Collegiate basketball players turned in their uniforms for civilian finery as top draft choices arrived at the WNBA draft on April 12th at the NIKE New York Headquarters.
The WNBA went back to having a stage for the players to walk on and as expected the first person to do so was Consensus National Player of the Year A’ja Wilson of South Carolina who was the number one pick by the Las Vegas Aces.
It was the team’s second number one pick in a row after choosing University of Washington guard Kelsey Plum in 2017 when the team was known as the San Antonio Stars.
“It’s such a great feeling. It means a lot to me to just kind of cap off my collegiate career with this,” said Wilson. “This is a great [draft] class. Just to be at the top, [it] really makes my heart warm…this is a great feeling. The nerves are gone now. It’s truly a blessing.”
Wilson followed in her new teammate Plum’s footsteps this year as well winning all the end-of-year awards just as Plum did last year. And though she hasn’t spoken with Las Vegas head coach Bill Laimbeer yet, she has a pretty good idea of what the future holds.
“I’m pretty sure [Laimbeer’s] expectations are kind of the same as Coach [Dawn] Staley’s,” said Wilson. “You have to come in and be effective as soon as possible. That’s something I have to be ready for.”
As Wilson made the media rounds, the draft went on as the Indiana Fever used their second pick to take Ohio State’s Kelsey Mitchell and the Chicago Sky, who had traded in the previous season to gain the third and fourth picks, had a plethora of talent left to choose from. After the names were announced, it was former Tennessee Volunteer now of the Cukurova team in Turkey, guard Diamond DeShields and University of Connecticut forward Gabby Williams, heading to Chi-Town.
That meant the fifth pick was coming up and it belonged to the Seattle Storm. Seattle has a young team growing into veteran status as they continue to work back to a winning season and to get past the first round of the playoffs.
Adding to their three number ones (Sue Bird 2002, Jewell Loyd 2015 and Breanna Stewart 2016) and looking for Bird’s future back-up, the Storm headed down the coast to UCLA and guard Jordin Canada.
“Jordin has a special skill with the basketball and at the same time defensively, is such an impact player,” said Seattle head coach Dan Hughes. “She gives us a spark on both ends of the floor with a high basketball IQ.”
Canada brings in a strong resume ending her collegiate career as the Pac-12’s all-time assists leader and the only woman in conference history to record at least 1,800 points and 700 assists. It’s a perfect complement to Seattle’s veteran guard Bird who set the all-time WNBA assist record last year.
“I love Sue Bird,” said Canada. “She’s one of my role models. I enjoy watching her play. The way she leads her team and is able to create for others. That’s something I really want to learn from her and just continue to grow my game through her. Just the fact that I get to play with her, it’s just a blessing.”
The Los Angeles native believes getting stronger is the biggest thing she needs to focus on. Being a small guard, she wants to gain the strength to match up against bigger and stronger guards.
She’s excited to be staying on the West Coast joining UCLA alumnus Noelle Quinn on the roster. When asked if there was a better veteran than Bird to have on her team, Canada didn’t seem to hesitate.
“There’s so many, but I think Sue sets the standard,” said Canada. “Why not learn from somebody who has the highest expectations?”
The Storm had one more pick, the 29th overall, and they used it to bring in West Virginia forward Teana Muldrow. She is Seattle’s second-straight Mountaineer to draft following Lanay Montgomery, who the Storm drafted 30th last year.
Muldrow, a 6’1″ native of East Orange, N.J., was one of five finalists for the 2018 Cheryl Miller Award. Muldrow averaged 18.9 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game, all team highs.
She led the Mountaineers to the semifinals of the WNIT and received AP All-America Honorable mention and All-Big 12 First Team honors.
She ended her career at West Virginia in the fourth spot in scoring (1,819 career points), rebounds (968 all-time and field goals made with 676. She finished in the top 10 in 3-pointers made, blocks, double-doubles and games played averaging 22 points per game.
“Teana has had an outstanding career at West Virginia,” said Seattle head coach Dan Hughes. “Her rebounding ability, versatility, offensive scoring and her defensive development were very evident.”
WNBA practices start April 29 with preseason games leading up to WNBA All-Day on May 20th with every team in play.
The Storm opens the regular season on Opening Night at home against the Phoenix Mercury and WNBA all-time scoring leader Diana Taurasi at 6 p.m. at KeyArena.
It’s also the first of three bobblehead nights with the first 3,000 fans in attendance receiving a Sue Bird bobblehead to celebrate her league record-breaking assist last season at Washington. Her game-worn jersey from that game will also be on display so fans can take photos with history.