2024 WNBA Draft watch: Kamilla Cardoso


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It’s been an incredible season for the South Carolina Gamecocks, who are now a perfect 25-0 (12-0 in SEC play) and are the unquestioned No. 1 team in NCAA Division I. No one has a larger average margin of victory, and according to Her Hoop Stats, South Carolina’s efficiency differential of 42.7 points per 100 possessions is even greater than that of last season’s team, which went 36-1 and sent five players to the 2023 WNBA Draft.

One of the holdovers from that team, center Kamilla Cardoso, has shone in a larger role that has seen her grow both as a player and a leader. Once one of the ACC’s up-and-coming young stars, Cardoso transferred from Syracuse to South Carolina in 2021, choosing to join a stacked frontcourt and a program that had just suffered an achingly close loss to Stanford in the NCAA Tournament Final Four.

Two seasons and one national championship later, Cardoso is once again in the limelight, starring for what has statistically been one of the greatest South Carolina teams in program history. The 6-foot-7 center from Montes Claros, Brazil has stepped into the Gamecocks’ starting lineup and has anchored them on both ends of the court, and her prowess on the offensive glass and protecting the rim has landed her on watch lists for national awards, such as the Lisa Leslie Award and John R. Wooden Award. Cardoso has also garnered plenty of attention as a prospect in the upcoming 2024 WNBA Draft; ESPN has mocked her as high as No. 4 overall, and while there’s still much that needs to happen in the next two months, Cardoso’s status as a top draft prospect has more or less been cemented.

Honors and statistics

Cardoso was one of the most highly-touted high school recruits in the class of 2020, coming in at No. 5 in ESPN’s HoopGurlz rankings. As a senior at Hamilton Heights Christian Academy, Cardoso averaged 24.1 points, 15.8 rebounds and 9.2 blocks per game and was named a McDonald’s All-American.

As a freshman at Syracuse, Cardoso made an immediate impact, averaging 13.1 points, 8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game—the latter of which ranked 20th among all Division I players. She earned a slew of honors, including ACC Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, and was also named to the All-ACC First Team by the conference’s Blue Ribbon Panel.

After transferring to South Carolina, Cardoso’s volume statistics took an understandable hit, as she played just 13.3 minutes per game as a sophomore and 18.8 as a junior as part of a deep and talented frontcourt. She was, however, extremely efficient in those minutes, shooting better than 55 percent from the field and recording a block rate of 9.5 percent or higher in both seasons while posting a 20.8 percent offensive rebounding rate (No. 3 in Division I) as a junior (Her Hoop Stats). Also as a junior, Cardoso was named the SEC’s Sixth Woman of the Year, earned second-team All-SEC honors and was named an All-American (honorable mention) by the WBCA.

Internationally, Cardoso has been a fixture of the Brazilian national team for several years. She won a bronze medal with Brazil in the 2021 FIBA AmeriCup competition and gold medals in the 2022 FIBA South America Championships and 2023 FIBA AmeriCup competitions, earning MVP honors for her home country.

Cardoso’s shot-blocking, offensive rebounding key to Gamecocks’ success

NCAA Womens Basketball: Vanderbilt at South Carolina

At 6-foot-7, not many opponents can challenge Cardoso in the paint.
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

During her first two seasons at South Carolina, Cardoso came off the bench, serving as a key contributor to a Gamecocks frontcourt that ground down its opponents with unmatched size and physicality. Though she was splitting time with players like Aliyah Boston, Victaria Saxton and Laeticia Amihere, Cardoso was a star in her role, her shot-blocking and offensive rebounding giving the Gamecocks the luxury of playing a full 40 minutes of physically overwhelming basketball.

With Boston, Saxton and Amihere now in the WNBA, Cardoso’s time has come, and she’s delivered for a Gamecocks program that, despite losing five rotation players to the WNBA Draft last spring, is currently undefeated and once again putting up eye-popping statistics. South Carolina leads Division I in both defensive efficiency (73.2 points allowed per 100 possessions) and blocked shot rate (18.5 percent) and ranks fifth in total rebound rate (57.9 percent)—all areas in which Cardoso makes a clear impact. Cardoso herself is averaging a double-double at 14.1 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, and she’s also blocking 2.9 shots per contest, drawing effusive praise from South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley.

“She’ll challenge for being the No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft,” Staley told USA Today, and it’s something she knows a few things about, having already seen two Gamecocks—Boston in 2023 and A’ja Wilson in 2018—lead their respective draft classes.

In addition to Staley’s prior success with WNBA-bound centers, Cardoso’s credentials as a future draftee aren’t difficult to identify. Her physical gifts are obvious: Cardoso’s massive frame makes it nearly impossible for opponents to get clean looks against her, and she’s disciplined and mobile enough for her rim protection to extend beyond the painted area. According to Synergy Sports, opponents are scoring just 0.53 points per possession at the rim with Cardoso as the primary defender, putting her in the 94th percentile, and she ranks in the 96th percentile defending post-ups.

Offensively, Cardoso is playing the best basketball of her career, shooting 58.6 percent from the field. She’s benefited from South Carolina’s shift to a more guard-oriented offense—playmakers like Raven Johnson and Te-Hina Paopao can certainly elevate the play of their teammates in the frontcourt—but she also does plenty of work on her own, pulling down 3.4 offensive rebounds per game and ranking in the 88th percentile on putback scoring opportunities.

There’s still plenty of basketball to be played between now and the 2024 WNBA Draft (which will be held on April 15), and many draft-eligible players have yet to announce if they’ll be entering the draft or going back to school with their extra year of eligibility. Regardless of what happens, Cardoso’s name will likely be one of the first called; there are precious few players in the country with her physical talent, and even fewer with her championship pedigree.

Watch her play

With just four games remaining in SEC play, the Gamecocks are getting ever-closer to an undefeated season. They’ll take on the Tennessee Lady Vols in their final SEC regular-season matchup on Sunday, March 3, which will be televised nationally on ESPN.

The following SEC Tournament will begin on Wednesday, March 6, and its first three rounds will be televised on the SEC Network. The semifinals—which the Gamecocks will certainly have a good chance of reaching—will be broadcast on ESPNU, while the tournament’s championship game will be broadcast on ESPN on Sunday, March 10.

All statistics and team records for the 2023-24 NCAA season are current through Feb. 18, 2024.

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