Select Team

Inside The W with Michelle Smith: National Championship Participants Rule Draft Night in New York

Five players walked onto the floor for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Sunday night, playing for the NCAA title against Baylor, who had two seniors on the floor of their own.

Just three head-spinning days later, all seven are WNBA Draft picks.

For the first time in WNBA history, all five starters from a collegiate team were drafted on Wednesday, starting with the youngest of them all — junior guard Jackie Young — who was chosen No. 1 by the Las Vegas Aces.

This deep draft, full of impact players, will bolster WNBA teams across the league with young talent.

The first pick in the draft ended up being used on a player that wasn’t even on the draft list just a few days ago.

Young decided to come out with a year remaining in her college eligibility and immediately shot to the top of the draft board for Aces coach Bill Laimbeer. She becomes just the third college junior to be drafted No. 1 in the WNBA – joining Candace Parker in 2008 and Jewell Loyd in 2015.

Young’s size, physicality and versatility at the guard spot made her a coveted addition, despite the fact that she was not named to any first-team All-American teams this season.

The No. 1 pick said the decision to leave her college career behind was a difficult one, one in which she consulted with her family and Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, saying it was the best decision for she and her family. Young also said she is overwhelmed by the opportunity to become a professional basketball player in the WNBA.

“It’s something that I dreamed of as a little kid,” she said. “To be able to achieve it today, it’s an amazing feeling.”

Young’s backcourt mate, Arike Ogunbowale was next to be chosen, at No. 5 by the Dallas Wings, the first draft pick of new head coach Brian Agler.

With Skylar Diggins expected to miss the season due to her impending birth of her first child, Ogunbowale brings offensive firepower to the Wings’ lineup. She is an explosive scorer with a mentality that allows her to rise to the big moment, which she proved time after time in her college career.

Brianna Turner, the lanky center who rebounded from injury to return for a great final season for the Irish, was drafted No. 11 by the Atlanta Dream and then traded to the Phoenix Mercury, where she will add to the Mercury’s post depth.

The second round saw do-everything forward Jessica Shepard go to the Minnesota Lynx. Marina Mabrey, the heart-and-soul perimeter threat, was taken with the seventh pick in the second round by the Los Angeles Sparks.

Kalani Brown, the Baylor center who led her team to the NCAA title with Sunday’s win over Notre Dame, also assumed her spot in the WNBA, having been selected No. 7 overall by the Los Angeles Sparks. Chloe Jackson, the fifth-year senior who arrived at Baylor last fall in time to help lead them to a championship, was rewarded by being selected third in the second round by the Chicago Sky.

Louisville’s Asia Durr was the No. 2 pick to the New York Liberty, who will welcome her ability to score as a complement to star center Tina Charles.

One of three Louisville seniors drafted (Arica Carter at No. 32 and Sam Fuehring at No. 34), Durr said her mother grew up in the Bronx, so joining the Liberty feels a little like a homecoming, particularly with their new ownership group in Brooklyn.

“Oh man, I think I was sitting in my mom’s womb dreaming about this moment,” Durr said. “I think that’s why I couldn’t talk to (ESPN’s) Holly Rowe, I was in shock. I was about to cry, and I don’t cry.”

As expected, the Indiana Fever, still rebuilding under head coach Pokey Chatman, drafted size by taking Mississippi State’s Teaira McCowan with the No. 3 pick.

A pair of Connecticut stars were chosen in the top six picks, with Katie Lou Samuelson headed to Chicago as a perimeter partner to Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley, while Napheesa Collier, perhaps the best all-around talent in the draft, went to the Minnesota Lynx at No. 6.

Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve called Collier a “turnkey” player, which indicates she believes Collier will make an immediate impact, particularly in the absence of Maya Moore, who is sitting out the 2019 season.

Samuelson joins her sister Karlie in the league, Karlie playing in Los Angeles for the Sparks.

“I think for me I’m going in ready to learn and get as much done as I can,” Samuelson said. “I’m going to work as hard as I can to see if I can make an impact. The style of play is something I’m used to.”

Rounding out the first round, Phoenix took Australian standout Alanna Smith at No. 8, Connecticut grabbed Cal’s rebounding-machine Kristine Anigwe at No. 9, the Washington Mystics took Kiara Leslie of North Carolina State in something of a surprise and following Turner’s selection by Atlanta, champion Seattle selected Australian Ezi Magbegor.

Connecticut coach Curt Miller told local media that he was “as excited about this draft since that pick,” referring to Anigwe, who averaged more than 16 rebounds a game in her senior season, leading the NCAA.

“The skills that I have, I think it is going to translate really well in that program,” Anigwe said. “Connecticut is such a good team and I think we are going to do a lot of good things in the WNBA. I have a lot of faith in my abilities and I can’t wait to learn from incredibly talented players.”

Longtime WNBA reporter Michelle Smith writes a weekly column on throughout the season. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.