WNBA draft: Chiney Ogwumike goes No. 1; five from Pac-12 selected

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The Pac-12 had five players selected Monday night in the 2014 WNBA draft, including the No. 1 overall pick in Stanford's Chiney Ogwumike, who went to the Connecticut Sun. Ogwumike’s top selection gives the Pac-12 its third No. 1 overall pick in WNBA draft history, following USC’s Tina Thompson in 1997 and Stanford’s Nneka Ogwumike in 2012. The five selections are the most for the Pac-12 since 2007, when the Conference of Champions also had five women drafted.

Stanford

With Connecticut selecting Chiney Ogwumike first overall, Chiney and her sister Nneka become the second set of siblings to be drafted first overall in an American professional sport behind Peyton and Eli Manning of the NFL. Additionally, her selection by the Sun gives Stanford its fourth No. 1 pick in the last three years in major pro drafts, with the Indianapolis Colts taking Andrew Luck first in 2012, Nneka going to the Los Angeles Sparks in 2012 and Mark Appel going to the Houston Astros in 2013. By the way, all four of those athletes are from the Houston area; what gives?

Connecticut certainly is getting a big piece to turn around a franchise that suffered a 10-24 season in 2013. The 2014 John R. Wooden Award winner, two-time Pac-12 Player of the Year and three-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Ogwumike was the only player in the nation this year to finish in the NCAA top 10 in scoring (26.1 ppg), rebounding (12.1 rpg), field goal percentage (60.1 percent) and double-doubles (27). Can she follow in her sister’s footsteps and win Rookie of the Year?

 

Utah

There was a Pac-12 drought for a while there, but the back end of the second round was dominated by the Conference of Champions. The fun started with the Seattle Storm selecting Michelle Plouffe out of Utah with the 19th pick. Plouffe, who was so instrumental in leading the Utes to the WNIT finals in 2013, put together another stellar campaign in 2013-14 with averages of 18.4 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.1 steals per contest. As such, she was named a WBCA All-American honorable mention and got put on the Pac-12 All-Conference and Pac-12 All-Defensive teams. Plouffe becomes the fifth player in Utah women’s basketball history to be selected in the WNBA draft, and is one of two Utes active on WNBA rosters alongside Leilani Mitchell.

 

USC

We didn't have to wait much longer for another Pac-12 woman to go, for the Atlanta Dream chose Cassie Harberts next at No. 20. The Trojan was a key contributor for USC through its Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament run, including a 13-point, seven-board performance in the semifinal upset over Stanford. In addition to securing Pac-12 All-Tournament Team honors, Harberts was a two-time all-Pac-12 selection and WBCA All-Region pick her senior year, a campaign in which she boasted averages of 15.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 45 percent shooting from the floor. She leaves USC as the No. 7 all-time leading scorer, eighth all-time at USC in rebounding and third all-time in Troy in made free throws. She joins the Dream for a chance to play for her former collegiate coach Michael Cooper, who is now the head coach of Atlanta. He is assisted by Karleen Thompson, who hooped at USC herself.

 

California

Penn State’s Maggie Lucas went 21st, but then it was back to the Conference of Champions for the 22nd overall selection with the Chicago Sky taking Cal’s Gennifer Brandon. Her numbers dipped in 2013-14 as she missed some time, but Brandon was an AP All-American in 2012-13, when she was also named first-team All-Pac-12. If she can return to that form when she was a double-double waiting to happen, she can be a serious asset for the Sky with her great leaping ability, propensity to track down missed shots and capability to knock down the open mid-range jumper. Cal’s all-time leading rebounder, Brandon is the fourth Golden Bear to be drafted by a WNBA team, joining Layshia Clarendon, Ashley Walker and Alexis Gray-Lawson on that list.

 

Stanford

Seattle decided it wasn’t done plucking from the Pac-12, choosing Stanford’s Mikaela Ruef in the third round with the No. 31 pick. Some ride it has been for Ruef, who thought she’d have to play her fifth and final year at Stanford without a scholarship (she ended up getting one due to injuries on the team). While she didn’t show up a whole lot in the scorebook her first couple of years, Ruef really matured during her time on The Farm and was named the Stanford Regional MVP this year as she helped bring the Card back to the Final Four for the sixth time in seven years. While she might be a forward (and she certainly knows how to rebound), Stanford associate head coach Amy Tucker called Ruef the best passer on the team. Nothing is guaranteed as a third-round pick, but Ruef’s versatility makes her a viable option to stick on the roster. Sounds like she was taken by surprise.

 

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