Another Opportunity in the Alamo City

This week, Jayne Appel made the trip from San Antonio to Secaucus, N.J., site of Thursday’s 2010 WNBA Draft, to find out that she’s headed to… San Antonio.

“The more I think about it the more excited I get, having experienced a little bit of San Antonio and what it’s like,” said Appel, whose Stanford team took part in the Final Four in the Alamo City earlier this week. “The community and the people down there were just awesome. The fan base for the San Antonio Silver Stars is also tremendous, so I’m excited about it.”

To say it was a surprise that Appel fell to the Silver Stars at No. 5 would be a mild understatement. But then again, the draft status of Appel, whose Stanford team nearly upset Connecticut in a hard-fought national championship game on Tuesday, was anything but certain heading into Thursday's event.

After Angel McCoughtry went No. 1 overall to Atlanta in the 2009 Draft, Appel was viewed as a candidate to be top pick in 2010. She was the soon-to-be franchise center on a Cardinal team coming off back-to-back Final Four appearances, and their return to the Final Four in 2010 seemed like a formality with her senior season set to commence. Through her first three years at Stanford she had played a large role in keeping the program a powerhouse by averaging 14.9 points, 8.6 rebounds and two blocks per game while shooting .533 from the field.

But as the 2009-10 college season began to wind down the possibility of going No. 1 started to appear more and more remote.

For one thing, Tina Charles had a monster campaign for the unbeaten Huskies, and thus emerged as the can’t miss pick of the draft. On top of that, the Connecticut Sun acquired the No.1 selection from Minnesota back in January, along with Charles’ former teammate Renee Montgomery, and it became inevitable the Sun would go for the hometown hero.

Incidentally, odds are Appel enjoyed seeing Charles go No. 1, as she and the two-time NCAA champion are close friends off the court and have been doing battle on it since they were 12 years old.

“We talk to each other all the time,” said Charles.

But while Charles’ fortunes rose during the season, her good friend’s hit a snag in early March when Appel suffered what was said to just be a sprained ankle at practice, although it’s recently been revealed that she also had a stress fracture in the same foot. Then she aggravated the ankle injury during the title game, a bittersweet affair in which the Cardinal played UConn tough, but saw Appel turn in a performance she no doubt would have preferred not to end her college career with. In 30 minutes of action, Appel, hampered by the injuries, failed to score for the first time in her career, missing all 12 of her shots from the field.

Suddenly, rumblings arose that the injury concerns for Appel, who still managed to put up great numbers in 09-10 at 13.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg and 1.8 blocks in 31 games while willing her team to the title game, could cause her to fall even further in the draft.

“I don’t think it hurt my draft status at all,” said Appel, who added that it showed that she could play through pain and had mental toughness. “I played the most games out of everyone in the history of Stanford, so I proved my durability through that. But I wish I was healthy. It would have been a lot easier for me (laughs).”

And even if there was talk of Appel’s stock slipping, the center wouldn’t have been aware of it.

“I ignored it all,” said Appel about the pre-draft prognostications. “When I sat down at the table with my dad (in the studio at the draft) he said, ‘OK, so where do you think you are going to go?’ And I said, ‘Dad, I’m refusing to talk about it. I’m just going to enjoy wherever I go. That way I have no letdown and no anticipation.’”

The Lynx held both the second and third selections, which gave them the luxury of taking a chance on a player. And a trip to Minnesota would have reunited Appel with former Stanford teammate Candice Wiggins.

“Obviously it would have been awesome to play with Candice again,” said Appel. “I haven’t played with her in two years. But I was just going to be pleased when I heard my name called and I could relax a little bit and enjoy the moment.”

The Lynx passed on Appel with both picks, and instead opted for Virginia’s Monica Wright at No. 2 and Nebraska’s Kelsey Griffin at No. 3, although Griffin was later dealt to the Sun.

Chicago was up next, and already possessing a dominating pivot in Sylvia Fowles led the Sky to look to the backcourt and Rutgers guard Epiphanny Price.

Then came San Antonio, which seemed like a great fit since it was the worst rebounding team in the league last year. Although the Silver Stars added Michelle Snow, Laura Harper and Tasha Humphrey in the offseason, the team recently announced it would be without center Ann Wauters in 2010. That left San Antonio with a void in the middle, one which needed to be occupied by someone who could score, clean the glass and defend.

One has to assume GM Dan Hughes and the Silver Stars were quite elated to see a player of Appel’s pedigree slip to them at No. 5. While she’ll technically be a rookie in 2010, she brings with her game experience few first-timers typically do, as she played in three Final Fours and two NCAA championship affairs.

Remember, San Antonio is a team that made the postseason last year and the WNBA Finals just two seasons ago. It already has proven stars like Becky Hammon and Sophia Young, who will draw most of the attention. By virtue of slipping to No. 5, Appel is stepping into a great situation. She gets to play for a contender and doesn’t need to make an immediate impact. And despite being on of the top talents in this year's draft, she’s doesn’t sound like someone who will be disappointed playing a secondary role initially in the WNBA.

“I’m just going to try and come in and be a hard worker and provide a lot of positive energy and be a player in practice who’s just constantly pushing other people,” said Appel.

It goes without saying that the level of competition Appel will face at the next level will be stiff. But Appel is embracing the challenge ahead, already thinking about what she wants to improve upon to succeed at the next level, focusing on developing a perimeter game, making herself someone a defender has to guard inside and outside and getting stronger physically.

The joy of being selected by San Antonio in the first round of the WNBA Draft is tempered a bit by the reality of her injuries though. Appel, who had on a boot on her right foot at the draft, said it’s going to take a couple more weeks to be fully healthy and heal the stress fracture as well as the ankle she re-injured in the title game. But she expects to be ready to go for the start of the season.

“I am tremendously pleased with San Antonio picking me and I can’t wait to go to work for them,” said Appel.

And San Antonio no doubt can’t wait for her return either.