Alissa Pili can rely on a couple of her former teammates to give her the inside scoop on her new community.

That’s because the Utah All-American forward was taken eighth overall by the Minnesota Lynx during the 2024 WNBA draft on Monday night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Two of Pili’s former Utes teammates — guard Gianna Kneepkens and forward Jenna Johnson — are Minnesota natives.

“Gianna and Jenna have talked about Minnesota a lot and just how it is a very basketball-oriented state, and there’s been so much rich culture of that there. So I’m excited to see it and experience it,” Pili said during a WNBA draft press conference.

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Joining the Lynx is the next big move in a basketball career that’s been full of them for Pili, the Anchorage, Alaska, native who excelled after transferring to Utah from USC two years ago.

That transfer set Pili up for the chance to become a first-round draft pick — she averaged 21.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game in her two seasons in Lynne Roberts’ program, and she transformed herself into one of the country’s top college players.

During the 2022-23 season, Pili earned Pac-12 Player of the Year honors, and she leaves college as a three-time All-Pac-12 recipient.

“I’m just looking forward to just starting this new journey and hopefully having a great rookie season.”

—  Alissa Pili, on being drafted by the Minnesota Lynx

Pili’s offensive skill helped her become a household name, and that’s expected to be a calling card she relies on as she finds her fit in Minnesota where fellow forward Napheesa Collier leads the Lynx.

The 27-year-old Collier, a three-time WNBA All-Star, averaged 21.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.6 steals during the regular season last year for Minnesota, a team that went 19-21 and lost to the Connecticut Sun in the first round of the WNBA playoffs.

“I’m super excited to come in and just learn from players like that. I think that’s the fun part about it is we think we’ve been playing for so long, we know a lot about the game, but there’s so much more to learn. I’m just looking forward to that,” Pili said.

During her two seasons at Utah, Pili shot 56.8% from the floor, 41.1% from 3-point range and 80.9% at the free-throw line.

“I think that I just bring versatility and just a physicality to the game of basketball, and so that’s what mostly they’ll be seeing from me,” she said.

The 22-year-old Pili will make $73,439 as a rookie, according to Spotrac, which tracks player contracts across a variety of sports. Her four-year rookie contract is expected to net her $324,383, per Spotrac.

How draft analysts viewed Alissa Pili's selection

"With Jessica Shepard not playing this year, Minnesota needed a power forward who can score — that defines Pili," said ESPN's Charlie Creme. "She shot 55.0% from the field, 40.4% from the 3-point line and 82.0% from the free throw line in her final college season. She plays bigger than 6-foot and can score from anywhere on the floor. As a pick-and-pop big, Pili can excel right away."

"The Lynx's pick at No. 8 is the first big hinge point of the draft. No one really knew what they would do, especially after trading back," said CBS Sports' Jack Maloney. "Pili is an extremely talented offensive player who shot 40.4% of her attempts from downtown, including 46.7% on open catch-and-shoot looks. There are real questions about whether she can hold up on the other side of the ball as an undersized forward, however."

Pili became the second-highest draft pick in Utah program history. In 2006, guard Shona Thorburn, the first Ute ever taken in the WNBA draft, went seventh overall to the Lynx.

Pili is also the seventh Utah player to be taken in the WNBA draft, and the second one coached by Roberts. The last Ute to be drafted was Megan Huff, a third-round selection by the New York Liberty in 2019.

The forward who is generously listed at 6-foot-2 looked fondly back on her time at Utah and how it’s impacted her life.

When asked what she’ll miss most about college, Pili said, “I think just my teammates and how much time we spent together. I think that’s something I’ll miss, all the memories and things like that.”

It’s been three weeks to the day since Pili last suited up with her Utah teammates, when the Utes faced Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament in her final game for the school.

She talked, too, about the Salt Lake City community.

“I think it’s really grown on me the last two years I was there, and I’m going to miss it a lot because even though I came from another Pac-12 school, they still took me with open arms and just supported me throughout everything,” Pili said.

She is looking forward, as well, to what awaits in Minnesota, where Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve has won four WNBA titles, and to showing the fanbase there what she can bring to the floor.

The Alissa Pili file

Height: 6-foot-2.

Position: Forward.

College: USC (2019-22), Utah (2022-24).

Hometown: Anchorage, Alaska.

Two-year averages at Utah: 21.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists per game.

Shooting percentages at Utah: 56.8% on field goals, 41.1% 3-point, 80.9% free throws.

“I think they’ll just get somebody who’s a competitor and somebody who has a unique style of play and is just fun to watch,” Pili said. “I’m very excited to just be able to play at the next stage and kind of just improve in areas that I need to to really excel at the next level.”

The turnaround will be quick — Minnesota’s first preseason game is on May 4, two and a half weeks away, and the franchise’s season opener is just under a month away.

The Lynx will open the 2024 season on the road at Seattle on May 14.

Pili is up for the challenge.

“I’m just looking forward to just starting this new journey and hopefully having a great rookie season,” she said.

A good night to be a Ute

Pili wasn’t the only former Utah player to be selected during the 2024 draft.

Brynna Maxwell played under Roberts for three seasons at Utah before transferring to Gonzaga, where’s she’s played the past two years.

Gonzaga guard Brynna Maxwell (22) controls the ball while pressured by Utah guard Ines Vieira during the first half of a second-round college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament in Spokane, Wash., Monday, March 25, 2024. | Young Kwak

Maxwell was taken with the first pick in the second round, and 13th overall, by the Chicago Sky.

The 6-foot guard averaged 12.9 points while shooting 44% from 3-point range this past season.

Roberts was in New York with Pili for the WNBA festivities. Three weeks ago, Utah’s coach also got the chance to reconnect with Maxwell when the Utes faced Gonzaga in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

“She was a big part of our program for three years. And she graduated in three years at Utah and wanted a bigger role. And so she came to Gonzaga, and it’s been fun to watch her succeed,” Roberts said of Maxwell at the time.

What others said about Alissa Pili

In the lead-up to Monday night’s WNBA draft, here’s what a handful of media outlets said about Pili’s pro potential:

“Footwork, ball skills and shooting touch make Pili an intriguing prospect,” said ESPN’s Charlie Creme. “She has the makings of a pick-and-pop power forward. But she’s a bit slow as a defender and struggles to play vertically as a rebounder, so how Pili is used will be critical.”

“Even by the time you reach the latter stage of the first round in the WNBA draft, you’re not expecting to hit a home run as a general manager. This is when you may start to target players with one obvious skill, a label that applies to Utah’s Alissa Pili,” said Bleacher Report’s Joseph Zucker. “Pili shot 41.1 percent from beyond the arc in two years at Utah. While she’ll have to learn how to play without the ball much more (30.3 percent career usage rate, per Sports Reference), she has the potential to be a small-ball stretch 4.”

“I think she’s a pro-ready offensive player. My question is what do you do with her defensively? She’s 6 feet and she’s a center at 6 feet. Can she defend at our level?” an anonymous WNBA GM told The Athletic. “Can she make her body more prepared? Offensively, she can play in our league. It’s the other end of the floor that’s the question mark.”

Utah Utes players previously taken in the WNBA draft

2006 — Shona Thorburn, guard, first round, No. 7 overall pick, Minnesota Lynx.

2006 — Kim Smith, forward, first round, No. 13 overall pick, Sacramento Monarchs.

2008 — Leilani Mitchell, guard, second round, No. 25 overall pick, Phoenix Mercury.

2009 — Morgan Warburton, guard, third round, No. 33 overall pick, Sacramento Monarchs.

2014 — Michelle Plouffe, forward, second round, No. 19 overall pick, Seattle Storm.

2019 — Megan Huff, forward, third round, No. 26 overall pick, New York Liberty.

Utah Utes forward Alissa Pili (35) looks to shoot the ball while Washington Huskies forward Dalayah Daniels (14) posts up against her at the Hunstman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 2, 2024. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News