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Lynx land dynamic scorer Pili with No. 8 pick in WNBA draft

The Lynx got a lot more talented on offense with the decision to take Utah power forward Alissa Pili in the first round of Monday's WNBA draft in New York.

Pili is the fourth-highest scoring player in Division I basketball over the past two seasons (21.1), a player able to score inside and out, who plays with a physicality that shows why she was a good football player growing up in Alaska. She was taken with the No. 8 overall pick. By some accounts Pili — who is of Samoan and Alaska Native descent — was the second-most polished scorer in this year's draft class.

In her postdraft interview, Lynx president of basketball operations and coach Cheryl Reeve said Pili will need to adjust to the level of WNBA play. She will need to work on her defense. But:

"The thing you can't teach is offense," Reeve said. "It takes talent, instincts. We're hopeful she's someone that can be taught to, defensively, be able to exist on the court with great players in a way you'd have confidence having her on the court. … We feel like we can teach the defense. The offense will come naturally to her. That's something we can't teach."

From a large, athletic family — her brother Brandon plays for the Miami Dolphins — Pili grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, and began her college career at USC before transferring to Utah for her final two seasons, where she played with Gianna Kneepkens and Jenna Johnson, two native Minnesotans who are already filling Pili in on her new home.

This season, even after Kneepkens went out because of a broken foot, Pili pushed the Utes into the NCAA tournament, scoring 61 points in two tournament games. Pili averaged 21.4 points this past season, with 6.6 rebounds, was a 55% shooter overall, 40.4% on three-pointers. She scored 20 or more points 18 times, 30 or more four times. And that includes 37 points against South Carolina early in the season. A team, Reeve wryly noted, that is pretty good.

Now she gets to learn from players like Napheesa Collier.

"I'm super excited to come in and learn from players like that,'' Pili said. "I think I bring versatility and physicality to the game of basketball.''

And a sense of family. Pili said her family is very important to her, as is her heritage. The dress she wore to the draft, which was held in Brooklyn, was black with a gold tribal print on it.

"I'm a humble person," she said. "I like to represent my people. Especially this year, I tried to tap into representing my culture, being that inspiration for young kids who look like me, are from my background."

There were few surprises in the seven picks before the Lynx, who had traded with Chicago over the weekend, swapping their pick to the Sky, moving to No. 8.

As expected, Iowa star guard Caitlin Clark was the first overall pick by Indiana. Posts Cameron Brink (Los Angeles) and Kamilla Cardoso (Chicago) went 2 and 3. Making its second first-round pick, Los Angeles followed with Tennessee forward Rickea Jackson at No. 4.

Dallas took Ohio State guard Jacy Sheldon at No. 5, then Washington took UConn forward Aaliyah Edwards. With the pick Chicago traded up to get, the Sky took LSU forward Angel Reese.

Pili comes to the Lynx ready to score at all levels. She has the physicality to score in the paint, the versatility to score from midrange and behind the arc.

There will be challenges. Defense, for one. Proving she can do what she did in college against bigger, faster players. Monday she sounded ready.

"They'll get someone who is a competitor,'' Pili said. "Who has a unique style of player. Just fun to watch. I'm very excited to just be able to play at the next stage."

With their third-round pick (31st overall), the Lynx selected Louisville guard Kiki Jefferson, who finished up at Louisville for her final season after starting at James Madison. Jefferson averaged 12.3 points, 2.3 assists and 4.5 rebounds.

The Star Tribune did not send the writer of this article to this event. This was written using a broadcast, interviews and other material.