draft. Of those, Michigan’s Naz Hillmon, Northwestern’s Veronica Burton and Michigan State’s Nia Clouden are the most likely candidates to occupy a highly-touted W roster spot. In addition, some analysts have Indiana’s Ali Patberg and Maryland’s Chloe Bibby as potential later round picks.
As far as predictions go, there’s no clear “winner” in terms of who might be the most desirable player representing Big Ten this year. Here is our breakdown of the three most eligible draft prospects and the experts’ expectations:
Naz Hillmon, Forward, Michigan
One of the greatest athletes to represent the University of Michigan in the history of its storied athletics programs, Hillmon’s final season in the maize and blue was nothing short of spectacular. Averaging 21 points and 9.6 rebounds per game, she notched 18 double-doubles and ended her collegiate career with 15 consecutive double-digit scoring performances. Additionally, Hillmon finished the season ranked fifth nationally in win-shares — a testament to her undeniable ability to dictate the flow of each game she plays in.
The Cleveland, Ohio, native was recently named to her fourth consecutive All-Big Ten First Team and to her second consecutive WBCA All-American Team. At Michigan, Hillmon led the Wolverines to three NCAA Tournaments — taking UM dancing each year the tournament was actually played during her career — including two Sweet Sixteens and one Elite Eight appearance. Hillmon is the most decorated Big Ten player entering the draft this go-around, and she will no doubt be a force to reckon with in the W.
Veronica Burton, Guard, Northwestern
It’s time for Burton to earn to recognition she deserves, and the hope is WNBA scouts have been able to see more clearly this year just how much of an impact she can make in every facet of the game. Northwestern head coach Joe McKeown often said after games that there’s no one who has done more individually for their team than the Backcourt Burglar. Burton scored 17.6 points per game her senior campaign, and she managed to clock out at sixth in the country in assists with 6.4 per game.
Oh, and I almost forgot. She also notched a nation-leading four steals per game.
Burton, along with the rest of her senior class, played a major part in transforming the culture of Northwestern women’s basketball. After starting as a true first-year in 2018-19, she reprised her role on the 2020 team — one that would have likely been a 3-seed or higher in the NCAA Tournament — that won the program’s first Big Ten regular season title. Burton also led the ‘Cats to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2021. Raised in a family full of athletes, Burton has found a way to create her own legacy at Northwestern, and she looks likely to continue to do so at the professional level.
Nia Clouden, Guard, Michigan State
The backbone of Michigan State’s basketball program for the last four years, Clouden has made waves despite not having as much relative team success as some of her conference counterparts. A starter for her entire career, the Maryland native dropped 20 points per game while picking up 4.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists per contest this past season.
In terms of milestones, Clouden dropped a program record 50 points against FGCU in December. 50 points. Though her collegiate career concluded with a loss to Ohio State in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament, Clouden is a powerful guard who definitely has lots of eyes on her ahead of the WNBA’s big night.
Jackie Powell of Bleacher Report has one Big Ten player slotted in her first round — Burton at pick 12 to the Connecticut Sun. In need of a solid backup guard with defensive strengths, the Wildcat fits the bill. Down two more spots and into the second round is Hillmon — placed by Powell at pick 14 to the Atlanta Dream — and Clouden — slotted at pick 17 to the Seattle Storm. Powell features the Big Ten players in slightly lower spots than the average of some other mock drafts featured in this article, but, nonetheless, it includes all three of the conference’s top prospects.
Granted Mechelle Voepel only included her first round predictions, ESPN was the lone mock draft of the bunch with no Big Ten player at all. Thumbs down.
Like Voepel’s, Gabe Ibrahim’s mock draft for Her Hoop Stats only features the first round. However, his does feature two Big Ten players — Clouden at pick four and Hillmon at pick six, both to Dallas. Her Hoop slots Clouden the highest of all the mock drafts featured, citing her peak decision-making skills and her fit within the Wings’ system.
Lines’ mock draft is the only one of the bunch to feature all three conference standouts in the first round. Occupying three consecutive spots, Hillmon comes first at pick five to New York, then Clouden at six to Indiana and Burton at seven to Dallas. The only outlet to put Hillmon in front of the other two, Lines has the best overall rating of Big Ten potential draftees.
The second mock draft with two Big Ten players in round one, W Basketball Blog’s Aneela Khan has both Burton and Hillmon heading to Indiana at slots seven and 10, respectively. Interestingly, Khan has Maryland’s Bibby going to Seattle at pick 18 in the second round before Clouden at pick 23 to Las Vegas.