In the span of 12 minutes, Geno Auriemma had already given out his hugs after watching his three star players — Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck — selected with the first three picks in the 2016 WNBA Draft.
It was the first time in draft history — WNBA or NBA — that a single school produced the top three picks in the same draft. Only twice in WNBA Draft history had two players from the same school been selected at 1-2: USC in the inaugural draft in 1997 (Tina Thompson and Pamela McGee) and Connecticut in 2002 (Sue Bird and Swin Cash), when they also had three of the top four picks (Asjha Jones at No. 4) and four of the top six (Tamika Williams at No. 6).
But for the trio of Stewart, Jefferson and Tuck that made history in college as the first players to win four consecutive NCAA championships, it seemed fitting that they also make history as they entered the professional ranks.
“It shows how special of a group we are,” said Stewart. “When we do something with the three of us, we do it together. We went in as freshmen together. We won four national championships together. Now, we all were drafted together. Every single one of us – Mo, Morgan – could have gone number one in any draft class.”
Once your name is announced, you walk to the stage, get a fist bump from new WNBA President Lisa Borders, pose for the traditional draft photo with the jersey of your new team, do a live ESPN interview and then you head backstage for a whirlwind of photos, interviews, press conferences and more. But while Stewart was going through all of this, she could still hear the selections being made in the draft room and made a point to stop whatever she was doing to cheer for her former UConn teammates as they were drafted.
“We’re sisters, for sure,” said Jefferson. “I was walking back trying to do an interview and I heard [Morgan Tuck’s] name and I completely stopped, started clapping. I got so emotional. To be able to go through this journey the way that we have, and to accomplish the things we have – making history at the college level and now making history here – it’s something that’s unbelievable and you can’t really imagine anything being better.”
“When you watch your good friends get drafted, I think it’s more special than yourself getting drafted,” said Tuck, who had a front row seat for Stewart and Jefferson’s selections. “So I was super excited for Stewie, super excited that Mo gets to go back home to Texas. It was just great to be able to be out there with them and to see them live the dream.”
All three players were quick to credit Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma and his staff for getting them to the point where they could not only make history on the court together but be ready to transition to successful professional careers.
“It was huge, being able to come to Connecticut and have Coach Auriemma push you as a person and a player; no one else does that across the country, no matter what you say, they don’t do that,” said Stewart during an interview on the ESPN telecast. “They are preparing you to be great not only for the college level but for what’s to come, they know you’re goals are bigger than just being at UConn.”
Auriemma, who sat at Stewart’s table in the draft room, is a permanent fixture at the WNBA Draft, where he has had 33 players drafted since the league began in 1997. He’s had plenty of special draft classes over the years, but was proud of this group making history with the top three selections.
“It’s more of a moment for their families and their teammates and everyone that they play with,” Auriemma said during an interview on the ESPN telecast. “We’ve been doing this a long time — 30 years — but this is their one and only time that they get to go through this. So for the three of them to spend four years together and then to come here and hear their names called 1-2-3, I’m thrilled for them, happy for them, and it was kind of emotional for them. So I’m proud of them.”
Connecticut has dominated the WNBA Draft in a way no other school has in the history of the league. Stewart is the program’s fifth No. 1 overall pick; no other school has produced more than two top picks. The five UConn No. 1 picks would make up one of the most daunting starting fives ever assembled with Sue Bird at the point, Diana Taurasi at the two, Maya Moore on the opposite wing, Stewart at four and Tina Charles at center.
Most No. 1 Overall Picks, WNBA Draft
|School||No. 1 Picks||Players (Draft Year)|
|Connecticut||5||Sue Bird (2002), Diana Taurasi (2004), Tina Charles (2010), Maya Moore (2011), Breanna Stewart (2016)|
|Tennessee||2||Chamique Holdsclaw (1999), Candace Parker (2008)|
|Stanford||2||Nneka Ogwumike (2012), Chiney Ogwumike (2014)|
While Tennessee still holds the lead in overall WNBA draft picks (37), UConn has dominated the top tier of the draft. They have the most first round picks (21), the most top 10 picks (16), the most top 5 picks (11) and, of course, the most No. 1 overall picks.
Connecticut vs. Tennessee and Stanford, WNBA Draft
|School||Total||1st Rd||Top 10||Top 5||1st|
Of course, now that the draft is over, it’s time for this trio of friends to go their separate ways as they begin their professional careers. It’s somewhat of a bittersweet feeling, finding the balance of excitement over the next chapter, but the sadness of leaving a group that held such a strong bond over the past four years.
“It’s going to be really weird. I’m not going to like it,” Jefferson said with a laugh during an interview on the ESPN telecast. “For me as a point guard, with those two guys it’s like telling them what to do and they go out and do it, throw them the ball and they make every single shot. So now being on the opposite end of that, I don’t know how I’m going to feel about it.”
New teammates await Stewart, Jefferson and Tuck as their pro careers will tip off just one month after draft day. Stewart heads to Seattle, where she will reunite with Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, the No. 3 pick in last year’s draft out of UConn, as well as Husky legend Sue Bird and last year’s No. 1 overall pick Jewell Loyd out of Notre Dame. How quickly can the addition of Stewart turn things around in the Pacific Northwest?
Jefferson heads to San Antonio, in her native state of Texas, where the Stars lost starting point guard Danielle Robinson for the season following Achilles surgery last month. Jefferson should see plenty of playing time in San Antonio, where she will look to help the Stars rebound from last season’s 8-26 record. While Jefferson returns to her home state, Tuck has only about 30 miles to travel from Storrs to Uncasville, where she will begin her professional career with the Connecticut Sun.
As their professional journeys take them about as far away from each other as possible while still in the United States — the Pacific Northwest, Northeast and South Texas — the UConn trio will always have the history they made together as college teammates and as WNBA draftees.
“We’ve had a few conversations where we were like, ‘Let’s just get this on the road,’” said Stewart of draft day. “We’ve been up since 6:30 this morning. We wanted to know what’s going to happen. To have Mo to my left and Morgan in the corner from me, being able to look at them and obviously embrace them as I was walking up to the podium – that just shows what kind of group we are. We care about each other and how each other is doing.”