Utah’s Alissa Pili, right, poses for a photo with WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert after being selected eighth overall by the Minnesota Lynx during the first round of the WNBA basketball draft on Monday in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

Utah’s Alissa Pili, right, poses for a photo with WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert after being selected eighth overall by the Minnesota Lynx during the first round of the WNBA basketball draft on Monday in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

Alaska’s Alissa Pili selected by Minnesota Lynx as eighth pick in WNBA Draft

Two-time All-American is fifth Alaskan to be drafted, third to go in the top 10.

Alissa Pili’s day started at the Empire State Building and ended on Cloud 9 after she was selected eighth in Monday’s WNBA Draft in New York City.

The two-time All-American out of the University of Utah became the fifth Alaskan to be drafted, the third to go in the top 10.

Pili will join a Minnesota Lynx team that recently signed free agent Ruthy Hebard of Fairbanks. In addition, Anchorage’s Daishen Nix plays for Minnesota’s NBA team.

Pili, of Dimond High fame, was projected in several mock drafts to go in the 7-to-10 range of the first round following a career year with the Utes after she averaged 21.4 points on 55% shooting in 34 games.

The 6-foot-2 forward was the centerpiece of an overachieving Utah team that went 23-11, beat four nationally ranked opponents and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

She was an uber efficient player with shooting percentages of .550/.404/.820 to go five double-doubles and five games with 30 points or more.

Pili isn’t just the third top-10 pick from Alaska, she’s the third player from the state to drafted by the Minnesota Lynx, joining Eagle River’s Kelsey Griffin in 2010 and Juneau’s Andrea Lloyd in 1999.

In college, first at USC and then Utah, Pili was an all-timer for Alaska as she finished her career ranked top 10 all-time in points (2nd), games (7th), rebounds (10th), blocked shots (10th) and top 20 in 3-pointers (17th). With 121 career 3s, she hit more than Molly Tuter.

Let that sink in.

Tuter was a shooter’s shooter, a two-time Gatorade Alaska Player of the Year in 1992 and 1993 for Soldotna High who went on to become All-Pac-10 for Arizona State. She was a bona fide sniper who made it to the WNBA in 1999 as an undrafted free agent.

Yet, Pili hit five more 3s while playing in the same conference in an apples-to-apples comparison that really illustrates Pili’s place among the best shooters from Alaska.

Still, that wasn’t always the case, even if the stroke was always there.

Pili made only 35 3-pointers in 63 games across three seasons at USC. At that time, she did her damage in the post, especially as a rookie when she averaged 16.3 points and 8.0 rebounds in 31 games and was named 2020 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year.

By 2022, though, she didn’t look like the same player. Often injured, she was limited and limped to the finish line with season averages of 7.8 points and 4.5 rebounds in 19 games. Her final game in a USC uniform saw her come off the bench for the first time all season and score six points in a first-round loss to UCLA at the Pac-12 Tournament.

She needed a new home and found one at Utah, where she regained her footing as an elite player and enjoyed a renaissance – and growth spurt. After being listed as a 6-footer for the first three seasons in Los Angeles, she was suddenly 6-foot-2 in Salt Lake City.

Pili’s fame grew as well.

She was the 2023 Pac-12 Player of the Year in 2023 and averaged 20 points a game in both seasons at Utah as she blossomed into an All-American player after earning second-team honors in 2023 and third-team honors this year.

Despite being a four-time All-Pac-12 player, Pili wasn’t known nationally until she dropped 37 points on No. 1 South Carolina on Dec. 10, 2023, the day the trajectory of her life changed. She hadn’t been part of any WNBA mock drafts before hitting 15-of-23 field goals and putting on a low-post clinic against a South Carolina squad full of projected draft picks.

Five weeks later, she pumped in another 37-point game to lift Utah to a 78-58 win over USC as she outplayed JuJu Watkins in a heralded must-see TV matchup.

In the NCAA Tournament, Pili bagged 26 points against South Dakota State in the first round and 35 points against No. 4 seed Gonzaga on the Bulldogs’ home court in the second round – the most playoff points by an Alaskan (man or woman). That game pushed her over the 700-point benchmark for the season – the most by an Alaskan (man or woman).

Pili has been making history since her days at Dimond High, where she was a two-time national MaxPreps Athlete of the Year, three-time Gatorade Alaska Player of the Year and four-time Cook Inlet Conference Player of the Year.

She left high school in 2019 as Alaska’s all-time leading scorer with 2,614 points (a record that was broken in 2023 by Anchorage’s Sayvia Sellers, who is now at Washington).

Pili finished her high school career with 13 state titles across a handful of sports for the Lynx.

She also led Utah to the 2023 Great Alaska Shootout title and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, the first Alaskan to win the award since Anchorage’s Laura Ingham did in 2002 after leading Nevada to the tournament title.

In Pili’s return, her first game against UAA drew a crowd of 3,711, the largest to watch a women’s basketball game at the Alaska Airlines Center and the third largest in the arena’s 10-year history; a record 943 viewers also watched online.

Call it the Pili Effect.

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