When Major League Pickleball holds its first-ever Draft on Friday night, some intriguing stories will be unveiled as the 32 selections come off the board one by one. That includes a mother and daughter (Leigh Waters and pickleball phenom 14-year-old Anna Leigh Waters) being among the most sought-after selections, a brother and sister (Riley Newman and Lindsey Newman) who could be among the most seasoned mixed-doubles teams should they end up together, and consensus No. 1 men’s pick Ben Johns and his older brother Collin Johns, both expected to anchor the teams who land them.
The action starts at 7 pm CT from the Castle in Rockwall in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex where players have gathered for the PPA Texas Open tournament. The Draft will be streaming on MLP’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. As the MLP site conveyed in an earlier story, the Draft will take an innovative approach that starts with the first women’s pick, then goes to the first men’s pick, and alternates between female and male picks the rest of the way.
The team awarded the first female pick will also be awarded the No. 16 female pick and the No. 8 and 9 men’s picks. The team getting the No. 2 female pick, which will Draft third overall, will also get the No. 15 female pick and No. 7 and No. 10 male picks. That’s designed for the eight teams to arrive at competitively balanced rosters, each featuring four players from the more than 50 Draft hopefuls who will be assembled for selection Friday.
But, as Major League Pickleball ambassador Dave Fleming notes, while player rankings will figure into each team’s selections, there might be intangibles that ultimately sway an ownership group to select one player over another. With most team matchplay involving either men’s doubles, women’s doubles, or mixed-doubles play, building cohesive partnerships from the four-person squads is key.
“When you're talking about doubles, you want to be paired with someone that complements your game,” Fleming noted. “Maybe number four and number seven in the world might be okay together, but maybe four and 11 would be better just because of the nature of their styles of play, which side of the court they prefer, are they personality-wise going to be a good fit … how well can they gel quickly?”
Fleming also explained that in order to help guide ownership groups to determine which players might work best with each other, a group of eight senior pickleball pros — Scott Crandall, Jen Dawson, Steve Dawson, Cammy MacGregor, Paul Olin, John Sperling, Linda Thompson and Eva Welsher — will serve as “Draft gurus.” They’ll bring their knowledge of the pro pickleball circuit, as well as insights on the DUPR rankings to help teams assess who to select.
“Pickleball has been enjoying a meteoric rise over the last couple of years, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down, in fact it’s accelerating even further” Fleming said, noting that its growth — and the emergence of this new professional pickleball league — is enticing players who started in more established racquet sports like tennis to take their talents to pickleball.
“Everyone is working harder,” Fleming marveled. “The fitness is better, the level of play is better — gold medalists from five years ago could be destroyed by gold medalists from today because everybody's just raised their games.”
To see the next chapter in this growing sport, check out the Draft as it livestreams, visit the MLP site after the Draft for a recap of the results, and then make plans for Season One, taking place Nov. 5-8 from Dreamland in Dripping Springs, Texas, where the newly-formed teams will compete.
For more information about pickleball, MLP, and livestreaming details for its Draft and first-ever tournament, visit majorleaguepickleball.net and follow MLP on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, Pinterest and YouTube.