NEW YORK – “Our coaches know what it takes as far as developing a player, and that’s the main reason I came to UConn” said Gabby Williams, the Chicago Sky’s 4th overall selection of WNBA Draft 2018, Thursday night at Nike New York Headquarters.
It has been two decades of dominating women’s college basketball for head coach Geno Auriemma and the University of Connecticut. With that has come 11 national titles and a wealth of players who are now competing in the WNBA.
WNBA Draft 2018 presented by State Farm marked the sixth time in which UConn had multiple players drafted in the first round – Williams (4th overall – Chicago Sky), Azura Stevens (6th overall – Dallas Wings), and Kia Nurse (10th overall – New York Liberty).
“I think there’s so much tradition and history with the amount of players that have come from UConn into the league and so to be added to that will be very special” said new Wings forward Stevens.
Nurse, Stevens and Williams now make the sisterhood of UConn alums currently on WNBA rosters grow to 17 players and they are the first draft class to have multiple first round selections since 2016 (Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson, and Morgan Tuck).
The three former Huskies were together all day leading up to the special night, laughing and joking with each other, and showing the bond that comes with being apart of the UConn basketball family is strong.
“It’s definitely encouraging to see people who are coming out from the same place as you are and have as much success as they did,” Nurse said. “But when you think about the last class that did this – Moriah Jefferson, Morgan Tuck and Breanna Stewart – we were able to play with them for two years. So, for them to have been going through it and they’ll be the first ones to tell us ‘hey this is how this will work’ or ‘this is how that will work,’ that’s the best part about having them in our corner.”
Having played at UConn for multiple seasons, these three have enjoyed a level of success that many of the top female basketball players around the world can only dream of having. And although they were projected to be first-round picks for a long time, this whole process was a nerve-wrecking experience nonetheless.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Williams said. “My heart was pounding the entire day and night. When my name got called, I just took a deep breath and hugged my mom, and said, ‘We did it.’ It has been a long journey, so to just hear my name called was an amazing feeling.”
When Williams got backstage, she was greeted by third-overall pick, and another new member of the Sky, Diamond DeShields, as the two embraced and shared some laughs in discussing going from competitors to teammates in a matter of hours.
The norm for the elite members of women’s college basketball is that they will play all four years before turning pro. Stevens went against the grain when she decided to forego her last year of college eligibility and turn pro. She credits her coaching staff at UConn in providing support in her making that decision.
“Ever since I stepped foot on campus, Coach always was looking out for what was best for me as a player,” Stevens said of Auriemma. “At the end of the day, Coach supports me with whatever I am doing, and any decision I would have made, he would have supported me either way.”
It says something about a program that is annually one of the top college teams in the country while consistently sending top talent into the WNBA.
This year’s draft class adds two versatile forwards and a sharp-shooting wing from Coach Auriemma’s prideful program. They’ll look to follow in the footsteps of the 14 other players now in the league that came from the same lineage.
“[WNBA] Teams want UConn players and that’s because what Coach [Auriemma] has done and how they developed us,” Williams said. “I went to that program because I knew I was going to get better.”