PALM HARBOR, Fla. — Candace Parker had a whirlwind 24 hours.
Parker was selected No. 1 by the Los Angeles Sparks in the WNBA draft on Wednesday, a day after capping her college career by leading Tennessee to a second straight NCAA title.
“These last 15 hours or so have been just amazing,” Parker said. “To win a national championship and then switch gears and come to the WNBA draft and be surrounded by my peers that I’ve played with ever since I was in junior high school has been amazing.”
The Associated Press player of the year joins Lisa Leslie on the Sparks, turning Los Angeles into one of the top teams in the league. The Sparks were a franchise-worst 10-24 last season with Leslie sitting out after giving birth to a daughter in June.
“Lisa Leslie has been one of my idols ever since I was younger,” Parker said. “I’ve never had an opportunity to play with her … but I’m really looking forward to it. Obviously, she’s a great role model and I’m looking to take in whatever she tells me.”
LSU senior Sylvia Fowles was taken second by the Chicago Sky. The 6-6 center led the Lady Tigers to four straight Final Fours and scored 24 points and had 20 rebounds in their heartbreaking 47-46 semifinal loss this year to Tennessee.
Stanford star Candice Wiggins, whose team finished runner-up, went third to the Minnesota Lynx. Alexis Hornbuckle of Tennessee was chosen by Detroit and Matee Ajavon of Rutgers was selected by Houston, rounding out the top five.
Parker left Tennessee with a year of eligibility remaining. She chose to skip her fifth year, which she gained because of a knee injury as a freshman.
“It’s been really hard,” she said. “Obviously I’ve wavered. I think everybody wavers on decisions all the time. Especially when you’re in the moment and there’s orange surrounding you and people begging you and telling you one more year. But I gave my word, and I just felt it was time to go and we left on top.”
Parker, Fowles and Wiggins headlined a talented class that has been hyped since their freshman year.
“I feel like now it’s our class’ responsibility to raise the bar and I think this class is capable of doing that,” Parker said. “I feel like in the WNBA it’s going to be the rivalries.
“It’s going to be the Candice Wiggins vs. Candace Parker. It’s going to be the Sylvia Fowles vs. Erlana Larkins. I feel like it’s going to be great for the game.”
Crystal Langhorne of Maryland was taken sixth by the Washington Mystics and Essence Carson of Rutgers is going not far from her campus, going seventh to the New York Liberty.
The expansion Atlanta Dream chose Tamera Young of James Madison at No. 8. Amber Holt of Middle Tennessee State went ninth to Connecticut and Laura Harper was selected 10th by Sacramento.
Tasha Humphrey of Georgia went next to Detroit, and the Connecticut Sun took UConn guard Ketia Swanier with their second pick of the round at No. 12.
North Carolina’s LaToya Pringle was chosen by the defending champion Phoenix Mercury, and the Liberty picked her Tar Heels teammate Erlana Larkins to close out the first round.
For the third season, the league held the draft the day after the women’s NCAA Final Four in the host city. There were three rounds and 43 picks overall.