Naz Hillmon has already rewritten Michigan basketball record books. She is the first All-American in program history. She is the only player, man or woman to reach 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. She scored 50 in a game, more than any male or female Wolverine ever.
Monday night, she probably sets another record. Hillmon will almost certainly be the tallest Michigan player ever selected and is a guarantee of being the first draft in 17 years.
Hillmon will be one of 12 leads participating in the draft, which will be held at Spring Studios in New York (19:00 ET, ESPN). There are 12 choices per. round, and the draft predictions are divided on whether Hillmon will be among the first dozen.
Her superlative college career almost certainly makes her not fall past the middle of the second round. Hillmon averaged 18.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per game over four seasons while shooting 59 percent off the field. She counted 18 double-doubles as a senior and helped Michigan to her first Elite Eight ever.
There is no mystery as to her draft profile. She is an exceptional rebounder. She is a great goal scorer around the basket. And she plays hard all the time. Just ask anyone.
“Naz Hillmon is pro-ready in terms of her efforts and how hard she plays,” ESPN analyst LaChina Robinson said Thursday.
“I love her engine. It’s relentless. She works hard all the time,” said another ESPN analyst, Rebecca Lobo.
“One thing that stands out is her engine,” said Seattle Storm head coach Noelle Quinn.
“I think every coach appreciates someone with the engine she has,” added Washington Mystics head coach and general manager Mike Thibault.
As Thibault noted, it sounds nice when a customer can “do a little bit of it all pretty well.” But for someone like Hillmon, an excellent rebounder and finisher, the teams know what they’re getting.
“I think teams can give you the opportunity to develop the other things as you go,” Thibault said.
And Hillmon needs to work on expanding her game, especially her shots from the outside. She never made a 3-pointer in Michigan (she only tried six times) and rarely shot outside the paint. She is a decent free-kick shooter (74 percent last season; 70 for her career), but was often reluctant to take outside shots during the attack.
Hillmon is 6-foot-1, undersized for a WNBA post-player. Her size did not prevent her from dominating the Big Ten, but players are bigger and more athletic at the next level.
“The only problem with Naz is that she’s 6-1,” Lobo said. “If she did everything she does in a 6-5 body, it would be incredible. She would have an incredible ability to translate it from college to professional play. The only question you hear about her is her size. “
What does this mean for Hillmon’s draft share? ESPN projects that she will go late in the first round, No. 11 to Las Vegas Aces. SB Nation tied her early in the second round, at 15, to the Atlanta Dream. Mock drafts on CBS Sports and The Athletic only expected the first round and did not include Hillmon.
It’s been a long time since a Michigan player was drafted. No Wolverines were taken in the initial WNBA draft in 1997; six were selected between 1998 and 2005; and no side. Michigan State has had four draft picks since the last Wolverine was selected; Central Michigan has had two.
That makes Tabitha Pool the latest Wolverine draft, and after being No. 23 overall, tied for the highest pick in the program’s history. (Kysre Gondrezick was taken in fourth place last year, but she only spent one season in Michigan before ending her career in West Virginia.)
Hillmon may also be the most productive Wolverine in WNBA history. Pool, like Alayne Ingram from the third round in 2002 and Anne Thorius in the fourth round from 2002, was given up a month after being drafted and never appeared in a WNBA match. Jennifer Smith, a third-round pick in 2004, played seven minutes in total.
Stacey Thomas (1998, third round) and Pollyanna Johns Kimbrough (2000, second round, No. 23 overall) each played six seasons in the league and made modest numbers, without hitting either six points or four rebounds per game in a season.
Time will tell if Hillmon can top it, though everything about her career so far suggests she can. Both Lobo and Thibault said Hillmon’s work ethic will help improve her current weaknesses.
“It makes her very appealing as a prospect from the idea of understanding that she wants to get into a camp and work,” added Seattle coach Quinn. “It’s very exciting.”