Shock nab Pittsburgh guard at No. 11

Zealous about Zellous

Looking over the dry-erase board listing the prospects and team order of Thursday’s WNBA Draft, Bill Laimbeer and his staff saw only one fit for the Shock at No. 11.

They’re Zellous-ly optimistic they found what they were looking for.

After forgoing the trade route, the Shock let the first 10 picks fall into place and then landed the player they were hoping for all along: Shavonte Zellous, a 5-foot-10 guard from Pittsburgh.

“That’s the one we targeted,” Laimbeer said. “[Director of Player Personnel] Cheryl Reeve has spent a lot of time looking at her this year. We knew certain players would not be available to us but we really wanted a guard or a small forward and Zellous was the one we had talked about the whole college season long and we sweated one out and got her.”

Zellous has the defensive skill set that should make her a strong fit in Detroit and earn her playing time as a rookie. In 30 games last season she had 30 steals and 20 blocks. But she’s also more a skilled scorer than last year’s first-round pick, Alexis Hornbuckle. Zellous scored more than 600 points in each of her last three seasons, averaging 16.8 points over her career. In 2008-09 Zellous averaged a career-high 22.5 points while shooting 41.9 percent from the field and 36.7 percent from 3-point range.

Teaming up with Hornbuckle, who led the WNBA in steals as a rookie, the Shock now have a pair of young, athletic defenders to back up the all-league backcourt of Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith. Both veterans were among the top-five in minutes played in the WNBA last season. “Me and Alexis Hornbuckle, we kind of have a similar game. We’re both versatile and we do it on both ends of the court,” Zellous said on a conference call with Detroit media. “I’m just excited to come and be a part of this team.”

Zellous has improved immensely during her college career, and was named the Big East’s 2007 Most Improved Player of the Year. Recruited by just two schools out of high school, the Orlando, Fla., native went north to Pittsburgh and became a three-time All-Big East First Team honoree. “It was a long road with just two schools recruiting me and I took the chance on Pittsburgh and I helped build that program up,” she said. “It was really rough but I stuck to the game that I loved and that was basketball and my mom really helped me fight through it.”

Worried that Zellous might be taken before No. 11, the Shock explored moving up in the draft order. The Shock gained a bargaining chip earlier in the day by obtaining the No. 18 pick overall for guard Ashley Shields. Once Zellous fell into place, the Shock held onto the pick and selected center Britany Miller, a player evocative of veteran Shock center Kara Braxton.

“I think they’re both big, strong,” Laimbeer said of comparisons between Miller and Braxton, both 6-foot-4. “I think Kara’s probably faster, up and down. Britany rebounds a little bit better and is probably a more steady force in the post. But it’s going to interesting. We’re going to have some options to play with.”

Like Braxton, there were also off-court issues that might have contributed to Miller's slide in the draft. “I think so,” Laimbeer said when asked if Miller was more talented than her draft spot suggests. “She probably fell because no one’s seen her for a while. But we think we’ve got a good quality pick there.” Miller played three seasons at Florida State and was named to the ACC All-Freshman team in 2006. Miller left school early in the 2007-08 season for academic issues and played in the Czech Republic this season.

“She’s got an attitude which fits right in with the Shock, and she’s had a good sound year of professional basketball this past year and we like that also,” Laimbeer said. “We’re hoping she makes the team. We think she can. There’s a roster spot that’s open there and the only thing she can do is play her way out of it.”

With the third-round pick, No. 37 overall, the Shock selected Miller’s former FSU teammate, 5-foot-11 guard Tanae Davis-Cain. “We definitely have a guard roster spot open,” Laimbeer said. “She’s going to have to compete with anybody else we may bring in or any free agents we may sign.”