No 'major surprises' in WNBA draft

Matt Stout

The moment Candace Parker heard her name called as the first overall selection of the WNBA Draft on Wednesday, the Tennessee star put her hand to her chest, let out a huge sigh of relief and looked to the ceiling.

Realizing you’ve made it to the pros can be one part exciting, one part nerve-wracking — even when everyone knows it coming.

As expected, the 6-foot-4 Parker headlined perhaps the best draft class the WNBA has ever seen, going to the Los Angeles Sparks with the top selection at the Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club. It began a draft day in Palm Harbor, Fla., that featured few surprises and little drama.

No trades were made during the draft, and the first round played out much like the pundits predicted.

Following the Vols’ three-time All-American was LSU’s Sylvia Fowles at No. 2 (to Chicago), Stanford’s Candice Wiggins at No. 3 (Minnesota), Tennessee guard Alexis Hornbuckle at the fourth selection (Detroit) and Rutgers’ Matee Ajavon at No. 5 (Houston), to start.

Together along with the rest of the class, they have expectations of changing the league.

“I feel like now it’s our class’ responsibility to raise the bar and I think this class is capable of doing that,” Parker told the media. “I feel like in the WNBA it’s going to be the rivalries. It’s going to be the Candice Wiggins vs. Candace Parker. It’s going to be the Sylvia Fowles vs. Erlana Larkins. I feel like it’s going to be great for the game.”

In general, the first “surprise” pick came at No. 7, when the expansion Atlanta Dream drafted sleeper pick Tamara Young out of James Madison. But with four guards already taken in front of her, it wasn’t a shock; Dream coach and general manager Marynell Meadors said prior her team needed backcourt help.

“I don’t think there are any major surprises,” said Connecticut Sun general manager Chris Sienko, whose team took Middle Tennessee State’s Amber Holt (No. 9) and UConn’s Ketia Swanier (No. 12) in the first round. “You pretty much had a good sense of what was going to happen prior to getting here. Barring any trades with us or anybody, if there still stands to be another trade within the next couple days, then that’s possible. But I think it kind of folded out the way people thought it would.”

Some players did drop further than many people probably thought they did. North Carolina’s Larkins, who was in the discussion of being one of the top forwards taken, fell to the New York Liberty at No. 14, and Tennessee’s Nicky Anosike, who’s coming off a stellar NCAA tournament, dropped to Minnesota two spots later in the second round.

She was one of five Volunteers taken who made up the team’s starting five the night before in its 64-48 win over Stanford in the national championship game.

“We thought she would go in the first round and the more the ESPN people talked about her, we thought the way she played (Tuesday), we thought someone would (take her),” Minnesota coach Don Zierden said. “But we were very, very pleased to get her at 16.”

Zierden and the Lynx were probably in the best position to shake up the draft. With several guards in Lindsey Harding, Seimone Augustus and Noelle Quinn already on the roster, more backcourt help wasn’t a high priority, even with Wiggins as the natural choice with the third selection.

But Zierden felt Minnesota (10-24 last season) lacked another impact scorer, and held pat despite attempts from as many as four teams to strike a deal. Zierden said the Sun gave the strongest deal, which Sienko said included three first-round draft picks and possibly a player.

There also was the possibly the Sun would draft a forward to do a swap with Minnesota, but the Lynx got the frontcourt player they wanted in Anosike.

“Their staff was split at one time about it,” Sun coach Mike Thibault said. “We held out hope until about one minute before it got to our (first) pick and they decided not to (do the deal).”

Zierden, however, said he wouldn’t shut off all trade talks at this point with any team.

“I never say never because if somebody throws a deal at you that’s pretty remarkable then that could change things,” he said.

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