Stanford senior Alanna Smith has become the first Australian taken in the top 10 of the WNBA Draft, since Liz Cambage was selected with the second pick in 2011. The Phoenix Mercury, who are led by Opals head coach Sandy Brondello, selected the Cardinal forward with the 8th overall selection and just the fourth Australian drafted to Phoenix in WNBA history.
The connection between Smith and the Mercury is clear. Brondello was also the coach who gave the Stanford star her first full national team call-up, before including her in the World Cup team that secured a silver medal in 2018. Smith also joins fellow World Cup squad member Steph Talbot at the Mercury, with another Opal in Leilani Mitchell also featuring on the roster.
Brondello had little hesitation in selecting Smith with the 8th pick, noting in a post-draft call that there is an immediate spot for the sharpshooting power forward in the rotation alongside stars Diana Taurasi, DeWanna Bonner and Brittney Griner.
“I got to see Alanna first-hand with the Opals, I knew the skills that she could have. We have a big 3 but to have shooters around that, and the way she’s improved in all aspects of the game in her senior year, she’s going to be a great complementary player to those big 3.
“She was a pleasure to coach with the Australian team, and it’s amazing when you give somebody confidence how much they can grow as a player and that’s what really happened.
“I just gave her the confidence to play her game, and she did the rest. It all really does come down to her.”
Smith came to Stanford as the program’s first international recruit, and has progressed impressively since, averaging just 5.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in her freshman year. Since that time, the versatile forward has increased her scoring output by at least four points each season, culminating in a senior campaign that saw Smith sit in the top 50 in the nation for scoring at 19.4 points per contest.
Smith is hardly just an offensive weapon though; the Pac-12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year is also one of the finest shot blockers in the collegiate game. Numerical comparisons across milestones can be dangerous, but the fact that Smith sits among names such as Maya Moore, Breanna Stewart, and Elena Delle Donne as the only players to finish their careers with numbers in excess of 1,600 points, 200 blocks, and 150 threes, speaks to her versatility and all-round prowess at the college level.
Smith also won two Pac-12 Tournament titles with the Cardinal, picking up the Most Outstanding Player award in 2019, as well as reaching the NCAA Final Four in 2016-17, two Elite Eights, and one Sweet Sixteen.
The test for Smith now comes in the form of translating that outstanding college career into the professional ranks. Whilst it would be unfair to expect any player to reach the heights of a Delle Donne, Stewart, or Moore, Smith has shown more than enough signs that the first Australian drafted in the first round in eight years can carve out an impressive WNBA career. Coach Brondello believes Smith, as well as fellow draft picks Sophie Cunningham and Brianna Turner, can all achieve at least that much.
“We got really good players that are going to help us for a very long time. These are players that can play in the WNBA for a very long time, and that’s good for us, because we know we’re getting a bit older.
“Our goal is to win. Diana (Taurasi) has a window, we want to win now, but we added the right pieces that could help her.”
Three selections in the top 13 of a stacked draft, led by a player in Smith that the coach already knows inside and out, could just be what the Mercury need to help one of the greatest of all time secure one more championship.