Referring to the big day, Orender called the draft the “culmination of all the girls’ hard work” and reflected fondly on having an opportunity to meet each of the prospects’ families.
I was also able to speak to some of the college coaches in attendance with hopes of seeing their player(s) drafted. Alison Lacey, the Iowa guard whom I spoke to the night before, was set to have her coach by her side. Aside from singing praises for Lacey, coach Bill Fennelly called himself “that crazy little tourist from Iowa. We were taking pictures (in NYC) last night and everything! We are very happy to be here.”
Over the course of my two days of duty with the WNBA, I respected that the league stands for appreciation above all else. Whether it is the league as a whole appreciating the hard work of its players, or the loyalty of its fans, the league makes sure it conveys that message.
“The WNBA arena is very fan friendly, the approachability of the athletes—it really does start with them. They really make it a fun and safe place to be. It’s somewhere you can bring your kids. That whole piece is getting amplified. That’s important,” said Orender when I asked her about some of the league’s initiatives.
Also appreciative are the WNBA’s players. 20 years ago, young women did not have such an opportunity. Something that many touched on during this draft is that this year’s group of prospects is more than likely the first group to have grown up watching the WNBA, which was founded in 1996.
“Did you grow up watching the WNBA?” was a question posed to various prospects during pre-draft discussions, and while a select few mentioned they had not watched basketball until high school, many of them stated that their pro basketball dreams began watching the Houston Comets build its dynasty when the league first started.
Prior to speaking to Orender, I was shown around NBA Entertainment Studios, where the draft was being filmed in just a few short hours. Rehearsal was taking place, where a staffer stood in place of Tina Charles, the number one pick to be, during a mock interview.
“How excited are you to have been drafted number one?” an energetic reporter mockingly asked the staffer acting as Charles.
“Uh, this is where she would say something intelligent,” he replied.
When the draft began, Charles and the rest of her fellow draftees were ushered in to speak with myself and the rest of the media as they were drafted.
I was able to touch base with Monica Wright and Alison Lacey, both of whom remembered me from our meeting the night prior. Wright, who had only been to Minnesota once in her life, was excited for a new beginning with the Linx.
Lacey, drafted by the Seattle Storm, was elated to be able to actually call fellow Aussie Lauren Jackson, whom she had expressed interest in learning from, a teammate.
Their excitement for what was to come continued to shine through. New Los Angeles Sparks guard Andrea Riley (at 5'5'', she was the shortest to be drafted) was beaming the most, “It’s a dream come true. Staying in LA will make me feel like a movie star!”
No offense Andrea, but I was sitting right there with you, and New Jersey seemed just fine to me. After having rubbed elbows with league officials and college coaches, toured NBAE studios, and having talked with the drafts’ prospects, plain old Jersey had made me feel plenty like a star in my own right.