The Mystics selected Maryland guard Marissa Coleman with the No. 2 overall pick.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
The Sky selected Maryland guard Kristi Toliver with the No. 3 overall pick.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
The way the top three picks played out in Thursday’s WNBA Draft was best summed up by the reaction of Maryland guard Kristi Toliver following the festivities.
“I was surprised and not surprised,” said Toliver.
Never mind that Atlanta’s selection of Louisville’s Angel McCoughtry at No. 1 was a bit of a stunner, even if she had one of the best seasons of any senior. Having Terrapin backcourt mates Marissa Coleman and Toliver selected 2-3 by the Washington Mystics and Chicago Sky, respectively, was unexpected, yet understandable.
“I think we deserved to be in the top three,” continued Toliver. “But the fact that it happened is great. It’s great for the university and we’re really proud of that.”
It seems like ages ago when Toliver, then a freshman, hit the three-pointer that sent the 2006 NCAA National Championship game between ACC rivals Maryland and Duke into overtime. On the wings of Toliver’s game-tying shot, the Terps went on to win the contest, 78-75, and claim their first title in school history.
Maryland has been unable to duplicate its ’06 feat since and this year it was ousted in the regional final by McCoughtry and Louisville. Still, in the years that have followed the championship Maryland has managed to build one of the most formidable programs in all of college basketball under the guidance of coach Brenda Frese and the leadership of players like Toliver and Coleman.
Thursday seemed to be a celebration of that success, as, with Frese in attendance, the team’s top two seniors went back-to-back near the top of the draft.
“It kind of symbolizes this season,” said Coleman. “She and I were the 1-2 punch all season. For us to go back-to-back speaks volumes to the program and what Coach Frese has been able to accomplish.”
Of course, there’s an added bonus in it for Coleman, a shooting guard with all-around skills and a pro-ready body that should help make for a smooth transition to the next level. Along with playing at Maryland, Coleman grew up in D.C. and played her high school ball at St. John’s College High School.
“I’ll have my family and my friends and my Terp fans able to come watch me play, so it’s exciting,” said Coleman.
The Mystics are also much improved from last year, having added Lindsey Harding, Matee Ajavon and Chasity Melvin in the offseason. And if all that isn’t enough to make it a great situation for Coleman, she is set to be reunited with former Maryland teammate Crystal Langhorne, who was selected by Washington in the first round of last year’s draft.
Like Coleman, Toliver will be able to take the court in front of some familiar faces, as she has family in the Midwest. And like Coleman, Toliver gets to play for an Eastern Conference team with a nice foundation in place.
“It caught me off guard,” said Toliver of her selection by Chicago. “I didn’t necessarily think that was the place that I was going to be. But I’m really happy with where I’m going.”
“I think she’ll do well,” said Coleman. “She has a lot of great players there and as a point guard she can set you up nicely. With Sylvia Fowles and Candice Dupree her assist numbers are going to go up.”
Even though Toliver and Coleman won’t be sharing the same backcourt for the first time in a long time, they’ll be seeing plenty of each other next season. As Eastern Conference foes, the Sky and the Mystics do battle four times in the regular season, with the initial contest set for June 20 in D.C.
“It’s going to be hard,” said Coleman about not playing with Toliver. “I’m used to having her on my side. But Crystal and I will take her.”
“Obviously it would have been fun to continue playing alongside with her,” said Toliver. “It’s a whole new league now. To play against her and to play against (former Maryland teammate Laura Harper) and Lang, it should be a really great experience, and I can’t wait for that to happen.”
Coleman and Toliver will forever be linked, but for now they are about to embark on separate paths that lead to the same goal – winning a WNBA championship.