After surviving a coaching change and helping Tennessee return to the forefront of women’s basketball, Rae Burrell has been drafted by the Los Angeles Sparks with the No. 9 pick in the 2022 WNBA Draft after four years on Rocky Top.
This selection makes Burrell the 44th Lady Vol to be selected into the WNBA and the 19th to be picked in the first round. This also marks the first time the Lady Vols have had two players selected in the first round in back-to-back seasons since 2005-2006.
Burrell quickly became a fan favorite at Tennessee for her scoring ability. In her junior year, she averaged 16.8 points on 45.8% field goal shooting, 40.2% 3-point shooting and 82.5% shooting from the line. This all-around scoring gave hope that she could elevate her game to another level in her senior season with leading scorer Rennia Davis departing for the WNBA.
However, in the season opener, Burrell suffered an injury that held her out of 12 games. After returning in the midst of SEC play, Burrell slowly worked her way back into form. She displayed her potential when healthy in the postseason where she averaged 16.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game.
On top of scoring, Burrell rebounds and defends well. In typical Lady Vol fashion, she goes up strong for boards, corralling 5.5 rebounds per game as a sophomore and 4.6 as a junior. Defensively, she is an elite off-ball defender who can jump into passing lanes and create transition opportunities. Her size on top of this skillset makes her a valuable prospect.
This is exactly why the Sparks selected Burrell. Their need for wing depth made LA and Burrell a perfect match. She will bring a 3-and-D presence off the bench that every team looks for. With teammates such as Nneka Ogwumike, Chiney Ogwumike, Chennedy Carter, Te’a Cooper, Lexie Brown and Jordin Canada, Burrell will have plenty of skilled guards and wings to learn from in her rookie season.
“I’m just honored to be able to play with such great players,” said Burrell. “I’ve played against a few of them in college, so I’m happy to play with them as teammates now. There’s also some legendary players on there that I’m excited to learn from, as well.”
Los Angeles is coming off of a 12-20 season where they failed to qualify for the playoffs. However, with the additions of Carter and Liz Cambage during the off-season, the Sparks look to return to the postseason for the first time since being led by Lady Vol legend Candace Parker in 2020.
Burrell was joined by her parents and brother along with Tennessee coach Kellie Harper in New York for the draft. Harper coached Burrell for her final three collegiate seasons. Harper spent one season in the WNBA as a part of the Clevland Rockers in 1999, as well.
“I just really appreciate (Harper’s) support,” said Burrell. “She’s been there for me through a lot of adversity, and I appreciate that. Her support tonight means a lot.”
The WNBA season kicks off on May 6. The Sparks open up their season by traveling to Chicago to take on the defending champions.
Featured image courtesy of Lady Vol Basketball Twitter (@LadyVol_Hoops)
Ryan Sylvia is the Sports Editor at TNJN. He is a senior at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville majoring in journalism and electronic media. Although he spent most of his life being raised outside of Philadelphia, he was born in Knoxville, and he is happy to be back home. Ryan has had a love for sports from an early age, and he found his love for writing in high school while taking journalism classes. He hopes to find a job involving both his passions as a sports journalist after graduation. To reach Ryan, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org