Former Bradley Central star Rhyne Howard selected No. 1 overall in WNBA draft

Kentucky's Rhyne Howard, right, poses for a photo with commissioner Cathy Engelbert after being selected by the Atlanta Dream as the first overall pick in the WNBA basketball draft, Monday, April 11, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

History was made Monday night as former Bradley Central star Rhyne Howard was selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft by the Atlanta Dream at Spring Studios in New York.

It marked the first time a Chattanooga-area athlete was taken with the top overall pick in a professional sports draft.

"I'm shaking right now," said a visibly emotional Howard during ESPN's national telecast. "I had a sigh of relief because this is a dream come true. It's hard to believe it's real."

The late Reggie White, a Howard High graduate, was taken with the fourth overall selection in the 1984 United States Football League draft, marking the highest any area athlete had previously been drafted.

Howard helped Bradley Central win four district and three region titles and in her senior season was named the 2018 Gatorade Player of the Year and Tennessee's Miss Basketball. She then went on to earn MVP honors as part of the 18-under USA national squad that won gold.

"You can't help but get goosebumps," said Bearettes coach Jason Reuter. "I've been blessed with a lot of great players but how many times do you get to coach the No. 1 draft pick? To watch her grow up and be a part of her career, that's a once in a lifetime memory.

"I'm just so proud of her. I hope I helped her while she played for us, but I know for a fact Rhyne Howard helped me and our school while she was here. To me it's just another chapter in her story with lots of others still to be written."

Before the draft, Dream general manager Dan Padover said the team was looking for a player who brought "fresh energy and sparks something underneath our franchise."

The Indiana Fever selected NaLyssa Smith, a senior forward from Baylor University, with the No. 2 overall pick. At No. 3, the Washington Mystics chose Shakira Austin, a center from the University of Mississippi.

Howard said she planned to bring to the Dream the same "competitive spirit" she had with Kentucky, where she made sure to stay "calm, cool and collected" to make an impact. In Atlanta, Howard said, she will "continue to make everyone better."

There is very little Howard can't do. She is in the top 10 of almost every statistical category at Kentucky, and scored the second-most points in program history for women and men. Last month, Howard led Kentucky to its first Southeastern Conference Tournament title since 1982 when the team handed South Carolina, the 2022 national champion, its second and final loss of the season.

She finished her senior year averaging 20.5 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.

Kentucky, a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Division I women's basketball tournament this year, lost to No. 11 Princeton in the round of 64. But Howard's career at Kentucky has helped draw attention to the women's basketball program at a school best known for its powerhouse men's team.

At Kentucky she became the unanimous national freshman of the year, a three-time All-American, Wooden Award finalist and was named SEC player of the year in both 2020 and 2021 - her sophomore and junior seasons - while also earning All-SEC defensive team honors.

To be able to select her, the Dream shook up the draft last week by acquiring the No. 1 pick in a trade with Washington. In return, the Mystics will get the Dream's No. 3 and No. 14 overall picks. The Mystics also have the right to swap first-round picks in the 2023 draft, which is expected to draw deep talent from around the country.

Atlanta finished last season 8-24, the second-worst record in the WNBA, and has missed the playoffs for the past three seasons. Adding Howard to the Dream's roster immediately bolsters their perimeter game, which should help after the team traded guard Chennedy Carter to the Los Angeles Sparks in the offseason.

The WNBA season starts May 6 with eight teams, including the reigning champion Chicago Sky, in action.

- Compiled by Stephen Hargis