December 6, 2020 

Charli Collier looks like a top WNBA prospect

Collier shone in Texas' first three games

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Through three games, Texas center Charli Collier looks like the best WNBA prospect in the nation. After averaging a measly 13.1 points and 10.5 rebounds per game in 2019-20, Collier has steamrolled her sophomore stats in 2020, putting up 30.3 points and 12.0 rebounds on 65/66/91 splits.

Last Sunday against North Texas, Collier became the first Longhorn in over 25 years to score at least 40 points in a game, tacking on 16 rebounds for good measure. This production is not sustainable, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t made significant strides off of last year’s All-Big 12 selection.

“She can face up, she can shoot the three, and I think her mid-range game is very undervalued and underrated,” head coach Vic Schaefer said of her multi-dimensional game. “You’re talking about a kid with an incredible motor. She works extremely hard every single day.”

Collier is the nation’s preeminent post threat, using her frame and footwork to create opportunities around the rim that lesser bigs could only dream of. This isn’t to say Collier is a raw prospect — in fact, her technical skills down low are arguably more impressive than her physical talents — but it has been easy for her to bully players 3-4 inches shorter than her. A 6’5 frame and tireless work in the weight room certainly helps.

While the junior center gets most of her buckets around the rim, she’s a versatile scorer who can create at all three levels. In her 44-point outburst, Collier launched two 3-pointers from the top of the arc, sinking both. In her sophomore season, she averaged over two 3-point attempts per game — a number that could creep up since Texas lacks outside threats.

“Facing up is more common in the next level because there are 6’7 posts, and you can’t be 6’3, 6’2 down low in the post,” Collier said. “So you have to build your game to where you can be hard to guard. The skillset of shooting outside, dribbling, and things like that can put you in a good position.”

The start of the non-conference schedule has allowed Collier to showcase her versatility and throughout the season her name will appear at the top of the other team’s scout. A physical Louisiana Tech team threw a zone on Texas for stretches of the game, but Collier didn’t disappoint, dropping in 22 points despite fouling out in the fourth quarter.

Her first big test of the season comes Sunday night against #12 Texas A&M where she’ll match up against senior center Ciera Johnson. At 6-4 with defensive intensity, Collier will have the chance to show WNBA scouts that she can still post impressive numbers against high-level post defenders.

What WNBA scouts will look for

Flashback to 2018, and you’ll see a completely different Collier. In just two years, the Texas product has ascended from a rarely-utilized freshman to a must-watch performer. Collier boasts an outside shot that her contemporaries have lacked, in part because she is a student of the game.

“I definitely think [an inside-out game] makes you hard to guard,” Collier said. “Growing up, I looked up to Candace Parker, A’ja Wilson. Just watching them play, they can go down low, step out, it makes you really hard to guard. When you’re one-dimensional, you’re limited.”

Collier still has room to grow, but if there’s any player you’d bet on to make surefire strides, it would be her. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth looking at these areas. Scouts will have plenty of room for comparison from the 2018 and 2019 drafts, which saw two collegiate bigs emerge as future stars: reigning WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson and 2019 Rookie of the Year Napheesa Collier.

Immediately the two areas of concern for Collier are her defensive statistics and consistent foul trouble. On Wednesday, Louisiana Tech kept Collier from running up the score by baiting her into foul trouble. Wilson and Napheesa Collier made seamless transitions to the next level in part because they were able to stay out on the court.

The biggest jump Wilson had on Collier was her defensive ability. Wilson graded out in the top 2% of block percentage and defensive rating during her junior season, and it helped her have one of the best rookie seasons in recent memory. Napheesa, meanwhile, bests the younger Collier with her offensive production, though on the surface their games are quite comparable.

Schaefer’s famous for his defense’s aggressive style, so it’s hard to gauge how much of an issue that foul trouble could be at the next level. Regardless, teams will hedge bets on Collier because of her work ethic and WNBA size. Schaefer’s defensive IQ will help bring her game along, but the sample is too small to say that Collier is a gamechanger on the defensive end the way that her elders were.

She’ll also have to prove she can score consistently against top talent. Collier averaged just 5.5 points per game against Baylor on 23% shooting, and we haven’t seen her match up in the Big 12 just yet. Her playmaking will also need to improve, or at least to the point she can pass out of doubles.

On the bright side, Collier’s ability to get the line could separate her from other top picks. Since the 2015-16 season, just five players have averaged at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 free throws made. Four — Wilson, Nia Coffey, Megan Gustafson, and Kristine Anigwe — have carved out roles in the WNBA. More importantly, most of the league’s top bigs make a living at the line.

We’re comparing Collier to the best of the best, not to belittle her accomplishments but because she has earned the right to enter that upper-echelon conversation.

Written by Spencer Nusbaum

Atlanta Dream and Big 12 reporter, breaking news and other things.

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