Professional Basketball

UConn Scores Hat Trick In WNBA Draft: Goes 1-2-3

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UNCASVILLE – UConn scored a hat trick Thursday scoring the first three picks in the WNBA’s 20th annual draft.

Three-time all-America 6-4 forward Breanna Stewart, acknowledged since she was a freshman as the game’s most dominant player, was no surprise as the  No. 1 pick of the Seattle Storm, where she will join former UConn great Sue Bird, whose 2002 UConn class had four of the top six pro draft picks.

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Players that were invited to the 2016 WNBA Draft – Photo by James Garman

Nor was the selection of UConn 5-7 guard Moriah Jefferson, who will return to her home state of Texas as the second overall pick by the San Antonio Stars.

The only mystery was the Connecticut Sun’s third overall pick and they went with UConn 6-2 forward Morgan Tuck, who had been bothered by a chronic knee injury, but played well during UConn’s successful defense of its NCAA title, the history making fourth in a row.

Tuck’s selection brought more excitement and joy from her teammates already drafted than their own selection.

While she was addressing the press after her pick, Stewart yelled “Yes” and pumped her fist when she learned Tuck had gone third.

“I’m so happy for Morgan, she said. “That might have made me more happy than being number 1,” Stewart said.

Stewart said the selection as the top three picks shows how special this UConn class is. “When we do something we do it together,” she said. “We came in as freshmen together, we won four national championships together, now we all got drafted together.”

Stewart said when she woke up Thursday morning she had the same feeling she did after the national championship 10 days ago “I thought wow I’m getting drafted today.  That’s a childhood dream.”

Jefferson had similar thoughts about Tuck’s selection, saying it was probably the happiest she had been all night because “I know what kind of player Tuck is and I know what she deserves. I shouted when I heard her name.”

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Morgan Tuck, Moriah Jefferson and Breanna Stewart the three Connecticut Huskies seniors were the first three selections in this years 2016 WNBA Draft. – Photo by James Garman.

Jefferson said she’s excited about being able to play professionally in her home state but has come to think of both Texas and Connecticut as both her homes. Mohegan Sun Arena was packed with Sun fans who cheered all UConn players heartily but when the Sun picked Tuck the noise level escalated because the UConn fans knew they could hang on to the Huskies a little longer.

As for Tuck, a 6-2 forward, she really was the calmest of the trio, although she said the chance to remain in the state where she played college ball, with its rabid fan base, is exciting,

She had the same reaction about Stewart and Jefferson being drafted, saying that when “you watch your good friends be drafted, it’s more exciting than yourself being drafted.”

Tuck dismissed her injuries saying they’re part of the game and that struggling through them has “made me a better person and a better player.” She said she was a little concerned about how scouts and coaches would regard her with her knee issue but since she felt good during the post season and played well, she wasn’t overly concerned.

The fourth pick went to Connecticut Sun (they got two first round picks by virtue of a trade over the winter) who selected 5-9 Minnesota guard Rachel Banham.  a two-time all-America, who sat out the 2014-15 season with a torn ACL. She was obviously in good health this past season, tying an NCAA single game scoring record with 60 points against Northwestern during the regular season.

She said that game was a “turning point – it put me over the edge and set me up for bigger games,” which she had with 52 points against Michigan State. Banham averaged 28.6 points per game, among top in the country.

Banham said she is “beyond excited” to be playing for Connecticut Sun  first year Head Coach Curt Miller, who she knew from facing his Indiana team when she was with Minnesota.

She said in conversations with Miller he pointed out that both are rookies in the league and that “we’re going to learn together. He said, “I want you to score and I said that’s it – I’m coming here,’” Banham said.

The fifth pick overall was Aerial Powers, a Michigan State player, who will go to the Dallas Wings, which were formerly the Tulsa Shock before moving earlier this year.

The 6th pick was Jonquel Jones, a 6-6 center out of George Washington University, who is from the Bahamas and will play for the Los Angeles Sparks. She said her success should provide inspiration to other players from the Bahamas.

The remaining top 10 picks were: 7th Kahleah Cooper (Rutgers) who was selected by the Washington Mystics, 8th, Courtney Williams (South Florida), who hopes to join Diana Taurasi, who will return to the Phoenix Mercury after taking a year off to rest for the European season, Tiffany Mitchell (South Carolina) 9th pick overall by the Indiana Fever and Imani Boyette (Texas) who was selected 10th by the Chicago Sky.

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