Why Kamilla Cardoso is ‘in the conversation’ for No. 2 overall WNBA Draft pick

Kamilla Cardoso was always going to be a first round WNBA Draft pick.

But as she dominated the last month of the season for the No. 1 South Carolina women’s basketball team and finished things off with a national championship and Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors, Cardoso “really opened a lot of people’s eyes.”

That’s according to ESPN women’s basketball analyst Rebecca Lobo, who spoke on a media conference call Thursday previewing the 2024 WNBA Draft and said that Cardoso, South Carolina’s 6-foot-7 center, is now “in the conversation” for the No. 2 overall pick.

The Indiana Fever hold the No. 1 overall pick in Monday’s draft (7:30 p.m., ESPN) and are widely expected to select star Iowa guard and NCAA all-time leading scorer Caitlin Clark.

But after that?

“I think Kamilla is in the conversation for No. 2,” Lobo said Thursday. “I think especially with how she performed over the last month of the season, she was dominant. … Before that, was she going to be a lottery pick most likely? Yes. But she’s certainly solidified her position in the top four and potentially in the top two or three.”

Behind the Fever, the Los Angeles Sparks hold the No. 2 overall pick, the Chicago Sky have the No. 3 pick, the Sparks have the No. 4 pick (via trade) and the Dallas Wings are at pick No. 5.

Cardoso has long been considered a first-round talent, but has risen to as high as No. 3 in various national media outlets’ mock drafts after putting together a dominant March Madness run for the Gamecocks, who finished the season a perfect 38-0 after beating Iowa and Clark on Sunday afternoon in Cleveland.

After missing USC’s first round NCAA Tournament because of a fighting suspension stemming from the SEC championship game, Cardoso averaged 16.6 points and 10.8 rebounds per game in the tournament while shooting 63.8% from the field.

The 2024 SEC Defensive Player of the Year and an All America selection by various outlets, Cardoso had 22 points on 10-12 shooting and 11 rebounds in USC’s Final Four win over NC State (in just 23 minutes) and 15 points and a game-high 17 rebounds in an 87-75 title game win over Iowa.

Cardoso was named Final Four MOP for her efforts as she and South Carolina completed just the 10th perfect season by an NCAA Division I women’s basketball team, and first since 2016.

“A lot of people have been talking about her ability to run the floor as a 6-7 post player and her relentlessness in doing it on every single possession,” Lobo said. “And when she demands the basketball, which she did every possession over the course of the last month of the season, she just has to demand extra attention inside and she’s very good at passing out of double teams.”

“She’s a very good rim protector on the interior. So I think especially the effort with which she played again over the last three or four weeks of the season really opened a lot of people’s eyes.”

Cardoso, a Syracuse transfer and native of Brazil, finished her South Carolina career with two national championships in three seasons after joining coach Dawn Staley’s Gamecocks ahead of the 2021-22 season.

Behind Clark, a record-setting guard and the clear No. 1 prospect in the 2024 WNBA Draft, most analysts are split between Cardoso and Stanford center Cameron Brink for the No. 2 overall pick, with Tennessee’s Rickea Jackson also in that range.

Brink, a 6-4 forward, averaged 17.4 points, 11.9 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game as a senior for the Cardinal and offers 3-point shooting ability (30.4% for her career). Cardoso, at 6-7, is more of a true back-to-the-basket post player.

Lobo said the LA Sparks (who hold the No. 2 and No. 4 overall picks in the draft) could formulate their draft strategy based around their feel for who the Chicago Sky wanted to select at No. 3 and she “wouldn’t be surprised” if Cardoso ended up as the No. 2 overall pick.

“If you think, ‘All right, Chicago is not going to take Brink at three, but they might take Cardoso at three’ you roll the dice and say ‘All right, then I’m gonna take Cardoso at two, assume they don’t take Brink at three and then I can also get her (Brink) at four,’” Lobo said. “I do think Brink is gonna go second. But I would not be shocked if there’s some of that kind of stuff in play.”

South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso (10) cuts a piece of the net after winning the National Championship after beating Iowa at the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio on Sunday April 7, 2024.
South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso (10) cuts a piece of the net after winning the National Championship after beating Iowa at the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio on Sunday April 7, 2024.

WNBA execs talk Cardoso

As part of Thursday’s conference call, the general managers for the teams holding the top five picks in the WNBA Draft also spoke with the media and offered some hints on their strategy.

Sparks first-year general manager Raegan Pebley did not specifically address Cardoso but said her franchise wants “two players that not only have the skill set to make an impact early, but also a long runway ahead of them” in terms of development.

“For the No. 2 pick, I think we see it in a space of best available but also runway and growth,” Pebley said. “We’re interested in not just having a team and an organization and a player that has short term success but long term success. We’ll view the No. 4 pick the exact same way.”

And Sky general manager Jeff Pagliocca, whose team holds the No. 3 pick, was complimentary of Cardoso and said Chicago had done “a lot of scouting there.”

“A very nice player,” he said of Cardoso. “Good size, good athlete. A winner. Obviously has significant defensive traits already in place and can rebound. Looks like a high character player as well. I’d say anybody that ends up with a true five with a lot of room to grow is absolutely putting themselves in a good position for the future.”

Kamilla Cardoso mock draft projections