Connecticut’s Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck, who this year became the first NCAA basketball players – male or female – to win four consecutive Division I championships, were selected with the first three picks of the 2016 WNBA Draft.
The Seattle Storm used the first pick of the draft to select Stewart, the only player in college basketball history to be named the NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player four times. Stewart, a three-time Associated Press National Player of the Year, joins a Storm team that includes last year’s No. 1 overall pick, Jewell Loyd, the reigning WNBA Rookie of the Year.
With the second pick, the San Antonio Stars chose Jefferson, a consensus All-America First Team selection for the 2015-16 season and the Huskies’ all-time assists leader.
The Connecticut Sun followed by taking Tuck, who earned AP All-America Second Team honors in her final season at UConn.
The trio are the first in WNBA history to become the top three overall players drafted from the same school.
The Sun also had the fourth pick and added to their riches by selecting Rachel Banham, the Big Ten career scoring leader (3,093 points), who tied the NCAA single-game record of 60 points at Northwestern, and tallied 52 at Michigan State this past season.
The Dallas Wings rounded out the top five by picking Michigan State’s Aerial Powers, the Spartans’ first three-time All-Big Ten First Team selection.
The Washington Mystics used the seventh pick on Rutgers’ Kahleah Copper, the third-leading scorer in school history, and the Phoenix Mercury followed at No. 8 with South Florida’s Courtney Williams, who led the American Athletic Conference with 22.4 points this past season.
The Indiana Fever, picking ninth, drafted two-time SEC Player of the Year Tiffany Mitchell of South Carolina.
For the final three picks of the first round, the Chicago Sky selected three-time Big 12 All-Defensive Team choice Imani Boyette of Texas (10th); the Atlanta Dream drafted three-time All-Big 12 First Team honoree Bria Holmes of West Virginia (11th); and the New York Liberty chose 2015-16 All-SEC Second Team selection Adut Bulgak of Florida State (12th).
With the sixth pick, the Los Angeles Sparks made George Washington’s Jonquel Jones the first player from her university to go in the first round. The 6-6 Jones is the only player in Atlantic 10 history to average a double-double in three consecutive seasons.
The Sparks then traded Jones and the 17th pick to the Sun for guard Chelsea Gray, the 15th and 23rd picks in this year’s draft, and Connecticut’s first-round pick in 2017.
“Gray is an experienced point guard and a natural born leader with exceptional passing skills, who can also knock down the three-point shot,” said Sparks' general manager Penny Toler.
In 34 games with Connecticut, Gray averaged 6.9 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists and shot 42.4% from the field and 81.6 percent from the free-throw line last season. Among all rookies, she ranked second in assists per game (2.7 apg), second in three-point shooting percentage (.348) and fifth in scoring average (6.9 ppg). She holds career highs of 16 points (twice), seven assists and three steals (twice).
“We have wanted Chelsea as part of our team for months,” said head coach Brian Agler. “She is a point guard with size and is a great competitor who makes everyone around her better. She shoots well from the three-point line and we are excited to have Chelsea join the Sparks.”
Drafted with the 11th overall pick in the 2014 WNBA Draft by Connecticut, Gray sat out the 2014 WNBA season recuperating from a right knee injury suffered during her senior year at Duke.
The Dream tipped off the second round by selecting Rutgers’ Rachel Hollivay with the 13th pick, followed by the Lynx choosing Jazmon Gwathmey of James Madison with the 14th pick and the Sparks adding Florida Gulf Coast’s Whitney Knight with the 15th pick. Minnesota traded Gwathmey to San Antonio for guard Jia Perkins.
Rounding out the rest of the second round: The Dream drafted Courtney Walker of Texas A&M (16th); the Sun picked Oregon State’s Jamie Weisner (17th); the Wings chose Oregon State’s Ruth Hamblin (18th); the Mystics took Lia Galdeira of Bulgaria-NBL (team Haskovo) (19th); the Mercury picked Oregon’s Jillian Alleyne; the Fever selected Maryland’s Brene Moseley (21st); the Lynx chose Bashaara Graves of Tennessee (22nd); the Sparks drafted Brianna Butler (23rd); and the Liberty picked Ohio State’s Ameryst Alston (24th).
“Whitney [Knight] is a very talented player who has the skillset to play multiple positions for us,” said Toler of the 15th overall pick. “She is another player that will improve our three-point shooting.”
A two-time Atlantic Sun Player of the Year (2015, 2016), Knight earned the honor in back-to-back seasons (junior/senior). In 130 career games played at Florida Gulf Coast, she averaged 12.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.6 blocks. The 6’3" guard is a three-time All-Atlantic Sun First Team selection and finished her career as the A-Sun and FGCU all-time career blocks leader (333).
“We are excited to have Whitney join the Sparks,” said Agler. “She is a very skilled win player that is long and athletic. She is a great three-point shooter and she handles and passes the ball extremely well. She has great versatility.”
As a junior she led FGCU and the Atlantic Sun Conference in scoring (504). She also led the team in nearly every statistical category: points (14.8), rebounds (6.4), blocks (87) and steals (66). During her red-shirt sophomore season, she averaged 12.3 points and 5.3 rebounds in 25.7 minutes per game and set a new single-season record with 93 blocks to earn All-Atlantic Sun First Team honors.
“Brianna [Butler] is a prolific three-point shooter with unlimited range,” said Toler of the Sparks other second round pick. “We are really looking forward to seeing what she can do at training camp.”
Butler, a 5-11 guard, is the NCAA single-season leader in three-pointers made (129). She is Syracuse's all-time leader in career three-point field goals made (438) and led all active players nationally in career three-point field goals made this season.
“We are excited to have Brianna here in Los Angeles,” said Agler. “Brianna is a great three-point shooter with range. She is a very versatile wing player and she has the ability to hit clutch shots.”
As a junior, she ranked second on the team in scoring, averaging 13.3 points per game. She led the ACC in three-point field goals made per game (2.84) and ranked second in program history with 91 made three-pointers.
Butler started all 33 contests as a sophomore and ranked second on the club in scoring (14.5 ppg). She set a Syracuse record with 100 three-pointers, which ranks third in ACC history. As a freshman she averaged 7.2 points per game and was named to the BIG EAST All-Freshman Team.
The third round opened with the Stars selecting Brittney Martin of Oklahoma State at No. 25 overall.
The rest of the third round went as follows: The Storm picked BYU’s Lexi Eaton Rydalch (26th); the Sun drafted St. John’s Aliyyah Handford (27th); the Dream chose Baylor’s Niya Johnson (28th); the Sparks selected Washington’s Talia Walton (29th); the Wings chose Shakena Richardson of Seton Hall (30th); the Mystics drafted St. John’s Danaejah Grant (31st); the Mercury selected UCLA’s Nirra Fields (32nd); the Fever chose Julie Allemond of Belgium (33rd); the Sky drafted Texas A&M’s Jordan Jones (34th); the Lynx picked USC’s Temi Fagbenle (35th); and the Liberty selected Georgia’s Shacobia Barbee (36th).
“Talia [Walton] is another talented player who can stretch the defense with her three-point shooting,” said Toler of the Sparks' third round pick. “Her length and athleticism will be a great addition to our team.”
A 6-2 forward, Walton is Washington’s all-time leader in blocked shots (177) and games played (134) and is the only player to rank in top-five in total scoring (1819) and total rebounding (909) in UW history. As a senior, she was the Huskies’ second-leading rebounder (238) and scorer, averaging a career-high 16.5 points per game. She finished the year ranked second nationally in total minutes played with 1,367 and led the Pac-12 with 86 made 3-pointers.
“Talia is a very good fit with our team,” said Agler. “She is extremely versatile and a great three-point shooter. She handles and passes the ball well, is a great defender and has great size for a perimeter player.”
Named All-Pac 12 Honorable Mention, she ranked among conference leaders in made threes (59), was fourth in blocks (44) and shot a career-best in field goal percentage (.461) as a junior. During the 2013-14 season, she was the third overall shot blocker in the Pac 12 (47) and the Huskies’ third-leading scorer at 11.1 points per game.
Walton scored 435 points as a freshman, ranking her fifth all-time for UW rookies. In 32 games, she averaged 13.6 points per game (10th in the Pac-12) and was named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team and an All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention selection.
Overall, seven Pac-12 Players were selected in the 2016 WNBA Draft. The seven selections are the most for the Pac-12 since eight were selected in 2002. The seven players are:
17th (2nd round) - Connecticut Sun select Oregon St.’s Jaime Weisner
18th (2nd round) - Dallas Wings select Oregon St’s Ruth Hamblin
19th (2nd round) - Washington Mystics select Washington State Lia Galdeira
20th (2nd round) - Phoenix Mercury select Oregon’s Jillian Alleyne
29th (3rd round) - LA Sparks select Washington’s Talia Walton
32nd (3rd round) - Phoenix Mercury select UCLA's Nirra Fields
35th (3rd round) - Minnesota Lynx select USC's Temi Fagbenle
The WNBA regular season begins Saturday, May 14 with five games, highlighted by an ESPN telecast of the defending WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx and the Mercury at 7:30 p.m. ET.
The complete WNBA 2016 Draft results are:
1. Breanna Stewart (Seattle Storm), UConn
2. Moriah Jefferson (San Antonio Stars), UConn
3. Morgan Tuck (Connecticut Sun), UConn
4. Rachel Banham (Connecticut Sun), Minnesota
5. Aerial Powers (Dallas Wings), Michigan State
6. Jonquel Jones* (Los Angeles Sparks), George Washington
7. Kahleah Copper (Washington Mystics), Rutgers
8. Courtney Williams (Phoenix Mercury), South Florida
9. Tiffany Mitchell (Indiana Fever), South Carolina
10. Imani Boyette (Chicago Sky), Texas
11. Bria Holmes (Atlanta Dream), West Virginia
12. Adut Bulgak (New York Liberty), Florida State
13. Rachel Hollivay (Atlanta Dream), Rutgers
14. Jazmon Gwathmey# (Minnesota Lynx), James Madison
15. Whitney Knight (Los Angeles Sparks), Florida Gulf Coast
16. Courtney Walker (Atlanta Dream), Texas A and M
17. Jamie Weisner (Connecticut Sun), Oregon State
18. Ruth Hamblin (Dallas Wings), Oregon State
19. Lia Galdeira (Washington Mystics), Bulgaria-NBL (team Haskovo)
20. Jillian Alleyne (Phoenix Mercury), Oregon
21. Brene Moseley (Indiana Fever), Maryland
22. Bashaara Graves (Minnesota Lynx), Tennessee
23. Brianna Butler (Los Angeles Sparks), Syracuse
24. Ameryst Alston (New York Liberty), Ohio State
25. Brittney Martin (San Antonio Stars), Oklahoma State
26. Lexi Eaton Rydalch (Seattle Storm), BYU
27. Aliyyah Handford (Connecticut Sun), St. John’s
28. Niya Johnson (Atlanta Dream), Baylor
29. Talia Walton (Los Angeles Sparks), Washington
30. Shakena Richardson (Dallas Wings), Seton Hall
31. Danaejah Grant (Washington Mystics), St. John’s
32. Nirra Fields (Phoenix Mercury), UCLA
33. Julie Allemond (Indiana Fever), Belgium
34. Jordan Jones (Chicago Sky), Texas A and M
35. Temi Fagbenle (Minnesota Lynx), Southern California
36. Shacobia Barbee (New York Liberty), Georgia
* Traded, along with 17th pick, to Connecticut Sun for guard Chelsea Gray, the 15th and 23rd picks in this year’s draft and Connecticut’s first-round pick in 2017
#Traded to San Antonio for guard Jia Perkins
By Staff of TheDailySportsHerald.com and news services