Finishing the 2014 season with a 10-24 record—worst in the WNBA and worst in franchise history—earned the Connecticut Sun the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 Draft. And last night, the Sun stuck right with the script when they selected 6-4 forward Chiney Ogwumike of Stanford with that pick in the WNBA Draft conducted Monday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
A three-time WBCA Coaches’ All-American, Ogwumike averaged 26.1 points and 12.1 rebounds per game this season. She had 27 double-doubles while leading Stanford to a 33-4 record overall, and its sixth Final Four appearance in the past seven years. The Pac-12's Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season, Ogwumike was the 2014 recipient of the John R. Wooden Award.
Ogwumike and her sister Nneka—No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 WNBA Draft—join the Manning brothers, Peyton and Eli, as the only siblings chosen first overall in the five major American professional sports (baseball, basketball, football, hockey and soccer).
In addition to her undeniable athletic prowess—Ogwumike ended her collegiate career with 2,737 points scored (an 18.9 point per game average) and 1,567 rebounds (10.8 per game), she is also has been a true student-athlete, having been selected the Capitol One Academic All-American of the Year. She was also named to the Academic All-America Team by CoSIDA (the College Sports Information Directors of America) for the second straight year, and earned Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Scholar-Athlete of the Year accolades.
“Chiney has been a charismatic and dynamic player who we have thoroughly enjoyed watching,” said Sun head coach Anne Donovan of her new prize pupil. “We are very excited to welcome her to the Connecticut Sun.”
At Stanford, Ogwumike broke Kayla Pedersen’s program record for career rebounds (1,266) and Candace Wiggins’ record for career points (2,629), becoming just the fifth player in Stanford history to reach 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. She is the No. 5 all-time NCAA women's basketball career rebounding leader, and her 967 points scored this past season is the sixth-highest single-season total in women's college basketball history. Ogwumike will be reunited with Pedersen on the Sun (assuming Pedersen makes the cut on this re-vamped roster).
“She has been a proven winner with Stanford, leading them to three Final Four appearances as well as earning several gold medals with USA Basketball,” continued Donovan. “Her versatility in the post, her rebounding prowess and her leadership are just a few of the characteristics that led Chiney to be our number one pick.”
“Chiney is someone we have coveted for a long time,” added Sun Vice President and General Manager Chris Sienko. “Her ability as an athlete is second only to her personality. She’s a positive force. Her teammates will love her, as will our fans. She is a skilled presence in the post who can compete with anyone.”
A few picks later, UConn center Stephanie Dolson was selected with the No. 6 pick overall by the Washington Mystics, where she will team with former Sun star Kara Lawson and will be coached by long-time Sun mentor Mike Thibault. Then, immediately after Dolson was selected, UConn teammate Bria Hartley was taken with the No. 7 pick overall by the Seattle Storm. She never made it to the West Coast, however as she was immediately traded to Washington, where she will be reunited with Dolson, her UConn roomie and kindred spirit, for former All-Star forward Crystal Langhorne and former Maryland star Tianna Hawkins.
“It's going to be so wonderful to be able play with Bria again,” said Dolson after learning her relationship with her BFF will continue unencumbered by 3,000 or so miles.
“I agree,” countered Hartley, a Babylon, NY native. “We were freshmen together [at UConn], and now we are going to the pros together.”
The selection of Ogwumike did create quite a logjam in the frontcourt, however, where Tina Charles, the all-time rebound leader in UConn history and a former Rookie of the Year, MVP, and perennial All-Star for the Sun, and Kelsey Griffin, the only member of the Sun to start all 34 games last year, staked a claim. Charles, who was obviously unhappy with the Sun (many observers point to the day her long-time mentor Mike Thibault was unceremoniously dumped and immediately scooped up by Washington), made it easy for Connecticut to decide what to do. They sent Charles, a New York native, back to play on her home turf with the Liberty, along with a third-round pick. In exchange, the Sun received the Liberty's first-round pick in this year's draft (No. 4 overall), 2013 first-round selection Kelsey Bone, and New York's first-round pick in next year's draft.
That made it a no-brainer for the Sun brain-trust, who had no intention of firing head coach Anne Donovan—certainly not as an antidote for the oil-and-vinegar relationship between coach and star that seemed to poison the Sun locker room last year and threatened to do so again this year.
But Charles, in the last year of her contract and a restricted free agent in 2014, made the Sun's decision herself.
“Two weeks ago, [Charles] said through her agent that if she wasn't traded, she would sit out [the season],” explained Connecticut general manager Chris Sienko. “We are not going to be held hostage by anyone. We are going to do what is best for our organization. New York stepped up to be able to get her. It's disappointing, but as an organization we have to move on.”
The move became the prototypical no-brainer, especially after the Sun immediately parlayed the Liberty's pick into Maryland small forward Alyssa Thomas, a three-time All-American and three-time ACC Player of the Year.
“It's disappointing, but we have to move on as an organization,” added Sienko.
Charles' departure to the Liberty completes a total transformation of a team that had the worst record in franchise history last year, while at the same time exponentially strengthening the rivalry between Connecticut and its closest geographical rival. Another unhappy veteran, Kara Lawson, had earlier been dispatched to Washington where she will be re-united with Thibault.
The Sun now very much look forward to opening their 12th season in the Nutmeg State when they host—you guessed it—the Liberty on May 16 at Mohegan Sun Arena. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. Season tickets, mini-plans and individual game tickets are currently on sale and can be purchased by calling 1.877.SUN.TIXX (786-8499), via email at email@example.com, at the Mohegan Sun box office, or at Ticketmaster.