The WNBA draft is an annual draft held by the WNBA through which WNBA teams can select new players from a talent pool of college and professional women's basketball players. The first WNBA draft was held in 1997. The WNBA "requires players to be at least 22, to have completed their college eligibility, to have graduated from a four-year college or to be four years removed from high school."
The 1997 WNBA draft was divided into three parts. The first part was the initial allocation of 16 players into individual teams. Players such as Cynthia Cooper and Michelle Timms were assigned to different teams. The second part was the WNBA Elite draft, which was composed of professional women's basketball players who had competed in other leagues. The last part would be the 4 rounds of the regular draft.
In 2003 and 2004, there would be dispersal drafts due to the folding of the Cleveland Rockers, Miami Sol and Portland Fire. The players were reallocated to existing teams. There were also dispersal drafts in 2007 with the folding of the Charlotte Sting, 2009 with the shuttering of the Houston Comets, and in 2010 when the Maloofs cast off the Sacramento Monarchs to focus their resources on the Kings franchise in the NBA.
There are no restrictions on what part of the world the players come from (though under varying rules, international players have been subject to tighter age restrictions within the draft than college players). However, college sports governing bodies, most notably the NCAA, prohibit players from competing in professional leagues simultaneously with their college eligibility. Once the player has joined the WNBA, she is eligible to participate in overseas leagues during the WNBA offseason (many WNBA players play in Europe, Australia, or more recently China).
Dena Head is the oldest #1 draft pick (she was 27 years old), having graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1992 and the first player ever drafted to the WNBA. Lauren Jackson is the youngest #1 draft pick, being drafted at the age of 19. As of 2012, six first picks have gone on to win WNBA Championships, with 12 rings amongst them. In the seventeen seasons that the WNBA has been in existence, eight #1 draft picks have helped lead their teams to a playoff berth in their rookie year.
- Bishop, Greg (June 16, 2009). "Rutgers Basketball Star to Turn Pro in Europe". The New York Times. Retrieved December 6, 2009.
- Analyzing the WNBA's Mandatory Age/Education Policy from a Legal, Cultural, and Ethical Perspective: Women, Men, and the Professional Sports Landscape See Note #100
- Article XIII, Section 1 of the CBA; WNBA CBA
- "WNBA.com:McCarville, White, Irvin Go First in the 2005 WNBA Draft". www.wnba.com. Retrieved 2016-04-16.