Canadian Kia Nurse was selected 10th overall by the New York Liberty at the WNBA draft Thursday night while A’ja Wilson was the top pick of the Las Vegas Aces.
Nurse, a Hamilton native known for her hard-nosed defence, was a standout at the University of Connecticut, where she won two national championships and this year’s NCAA Division 1 defensive player of the year award.
Nurse, 22, averaged 13.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists for the Huskies this season.
The six-foot guard has also been instrumental in Canada’s consecutive gold medals at the 2015 and 2017 FIBA Americas tournaments and its first-place finish at the 2015 Pan American Games.
Wilson is thrilled for the chance to head to Las Vegas.
“It’s such a great feeling, just an amazing way to cap off my collegiate career,” Wilson said, a star at South Carolina. “My heart was pounding before she announced the pick.”
The six-foot-five forward admitted she has only been there once, but already knows the Nevada city slogan.
“What happens in Sin City stays in Sin City,” Wilson said laughing.
The Aces, who moved to Las Vegas from San Antonio this past winter, had the first pick for the second straight season.
Ohio State’s Kelsey Mitchell went second to the Indiana Fever. Indiana also took Victoria Vivians with the eighth pick, giving coach Pokey Chatman a strong young core to build around.
The Chicago Sky took Diamond DeShields, who spent the season playing professionally in Turkey, and Gabby Williams of Connecticut with the next two picks.
“I’m excited to see what we can do,” DeShields said.
UCLA guard Jordin Canada was selected fifth by the Seattle Storm. She’ll get a chance to learn from Sue Bird.
“I love Sue Bird, she’s one of my role models,” Canada said.
Azura Stevens, who decided to forego her final year of eligibility at UConn, was taken sixth by Dallas. Washington drafted Ariel Atkins of Texas seventh. Lexie Brown was picked ninth by Connecticut.
Nurse was the third UConn player to be taken in the opening round. It’s the second time in three seasons that three Huskies were drafted in the first round. UConn players went 1-2-3 in 2016.
“It’s really cool that we were all here for each other,” Williams said.
Los Angeles drafted 19-year-old Russian star Maria Vadeeva with the 11th pick. She’s the first foreign player who didn’t play at an American college to be taken in the first round since 2012.
Marie Gulich of Oregon State was drafted by Phoenix to close out the first round.
UCLA’s Monique Billings was the final player invited to the draft to be taken. She went with the 15th pick to Atlanta. The Dream had traded for that pick earlier in the day sending Bria Holmes to the Connecticut Sun.
“I wasn’t nervous, I knew that I would be drafted,” Billings said.
The draft was held at Nike’s New York headquarters. The athletic apparel company is a global partner and outfitter for the WNBA this season. They unveiled the new WNBA uniforms earlier Thursday.
Training camps open up on April 29 and the 22nd season of the WNBA begins play on May 18.
Other tidbits from the draft:
PRESIDENTIAL CONNECTIONS: Former President Barack Obama’s niece, Leslie Robinson, was taken in the third round by the New York Liberty. Her dad is vice-president of player development and G League operations for the Knicks.
GREEK SISTERS: When Wilson was took a picture with WNBA President Lisa Borders on stage, the pair flashed the Alpha Kappa Alpha sign. The two were sorority sisters with Borders graduating from Duke and Wilson from South Carolina. Kappa Alpha Kappa was the first African American sorority starting at Howard in 1908.
FOREIGN PLAYERS: Joining Vadeeva in the draft were Ji-Su Park (South Korea); Raisa Mussina (Russia) Julia Reisingerova (Czech Republic).
– With files from The Canadian Press