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Closing Shot: On Top Of The World

With its first in-person draft in three years, the WNBA made the most of the stage only New York City can provide, and Kentucky’s Rhyne Howard took the spotlight as the No. 1 pick.

By Liz Mullen

Boris Lelchitski, a pioneering agent in the business of representing women’s basketball athletes, founded Sports International Group in 1996 but did not represent the first pick selected in the WNBA draft until last week’s event in New York City.

Rhyne Howard posed atop the Empire State Building and later celebrated her top selection in the WNBA draft. getty images

University of Kentucky shooting guard Rhyne Howard, a two-time SEC player of the year, was selected by the Atlanta Dream, which traded up two spots in the draft to take her first overall. 

SIG’s total roster of more than 100 players includes about one-third of the entire WNBA, as well as many women who play overseas. The agency has represented WNBA No. 1 draft picks Candace Parker and Angel McCoughtry, but only after they left other agencies. This is the first time SIG represented a No. 1 pick going into the draft.

Howard is represented on the court by SIG WNBA player agent Ticha Penicheiro, a former WNBA point guard who herself was the No. 2 pick in the league’s 1998 draft. She played in the WNBA and internationally until 2012 and became an agent because she wanted to stay in the game of basketball.

Off the court, Howard is represented by Rheann Engelke, who joined SIG last summer as director of marketing after working at CAA Basketball.

SIG signed Howard for name, image and likeness work in July last year and negotiated multiple agreements, including with Direct Auto, Fanjoy Athletics, Leaf Trading Cards, Gen.G Esports, Powerade, Walmart, Reebok and Wingstop.

NIL agreements end when a player’s college eligibility expires, but Howard decided to re-sign with SIG for professional basketball on-court representation, as well as professional marketing representation.

Howard is joined by SIG’s Boris Lelchitski, Rheann Engelke, and Ticha Penicheiro.Courtesty of SIG

“I feel like we developed a trust and a really good relationship from the NIL and we took her on as a [professional] basketball client as well,” Penicheiro said.

As a newly turned professional, Howard’s marketing deals include Gatorade, Overtime, Panini, SAP Sports, State Farm and Upper Deck. She is close to signing a deal with a shoe brand, Penicheiro said, but declined to offer specifics.

Engelke said she expects there to be a lot of local business endorsement opportunities for Howard. “What is unique about Atlanta is that community sense that they have,” she said. “They really get behind their people.”

Atlanta is a two-hour drive from Howard’s hometown of Cleveland, Tenn. “She is a very family-oriented person, so we are personally happy for her, as well,” Engelke said.

The draft at Spring Studios capped a weekend of WNBA events across New York City that saw the Empire State Building lit up orange to mark the event. ESPN averaged 403,000 viewers for the draft, marking the event’s best figure since 2004.

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