National Sports

Alaska’s Alissa Pili lands with the Minnesota Lynx as the No. 8 pick in the 2024 WNBA draft

After putting together stellar careers in both high school and college basketball, Alaska’s Alissa Pili is officially headed to the big leagues.

Born in Utqiagvik and raised in Anchorage, the former Dimond High multi-sport star became the latest Alaskan to be drafted into the WNBA on Monday night when the Minnesota Lynx selected her with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2024 draft.

Pili and her family were emotional as her name was called during the draft, which was broadcast on ESPN.

“It means everything,” she said. “My family is everything to me. They helped me get here. Without them, I wouldn’t be standing up on that stage. I owe everything to them.”

Pili is the first Alaskan to join the WNBA since Fairbanks’ Ruthy Hebard was taken No. 8 overall in the 2020 draft by the Chicago Sky. Hebard won a championship with the Sky in 2021 and signed a training camp deal with the Lynx in February.

[From 2020: Ruthy Hebard heads to Chicago as the No. 8 pick in the WNBA draft]

Pili was one of 15 college athletes invited to attend the draft in person and she was joined by a number of family members in New York. Pili, whose mother is Alaska Native and father is Samoan, arrived at the draft Monday wearing a black and gold gown with a Polynesian design.


After she was selected, ESPN’s Holly Rowe interviewed Pili and asked about the long lines of people who go to watch her play, including girls who share her heritage. Her response elicited a huge roar from the crowd.

“A lot of Indigenous and Polynesian girls don’t get to see that role model and I’m just so blessed that I can be in the position to be that for them,” she said.

A former three-time Alaska Gatorade Player of the Year for Basketball, Pili is coming off a sensational senior season at the University of Utah, where she led the Utes women’s team to a third straight NCAA tournament berth. She followed up a dominant junior year in which she was named Pac-12 Player of the Year in her first season with the program by leading the team in scoring and rebounds for the second year in a row in 2023-24.

[Caitlin Clark taken No. 1 in the WNBA draft by the Indiana Fever]

Pili’s most prolific scoring outing of the season came against eventual national champion South Carolina, when she dropped a career-high 37 points in a 78-69 loss back in early December. She nearly matched that total during her phenomenal farewell performance in a 77-67 loss to Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament last month. There, she scored 35 points in 39 minutes.

Pili said she feels like she can make an immediate impact with the Lynx, who won WNBA title in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017

“I think just with my physicality and my versatility,” she said. “I’m willing to do whatever a team needs me to. So I’m just excited to learn and grow.”

Friends and family from across the state tuned in to watch Pili at the draft. Members of her extended family gathered together in Anchorage while Facebook posts showed family and friends in Utqiagvik streaming the broadcast on their phones.

College basketball’s fanbase has grown in recent years and this WNBA draft was as anticipated as any in recent memory. Iowa’s Caitlin Clark was taken No. 1 overall by the Indiana Fever and LSU’s Angel Reese, who won a national title with the Tigers in 2022-23, was taken No. 7 by the Chicago Sky.

Despite being undersized for a traditional post player at the next level at 6-foot-2, Pili is still able to excel in the paint thanks in large part to her ability to use leverage no matter who is guarding her. She has also shown shooting range, and her ball-handing and court vision are on par with most guards.

Ryan Ruocco, who hosted ESPN’s coverage of the draft said Pili has a skill-set that few others players in the league possess.

“This is a player who is such an efficient scorer everywhere on the floor (and) has a unique offensive game,” he said. “This is a talented offensive player. Very much looking forward to how that translates to the (WNBA).”

ESPN analyst and former WNBA star Rebecca Lobo called Pili “the most unique player in the draft” who “has a special savvy offensively.”

During her final year at Utah her 727 total points ranked eighth in the entire country and over her two years with the program combined, she shot a highly proficient 56.8% from the field and 41.1% from behind the arc.

Pili will be the sixth Alaskan to play in the WNBA, joining Hebard, Chugiak’s Kelsey Griffin, Jessica Moore of Palmer, Soldotna’s Molly Tuter and Andrea Lloyd of Juneau.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Josh Reed

Josh Reed is a sports reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. He's a graduate of West High School and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.