Through the next 20 weeks, we’ll highlight the top prospects for the 2016 WNBA Draft in April.
When the No. 4 Baylor Lady Bears and WNBA are used in the same sentence, the first name that comes to mind is usually the Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner. But Baylor’s latest standout player Niya Johnson might just change that.
During her high school years in Gainesville, Fla., Johnson averaged over 19 points per game, but since coming to college she’s taken on more of an assisting role than a scoring role.
The 5’8” senior guard put on a show for the Bears’ offense last season by leading the NCAA in assists at 322. Her mark also set the single-season assist record within the Big 12. Before even starting her senior season, Johnson already broke Baylor’s career assist record and currently holds 738 assists to her name.
Last season, Baylor finished their 2014-2015 campaign with a record of 33-4 and a trip to the Elite Eight behind the duo of Johnson and Nina Davis. Baylor lost to Notre Dame in the Elite Eight, 77-68, although Davis had 26 points and Johnson posted 10 assists in the loss.
Alongside Davis, the two hold strong leadership roles on the team that work well as a unit and are able to guide their team to strong finishes. For example, the two worked well together in in the Nov. 28 win over Michigan State. Davis put up 30 points to pull the Bears out of an early 12-point deficit, while Johnson came in and loaded up 19 points for her team. In the end, Baylor managed to shake off Michigan State, 84-76.
After that game, Davis lauded Johnson by saying that she’s “under the radar” and “one of the best point guards in the country.”
Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey has had other impressive guards play under her, including current Dallas Wings guard Odyssey Sims. Mulkey was a point guard herself in the ’80s during her time at Louisiana Tech, so she knows a thing or two about the position.
In the past, Mulkey’s team has managed to stay high atop the mountain because of her adaptability. The team has won with key players both in the post and with quality point guards.
Despite her low overall ranking, many draft sites predict Johnson will go early in the draft during the first round to Phoenix. If this were the path that the draft takes, Johnson would be reunited with her former teammate in Griner, as the two played together during Johnson’s freshman year.
This season the Mercury suffered with the absence of star guard Diana Taurasi. While Taurasi will be back for the 2016 season, Johnson would be a new component that could add depth.
But first Johnson will look to boost her draft stock in her final college season. Baylor is currently 9-0 for the year, including wins over ranked opponents No. 19 South Florida on Nov. 19 and No. 20 Michigan State on Nov. 28. The Lady Bears have won their last three games by a combined 147 points, and Johnson is handing out nine assists per game.