South Carolina's Dawn Staley predicts Rickea Jackson as top WNBA Draft pick

Caitlin Clark is widely assumed to be the No. 1 pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft but Dawn Staley has her own favorite top prospect.

South Carolina v Tennessee
South Carolina v Tennessee / Eakin Howard/GettyImages

South Carolina's head coach, Dawn Staley, made headlines in the aftermath of South Carolina's 66-55 victory over Tennessee, boldly forecasting that Tennessee forward Rickea Jackson could surpass projected top pick Caitlin Clark in the upcoming WNBA Draft. 

“Top pick in the WNBA Draft without a doubt,” Staley said about Jackson. “This year really helped her on both sides of the basketball. She’s defending a lot more. She’s rebounding. I mean, she can score at will however you want it. She can score, and she did that to us.”

Jackson, a forward for Tennessee, has demonstrated exceptional prowess throughout the season, averaging 18.6 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, shooting an impressive 45 percent from the field. 

Despite ESPN's latest 2024 WNBA Mock Draft positioning Jackson as the fifth prospect, behind players like Kamilla Cardoso, a standout from Staley's own team, Staley remained resolute in her belief in Jackson's potential.

Can Rickea Jackson leap Caitlin Clark in the WNBA Draft?

The projected top pick, Caitlin Clark, announced her entry into the WNBA Draft last week amidst high expectations. The Iowa star's talent is well-acknowledged, particularly by Staley, who remembers Clark's performance that ousted South Carolina from the NCAA Tournament last season, where Clark amassed 41 points, six rebounds, and eight assists.

Jackson's trajectory has been marked by resilience and consistency. Despite facing adversity due to a lower leg injury that sidelined her for eight games during non-conference play, the 6-foot-2 fifth-year senior has consistently delivered, never scoring less than 10 points in a game this season. Her contributions have not gone unnoticed, as evidenced by her selection to the All-SEC First Team for the second consecutive year, a distinction achieved by only a handful of Lady Vols in recent years.

Leading Tennessee in scoring with an average of 19.7 points per game (19.9 in SEC play) and securing 7.9 rebounds per contest, Jackson has been a driving force for her team. Additionally, her all-around game includes contributing 2.2 assists per outing and showcasing efficiency with a 46.7 field-goal percentage and a 76.1 free-throw percentage. Jackson's impact extends beyond statistics, as she also leads her team in charges taken, displaying her commitment to every aspect of the game.

Staley's bold prediction adds an intriguing narrative to the WNBA Draft, suggesting that Jackson's exceptional skill set and resilience could potentially position her as the top pick, challenging the widely held assumption of Clark's dominance in the draft conversation. As the draft approaches, all eyes will be on Jackson and her continued performance on the court, further fueling anticipation for the WNBA's newest crop of talent.