Storm Pleased to End Up With Walker
Thursday's WNBA Draft did not quite play out according to plan. The twists and turns of the first round started with the top overall pick, when the Atlanta Dream opted for Louisville forward Angel McCoughtry over UConn guard Renee Montgomery, and continued through the Minnesota Lynx surprising observers by drafting VCU center Quanitra Hollingsworth with the ninth pick. All the chaos meant that when the 12th pick came up, California forward Ashley Walker was still available to become the newest member of the Seattle Storm.
"We are really excited about getting the opportunity to get Ashley Walker in the first round," Storm Head Coach and Director of Player Personnel Brian Agler said at the conclusion of the draft. "I saw her play numerous times this year and was really impressed with her versatility, her ability to score and rebound. The other thing that really fits us is the quality of person that she is. We've heard that from Charmin Smith and Joanne Boyle - people that have been around her that really know her. It's a great match. She'll have a great chance to be a part of this team and really have an impact for us down the road."
"I was just waiting to hear my name and who thought I was the best fit for their team," said Walker. "I definitely knew that they were one of the teams that were looking at me.
"It's a great honor. I'm really excited to get to play in Seattle. It's a great fit for me, I think. They're a great team and they're just looking to add to it. I'm ready to play."
Over the course of four years at Cal, Walker was highly accomplished. She was an All-Pac-10 First Team selection each of her last three years. As a senior, Walker led the conference in scoring at 19.3 points per game and was named to the AP All-American Third Team. She finished her career as the Bears' all-time leading rebounder and second in scoring.
Along with classmates Devanei Hampton and Alexis Gray-Lawson, Walker helped take the Cal program to new heights. The Bears reached the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history last month, and achieved another milestone today when Walker was the first Bears player ever drafted.
"It's amazing," she said. "It's a lot of firsts as a Cal player. We did a lot of things first because Cal wasn't that great of a program when I got there. It's great that I was first."
Walker was pleased to land with the Storm in part because she'll have the opportunity to stay on the West Coast. The Stockton, Calif. native is already familiar to many Seattle fans because she played in the Pac-10.
"It's in Pac-10 country," she said, "so I'll still have fans from the Pac-10 who will be able to support me. It's close to home - only a two-hour flight, so it worked out great."
Entering the draft, Agler figured the Storm's biggest need was adding depth on the perimeter. However, acquiring the best talent was more important than a specific need. Walker's ability to shoot the ball with range - she hit 10 three-pointers as a senior - offers the potential that she could spend some time on the wing. Camille Little, who started for the Storm at power forward last season, could also help step into that void.
"Wer'e going to experiment with that," explained Agler. "We did at times last year. Camille obviously has the athleticism and the versatility and the quickness to play on the perimeter, but we also have some post players who can stretch the defense too - Ashley being one of them. Suzy (Batkovic) is another one, Swin (Cash) - she faces up and can attack the basket. And if Lauren (Jackson)'s back, everybody knows she can stretch the defense."
After trying but being unable to acquire a second-round pick to replace the one sent to Atlanta to acquire Little last season, Agler and the Storm coaching staff settled in for the team's third-round pick, No. 38 overall. The Storm used that pick on Florida State wing Mara Freshour, who just happened to be the first player Agler scouted this season back in October.
While Walker was attending the draft, Freshour was intentionally not watching the draft on campus in Tallahassee.
"I was too uptight to watch it," she said. "The first call I got was from my boyfriend, because I told him I wasn't going to watch it. From then on, I started getting phone calls and texts and my phone started going crazy."
Freshour's selection was part of a big day for the Florida State program that is also establishing a women's basketball tradition. Teammate Tanae Davis-Cain went the pick before Freshour, while former Seminole Britany Miller, who left the team for academic reasons and is playing overseas, was drafted by Detroit in the second round.
"It's really exciting because a lot of the schools are considered way better than us," Freshour said. "Here we come out and we've got three girls who are drafted. I'm sure a lot of people would have never guessed that or expected that. It helps our coaches with recruiting and it reflects a lot on them - how hard they worked to make us the players that we are."
As a third-round pick, Freshour faces a challenge trying to make the team with rosters reduced to 11 players throughout the WNBA this season. However, she'll have the opportunity to battle for a spot in training camp. Walker comes in as a favorite to make the roster. While Agler acknowledged the possibililty of some minor moves before camp - and the Storm still awaits a decision from unrestricted free agent Lauren Jackson - he likes the way the roster is shaping up for the 2009 season.
"We've signed some very good players that weren't on our team a year ago - Suzy Batkovic, Janell Burse, Shannon Johnson," said Agler. "Then with the returning players - we re-signed Tanisha Wright. Obviously we're still waiting on Lauren. I like the direction we're going here. We'll stay on course and keep moving forward."