There are plenty of former top picks in the WNBA who can relate to the sweaty palms and quickened heartbeats that potential picks will experience as they wait to hear their names called from the podium. No. 1 overall WNBA Draft picks Lindsey Harding (drafted by Phoenix in 2007, traded to Minnesota), Sue Bird (drafted by Seattle in 2002), Seimone Augustus (drafted by Minnesota in 2006) and Janel McCarville (drafted by Charlotte in 2005, signed with New York last offseason) along with Liberty teammate and (2007) second pick Jessica Davenport were willing to take a stroll down memory lane, recalling the days before the draft, the moment they heard their names called and the pressures that follow a top pick into the pro game.
1st Quarter: Before the Draft
Before the draft, reporters and other media hound potential picks, players anticipate an unknown new home and teams weigh player stats, workouts and scouting reports in considering who they want to bring in.
"You just kind of freak out, you are nervous," Harding recalls. "(The draft) is different than college because before I went to college, I could pretty much pick where I wanted to go, but now it is kind of like, 'Pick me, pick me!' "
But while most players hear the rumors and read the mock drafts, they do not take them to heart. In fact, Augustus was so focused on college ball, she barely paid attention to the draft.
"Really and truly, I was not even worrying about the draft until that day," she says. "I let my mom keep up with everything that was going on, the hype and the media. She was on track with it. I still had a lot of basketball to play at LSU."
Many experts create mock drafts and try to predict who will go where by establishing a hierarchy of important player characteristics, things like speed, size, position and ability to make an immediate impact. But McCarville claims that it is rarely so black and white.
"It's hard to say (what teams are looking for). I think each team is different in that aspect. Some want to build their team around a franchise player like a center. Teams can be looking for anything depending on what is available that year for the draft."
"I think you have to base it on what your team needs," Bird suggests. "You want to build a great team for the future.
"But," she admits, "if there is a talent like LeBron James, all that goes out the window."
2nd Quarter: Draft Day
On draft day, most of our stars were confident they would be a top pick. Their accomplishments at the collegiate level cemented their status. But despite their positive thinking coming into the day, hearing the league president call out their names still gave them a sense of accomplishment and joy.
"It was like WOW, I was the first one!" Harding remembers. "The No. 1 pick of the 2007 WNBA Draft, and my name is called. That is just awesome."
For Augustus, it was her dad's reaction that made draft day so special.
"Seeing my father made that day complete. …When I got my name called he was giddy and smiling. He was the proudest dad ever. His reaction made me feel really good.”
3rd Quarter: When Draft Day is Done
|Lindsey Harding discusses strategy with Lynx coach Don Zierden during her rookie season in Minnesota.|
|By Juan Ocampo/NBAE/Getty Images|
It's down to business once the draft ends. The top picks must prove their worth and show everyone why they were drafted where they were. McCarville recognizes the added responsibility that comes with going No. 1.
"I put a lot (of pressure) on myself being the No. 1 pick. There are expectations being the top pick... a lot of things to live up to."
Bird adds, "People expect a lot out of the No. 1 pick, so you want to live up to that."
But as the games begin and the season proceeds, the rookies realize they are rookies. They will make mistakes and have to adjust to the pro game like all first-year players.
"This is a learning process for me," Davenport explains. "I never played in the league before. This is something I am taking game by game and I am just learning from it."
Augustus chimes in with some advice for future picks: "Just come in and do the things that you did in college," she says wisely. "Just get better. Most importantly be mentally tough. You are transitioning from playing in college where you were probably the top player to playing against the MVP of a professional league."
4th Quarter: Long Term
Everyone from scouts to pundits and coaches to fans has an opinion on which draft picks will translate into the best pros years down the line. In terms of today's top NBA prospects, Davenport is going with fellow Buckeye Greg Oden and Texas native Harding is betting on former Longhorn Kevin Durant. Bird, McCarville and Augustus all believe that Oden best suits Portland's needs.
"I think (the Trail Blazers) really want to build their franchise around a power center like that," McCarville points out, "and he has really proven himself in the college ranks."
Augustus reasons, "While everyone is talking about Durant and his skills, I am going to have to go with the big boy from Ohio State because I know that is what the Blazers need."
But does it really matter if a player is chosen at one, two or 50?
"I think that when you get to the league, it really doesn't matter where you were drafted," Harding explains. There are so many players out there who aren't doing nearly as well as others picked below them."
And she's right, once the draft is over and the rookie jitters disappear, the only thing that matters is whether or not they can play.