Reaction from first round picks in the 2013 WNBA Draft including: Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne, Skylar Diggins, Taylor Hill, Tianna Hawkins & Layshia Clarendon.

Top draft picks ready to become faces of the WNBA

Staff Writer
April 17, 2013 - 10:08am
Brittney Griner is selected as the No. 1 pick in the 2013 WNBA draft by the Phoenix Mercury. (Photo by Kelly Kline)

Brittney Griner is selected as the No. 1 pick in the 2013 WNBA draft by the Phoenix Mercury. (Photo by Kelly Kline)

BRISTOL, Conn. – With ESPN being the bridge in many ways through its other properties beyond telecasts that connects the NCAA and the WNBA when it comes to women’s basketball, network headquarters was the appropriate place to originate the highly anticipated draft that was beamed Monday night in a first-ever prime time window.

Draft day PHOTO GALLERY

Beginning last fall with its “Three to See” promotion focusing on collegiate superstars Brittney Griner of Baylor, Elena Delle Donne of Delaware, and Skylar Digggins of Notre Dame, ESPN kept the spotlight on the trio throughout the collegiate season and then transitioned the focus here on draft night with the correct assumption that the trio would be off the plate after the Phoenix Mercury, Chicago Sky, and Tulsa Shock made their picks at the top of selections in that order.

As expected, Griner went to Phoenix as the overall No. 1 pick, while Delle Donne was quickly taken by Chicago, followed by Tulsa grabbing Diggins.

If anything was immediately apparent from the influence of ESPN through its longstanding contract with the NCAA and its deal, now extended with the WNBA through 2022, is the 12 rookies who were invited to draft appeared more ready to cope with the non-playing and promotional aspects of continuous efforts to market the league, which will be in its 17th season this summer.

It wasn’t long ago, other than the effervescence of Diana Taurasi and a few others, draft day was more of an intimidation for the newcomers, which lasted until they began to slip into their new lives as pros when training camps got under way.

But with more collegiate games on TV than ever, with additional coverage by several sports cable entities besides ESPN, local channels, and in-house produced streaming on campuses, this group was ready to handle whatever was thrown their way after they made their way to the interview area here.

On a side note: With FOX about to launch a channel and with plans to target ESPN in the competitive marketplace, it will be interesting to see how much of a value they will place on the women’s game.

Meanwhile, back here, Griner was a little emotional, admitting how playing in front of thousands of people was less daunting, while Delle Donne and Diggins, besides others who followed, spoke like they had been around the league for years they grew up dreaming  of life as a pro.

Delaware's Elena Delle Donne was the second overall pick by the Chicago Sky. (Photo by Kelly Kline)

Saying she wants to “leave a legacy” in Chicago, Delle Donne calmly looked out at the media types and described her reaction, noting, “This is a phenomenal team that I’ll be joining.

“There’s a lot of players who’ll be mentors for me and really help me out along the way. I think I’m going to learn a ton from these players and also elevate my game. We definitely have a great team. I felt like I was a really good puzzle piece for this team.”

Delle Donne has some familiarity with Chicago assistant coach Jeff House, who when he was an assistant at Virginia to former coach Debbie Ryan attempted to recruit her out of high school, where she was the nation’s top senior prospect at Ursuline Academy in Wilmington, Del., near her home.

Answering the questions that never die about her dash back home from powerful Connecticut less than 48 hours after arriving on campus in the summer of 2008 because of a major attack of instant homesickness, Delle Donne calmly said, “I was an 18-year-old girl and now I’m a 23-year-old woman.”

It’s already apparent that Delle Donne has quickly moved from the mindset of trying to take Delaware as far as she could in the NCAA tournament several weeks ago to that now of ready to enter the next phase of her illustrious career.

“If someone told me in five years I would be the No. 2 draft pick going to the Chicago Sky to play my professional career, I would have told you you were crazy,” Delle Donne said, also noting how if she had her own choice without regard to the process, she might have picked Chicago out of the 12-team WNBA collection of franchises.

“When I left Connecticut, I told myself that basketball’s not going to be in my future. It’s been such a growing experience for me … This is so incredibly exciting, and I can’t wait to play professionally.”

Skylar Diggins addresses the media after being selected third overall by the Tulsa Shock. (Photo by Kelly Kline)

Diggins talked about leadership and being a point guard with Tulsa, that has struggled since moving from Detroit, which was under the NBA Pistons and won three WNBA titles.

“I just want to go in there and have the same impact I had at Notre Dame,” Diggins said. “I came in my freshman year. The year before, they lost in the first round (of the NCAA tournament),” she said.

Meanwhile the story of the night in terms of locality here was provided by the pro-side of things in this state when the Connecticut Sun and new coach Anne Donovan selected UConn Huskies senior Kelly Faris, whose home state is actually Indiana and starred for the newly-crowned NCAA champions.

“Well, you guys aren’t done with me yet,” she quipped about several media in room who have covered Faris’ collegiate career at UConn. “Looks like I’ll be here a little bit, seeing your faces, still.

“I wasn’t ready to leave Connecticut, yet. So this is great. Can’t explain what this feels like. It’s a dream come true. And the fact I stay here in Connecticut where I’ve really built a strong family and get to play with past players and teammates Tina (Charles), Renee (Montgomery) and Kalana (Greene), I can’t wait to go see if I got a text from them, or anything,” Faris continued.

“Once you’re a Husky, you’re always a Husky and it’s just a big, strong, family and we’re always going to be there for each other. And especially for the fans and having the fan base behind us, the fact I don’t have to leave yet is great. So I’m really excited.”

The best quote of the night might have come from Penn State senior and defensive ace Alex Bentley, taken at the top of the second round by the Atlanta Dream.

“I feel like this is a dream come true and now I’ll be playing for the Dream,” she said, looking forward to being alongside scoring ace Angel McCoughtry.

According to the Collective Barganing Agreement, which expires after this season, the rookie pay scale has the first three picks and senior Ohio State star Tayler Hill, taken as overall No. 4 by the Washington Mystics, making $48,470 and rising to a salary of $61,800 in 2016, though there may be increases negotiated above what is now stated when a new CBA is reached.

First round picks 5-8, which were Texas A&M’s Kelsey Bone to the New York Liberty, Maryland’s Tiana Hawkins to the Seattle Storm, Oklahoma State’s Toni Young to New York and Syracuse’s Kayla Alexander to the San Antonio Silver Stars, will each start at $44,835 and reach $57,165, though in all these situations, they must actually make the roster first.

The remaining first round picks who are slots 9-12 and consist of California’s Layshia Clarendon to the defending champion Indiana Fever, Kentucky’s A’dia Matthies to the Los Angeles Sparks, Faris, and Nebraska’s Lindsey Moore to the WNBA runnerup and previous 2011 champion Minnesota Lynx, the salaries will start at $39,998 and reach $50,985.

Of course, there’s added income available through endorsements and also merit bonuses for making postseason awards and also reaching the playoffs.

The salaries of second round picks will begin at $38,500 and reach $49,088, while third round selectees will initially earn $37,950 and reach $46,450.

Other rookies who make rosters but were not drafted will also start at $37,950 and reach $38, 709 next season with no figures showing beyond that on the chart.

WNBA President Laurel Richie addressed the media on draft day. (Photo by Kelly Kline)

“I have said that I think we’re going to look back on 2013 and realize it was a year that really changed the landscape for the WNBA,” league president Laurel Ritchie said in a media availability several hours before the process got under way.

“I’m very, very excited about the level of play. I am excited about the level of players coming into the league.”

A question asked referred to some predecessors who also came into the league before Griner as heralded No. 1 picks such as the Seattle Storm’s Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird, who both will miss this season to rehab nagging injuries, and Maya Moore with the potential to save the league.

The concern was maybe existing stars, many of whom were part of the Olympic gold medalist USA champions last summer, were being eclipsed in the attention focused on the rookies.

Ritchie in her answer acknowledged the existing talent and referred to the newcomers as “an additive thing.”

However, if one looks at the 14-game basic TV schedule on ABC and ESPN2 besides the All-Star showcase from Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun and the playoffs, Phoenix, with Griner, will have six appearances.

Indiana, the defending champs, has four slots, Los Angeles, which has Candace Parker, has three, as does Diggins’ Tulsa squad, while Connecticut, Minnesota, Chicago (with Delle Donne) and Seattle have two each, and the remaining group of Washington, New York, Atlanta, and San Antonio are at one each.

In some fairness, though, besides the ESPN entity, NBA-TV, the league’s in-house network, airs more games and most from that entity and in-house streaming are available on the APPs that can be viewed on computers, tablets, and cell phones.

Unfortunately, the night had trouble getting off to a joyful start when news broke in late afternoon of the tragedy in Boston consisting of fatalities and injuries from the two bombs that went off at the finish line of the annual marathon.

Ritchie acknowledged the event in her opening remarks and soon after was asked if contemplation had been given to postponing the draft.

“As you can imagine, we had discussions about whether or not we should continue,” she said. “Those are always tough decisions and made the decision to go ahead with tonight’s draft.”

Meanwhile, last season Chicago coach Pokey Chatman was not interested in participating in the lottery pool, trying to guide the Sky to their first playoff appearance in six seasons of existence.

They fell a game short in the East to New York and considering that the Liberty did not seem to have a shelf life to last beyond the first round, there was wonderment whether the squad, which has one more summer in Newark, N.J., while renovations to Madison Square Garden conclude, might have been better served losing out to Chicago, especially when the Sky came up with the No. 2 pick in the lottery order determined by the ping pong ball process.

But weep not too much for the Liberty. Soon after the season, they brought former Detroit Shock coach Bill Laimbeer back into the league and he has been wheeling and dealing and made out pretty well here Monday night with the pick of Kelsey Bone at No. 5 overall and also adding Oklahoma State’s Toni Young at seven overall, Tennessee’s Kamiko Williams in the second round, and hometown choice Shenneika Smith out of St. John’s and young Turkish star Olcay Cakir in the third.

“There’s now a buzz about the Liberty in New York that hasn’t been around a couple of years,” Laimbeer said.

Washington, which had the worst record but failed to land in the top three lottery positions, later hired the popular Mike Thibault after the Sun coach of 10 seasons was let go by the Connecticut front office.

He, too, has been making trades, picking up the rights to Quanitra Hollingsworth from New York on draft day for a pick, and adding Ohio State’s Hill at No. 4 overall, and taking St. John’s Nadirah McKenith in the second round along with Belgium’s Emma Meesseman.

So soon it’s on to team media days, camps open on May 5 and several days after the season opens, on Monday, May 27 off the Memorial Day weekend, ESPN2 will televise a doubleheader in separate cities of Washington at Tulsa and Chicago at Phoenix.