Draft Diary: A Day With Moriah Jefferson

UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Each WNBA Draft is the culmination of a life’s work dedicated to the game of basketball. For the 12 female ballers invited to attend WNBA Draft 2016 with their closest friends and family, it’s a celebration of not only what they have accomplished but all they can potentially become.

It’s time to take your own front-row seat at this year’s draft and go through the experience with University of Connecticut star point guard Moriah Jefferson. Follow her Draft day journey, as her dreams become a reality for the world to see.

12 pm: Local Celebrity

It’s noon at the Mohegan Sun Casino in east Connecticut and Moriah Jefferson has just been buckled into the roller coaster of emotions that is Draft day. Since her pre-teen years in Texas watching Cappie Pondexter and other WNBA stars, it’s been Jefferson’s dream to be a member of this exclusive club. As far back as she can remember, life’s been all about a ball and hoop.

She excelled at her craft, and after eight-straight championships dating back to her freshmen year of high school through her senior year at UConn, it’s time for yet another challenge. In just a few hours Jefferson will become one of the women she grew up emulating as she will hold up a WNBA jersey and smile next to the WNBA President.

But first she has to get there. Like every UConn star before her, that means that no matter where she goes, people are going recognize her. Couple that with the fact that the draft is in the same state where her four national titles reside and you have the perfect storm of admiration. Jefferson is just as smooth with her fans as she is on the floor. As she makes her way through the hotel lobby she’s greeted with ‘Hey Moriah!’ ‘Congrats Moriah!’ and ‘We’re big fans!’ An older gentlemen even pops out of his seat to yell “you’re fast the way I used to be fast!”

Jefferson graciously greets all of her fans, stopping to take photos and recognize the people her game has touched. Her biggest fan, however, will actually be by her side the entire night.

Donning a San Antonio Stars shirt, Jefferson’s godmother, Yolanda Nevarez, is hoping that her current apparel is indicative of the proceedings that will take place later in the evening. The Stars have the second pick, which is where many believe Moriah will be chosen. It happens to be her godmother’s favorite team — she is a San Antonio native — and you can bet she’d have even more of a reason to attend every home game if Moriah were on the floor.

After lunch — a much-needed burger on the outskirts of the casino floor — it’s off to hair and makeup before getting more pictures taken and eventually finding her place at the designated draft table.

“It’s nerve-racking not being able to choose,” she said about the night. “Coming out of high school you’re choosing you’re college, but now you have no control over where you go. So, I’ll definitely be relieved and excited no matter where I end up.

“It’s hard not to think about where you may end up. Being from Texas, (San Antonio has) the second pick and playing for the last four years in Connecticut, I know they have the third pick. So, of course it’s hard not to think about it. But wherever I end up I’ll be really excited no matter what.”

2 pm: Practice Makes Perfect

Before she can see her name on the draft board, though, it’s all about making sure that she looks the part. “I’m not used to all this makeup and stuff, we don’t even do this much preparation when we’re taking the floor for a game!”

It may not be like the competition she feels on the floor, but there is certainly a game-like feel to all of the proceedings. It’s hard for players of Moriah’s caliber to ever really turn off that competitive spirit that has so often given her the necessary edge to succeed.

“I really don’t like not being in control, it’s that feeling that makes me the most nervous.”

Said like a true point guard, Jefferson is used to running the show, now she is just a moving part in it. Tonight, however, she’ll except her role on this unique squad in this once-in-a-lifetime game.

Like any game day, there’s going to bumps in the road. On this day, it just so happens that Moriah’s came in the form of her outfit.

She reveals that the form-fitting black dress with white trim she eventually wears was not her first choice. She initially had an all-white dress picked out, but it had to be retired because of a “wardrobe malfunction.” She and her newly chosen outfit are now on the draft room floor doing a dry-run before the ceremony begins.

Jefferson isn’t a stranger to practices, she went through four years of them with Geno Auriemma, and fellow draftees Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck. This time though she’s not dishing the rock to these two, but rather making sure all three look good on their respective Snapchats.

4 pm: Never Forget Where You Came From 

Only three hours until Moriah finds out where she will be playing professional ball. There’s a different kind of starting five with Moriah tonight. Of course, there’s her aforementioned godmother, minus the Stars shirt, her father, and two close family friends. Her mother wasn’t able to make the trip but she is locked in and ready for the moment via what feels like every kind of product available on an iPhone.

Moriah finds herself right in the middle of her fellow UConn stars — Stewie to her right, Tuck to her left. It looks like the kind of offensive set you would see on nightly basis in Storrs, but tonight it’s not another National Championship they’re vying for but rather a handshake and a WNBA jersey. As the clock creeps closer to draft time, Moriah doesn’t wear her nervousness, instead it’s a trademark smile. She looks confident and truly seems at ease when the great Auriemma arrives in the building.

Auriemma is a mystic when it comes to women’s basketball. He brings with him an almost regal sense of confidence, but it must be hard not to feel a bit of bravado on a night like this, where there is a good chance that three of his former players will be the top three picks.

The legendary coach greets all three players with hugs and appreciation. The draft is minutes away and the UConn family is all here. In fact, the entire UConn team has made the trip to the Mohegan Sun to cheer on Moriah, Stewie, and Tuck, just like Moriah did last year to cheer on Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Kiah Stokes, both first round picks.

Now it’s Moriah’s moment.

7:20 pm: With The Second Pick In 2016 WNBA Draft…

Moriah doesn’t have to wait long to hear her name called. Just like the pundits, experts, and most importantly her godmother predicted, Moriah is going to be a San Antonio Star. She will be returning to her home state of Texas and finally be able to play in front of family, many of whom didn’t get the chance to see her play much at Connecticut because of the distance.

She ends up being drafted one pick behind Stewart and one before Tuck. With that, for the first time ever the first three picks in the WNBA Draft come from the same school. Yes, even more history for this trio.

The cheers are deafening for Breanna, equally as loud for Moriah, but something special comes with Tuck. As soon as Moriah is off stage and takes her first steps as a professional basketball player, she hears Tuck’s name being called.

“Oh, my god! I can’t believe it, honestly I’m happier for her than I am for myself!”

The response says it all about how close these teammates have grown, and one of the reasons behind their unprecedented success.

There isn’t much time for a collective celebration though. It’s time for Moriah Jefferson the UConn point guard to become Moriah Jefferson the San Antonio rookie.

8 pm: Have You Seen My Phone?

The fun really begins once she steps off the stage and starts her media responsibilities. First, it’s a press conference for the media in attendance. Then it’s off to a social media shoot and a photo shoot with her new Stars jersey. Then interviews with local news stations and a segment on ESPN2. It’s exhausting even to watch, but this is the life of a professional athlete.

“Hey, I think I left my phone charging in the photo shoot room. Oh no!”

Oh no, is an understatement. After making her way back to grab the phone there is a seemingly endless scroll of texts, new Twitter followers, and phone calls from numbers across the country.

“I’m thinking of just sending a thank you tweet out, there’s no chance I’ll ever be able to respond to all of these.”

This, as they say, is a good problem to have, and one she wouldn’t trade for the world. It’s moments like this when it really hits her that her life is about change. Luckily, she is prepared. Playing those four years at Connecticut prepared her well for the pressure she will face in the pros. The elite program sells out many of the arenas they play in and have fans across the country. She’s used to people giving her support, but tonight is a whole new level. While she may not get to respond to all the love tonight, or even in the next week, it’s then time for her to come face to face with her new franchise.

8:30 pm: Greetings From Texas!

What isn’t possible in 2016? In previous years, players used to just talk to their future head coach and management team on the phone, nowadays Moriah steps in front of a flat screen TV to have a video conference with not only members of the Stars staff but hundreds of their most loyal season ticket holders. They have gathered inside the Freeman Coliseum to welcome Moriah to San Antonio on the jumbotron inside the arena.

Everything really is bigger in Texas.

She has a brief conversation with the in-arena hosts and then provides answers to fan questions that are met with raucous applause and cheering. “That was the coolest thing I’ve done, I can’t believe that just happened.” It is a surreal moment because the appreciation from both sides is palpable. These fans truly are happy to see Moriah become a part of the Stars family and she genuinely is excited to be there.

9:15 pm: Soccer Or Basketball?

As the interviews slowly subside Moriah offers an unexpected answer to a question about when she knew she had unique talent with a basketball. “I actually grew up playing soccer, and that was my first passion. But, my allergies made it almost impossible for me to play for a long time outside, so I started playing sports inside and that’s when I found basketball.”

Yes, had it not been for an allergic reaction, the world may have never seen Jefferson on a basketball floor.

Moriah’s main asset on the floor is her elusiveness, something that she attributes to her early days on the soccer fields in Texas. “I’m shifty on the court and that’s because I grew up playing soccer, it’s those kinds of movements that help me get past defenders in basketball.”

9:45 – Connecticut For Life 

The day is finally wrapping up and Moriah is visibly worn from the day’s events. “Man, tonight was like a championship game.” That is a perfect way to describe what she has just been through over the past nine hours.

There was the entrance and greetings from die-hard fans, the practice, and of course Stewie and Tuck on the same floor with her making history. When it’s all said and done, the three of them reconvene for a picture chalked full of too many Ws to count. There is nothing left for these three to prove as a unit, but they have everything to prove on their own. Stewart will be playing in Seattle and become a Western Conference rival to Moriah in San Antonio while Tuck will remain in Connecticut as a member of the Sun.

It’s clear that these three have no intentions of being rivals off the court though. There’s a playful dribble from Stewart, an attempt at a steal from Moriah and giggle from Tuck. Jefferson knows that she has formed a bond with the other two that cannot be broken, despite the new jerseys they wear.

10:05 – Watch Me This Summer!

Moriah’s night may be over but her journey is just beginning. Mo or Bonn Bonn as she is known these days because of her love of Cinnabons has reached a summit in her basketball career, but she will quickly go from a two-time Nancy Lieberman Award Winner (top point guard in the NCAA) to an unproven rookie. At her press conference hours earlier, Jefferson told reporters “obviously, you want to go in with a great mentality and working hard and starting there. And then after that, I want to become a great point guard in the league.”

Now as the stage is being broken down and she’s finished with selfies with family, she offers one simple phrase to describe her plans for the future, “I just want to win.”

It’s a fitting thought from someone who is not simply used to winning, but expects it. You can bet she will be bringing this mindset to San Antonio this summer. For now, though, it’s out of the heels and into flats. Yes, her first night as a professional has already prepared her how to handle what is sure to be a career filled with many long nights.

When she wakes up tomorrow it will be as a San Antonio Star. She wouldn’t have it any other way.