By Mel Greenberg
SECAUCUS, N.J. – Two days after her Louisville team was topped by unbeaten Connecticut in the NCAA championship, Cardinals 6-foot-1 forward Angel McCoughtry won the prize yesterday as the No. 1 pick of the WNBA draft with her selection by the Atlanta Dream.
“It’s been very busy and hectic but it’s well worth it,” the native of Baltimore said after her pick by the Dream, who won just four games last summer in their first WNBA season.. “But I’d rather be busy than not doing anything at all.”
Rutgers 6-4 center Kia Vaughn was thrilled to be taken eighth overall by her hometown New York Liberty not far from the Scarlet Knights’ campus in New Brunswick, N.J.
Vaughn will reunite with former teammate Essence Carson, who went in the first round a year ago.
“I’m excited,” Vaughn beamed. “I get to stay home in the city I was born in and play with my old teammate and have my family support and Rutgers. I’m ready to take the next step on the big stage.
“She knows the ropes and she’ll take me under wing just as she did when I was a freshman,” Vaughn added of Carson. The duo, along with Washington second-year guard Matee Ajavon, played on Rutgers; 2007 NCAA runnersup.
Other former Scarlet Knights in the WNBA are Chelsea Newton with the Sacramento Monarchs, Cappie Pondexter with Phoenix, and Tammy Sutton-Brown with the Indiana Fever. Newton and Brown both have won WNBA titles.
Texas A&M-Commerce senior guard Britney Jordan, who was once a highly touted freshman recruit at Temple before leaving the Owls, went in the third round to the Los Angeles Sparks as the 35th overall choice.
The native of Peoria, Ill., had been among the top five prospects in the country when she committed to former Temple coach Dawn Staley in 2003.
The downturn in the economy has also affected the WNBA. The demise of the former four-time champion Houston Comets left 13 teams to choose an overall total of 39 players in the three rounds.
Roster sizes have also been reduced from 13 players to 11, making competition for spots much more difficult. Additionally, veterans could be pushed out by younger players who will earn less money under the rookie salary scale.
The first four picks can receive $44,945 for the summer season, which will begin June 6. In the fourth year, which is an option year for teams, they can receive $57,305.
Overall selectees taken 5-8 can initially earn $41,574 with $53,007 in the option year. The remaining first-round choices will start out at $37,080 and could earn $41,277 in their fourth season.
Second-round picks are slotted at $35,700 at the outset, while third-round selectees will begin at $35,190.
Along with the economic reductions, teams will lose one assistant coach next season in 2010.
After McCoughtry won the honor as the No. 1 selection, two Maryland stars and last remaining members of the 2006 NCAA champions were quickly scooped up.
Marissa Coleman, a 6-1 forward, was able to stay local as the overall No. 2 choice of the Washington Mystics where she will reunite with Willingboro’s Crystal Langhorne, who was a high first-round pick a year ago.
Terrapins 5-7 point guard Kristi Toliver, in a mild surprise, went third to the Chicago Sky, ahead of Connecticut star point guard Renee Montgomery, who was taken fourth by the Minnesota Lynx.
“This is all an exciting time,” Montgomery said. “I’m just trying to take it all in.
“Everything was a question mark going into this,” she said of speculation where she might land. “This class is so strong. We have a lot of great players, so it definitely was a question mark.
“I was nervous sitting there, just to see where your future is going to start. Just to see where you’re going to live and who your new teammates are going to be.”
Auburn 6-4 forward DeWanna Bonner went fifth to the Phoenix Mercury, followed by Arizona State 5-8 guard Briann January, who went sixth to the Indiana Fever.
Oklahoma 6-4 center Courtney Paris, who was picked seventh by Sacramento, had been projected as an overall No. 1 pick earlier in her collegiate career. Her twin sister Ashley was taken 22nd overall by Los Angeles in the second round.
Minnesota had another first-round pick off a previous trade and took 6-5 Virginia Commonwealth Center Quanitra Hollingsworth as the ninth pick.
The first round was completed with the Connecticut Sun taking Duke 6-5 center Chante Black, the Detroit Shock taking Pittsburgh 5-10 guard Shavonte Zellous, the Seattle Storm taking California 6-1 forward Ashley Walker, and Los Angeles choosing Purdue 6-2 forward Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton.
The pick of Vaughn was another highlight this week for Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer, who on Monday was announced a member of the induction class of 2009 to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. The ceremonies will occur in September in Springfield, Mass.
“The fact that she will be able to play here in front of our New York-New Jersey fans is just special,” Stringer said at the draft held at the NBA Entertainment studio complex.
“Obviously, there were a lot of picks with the guards,” Stringer continued. “I was nervous hoping that she would end up here or Connecticut.
“With outstanding players around her and good coaching, she has a chance to be on the best centers in the country,” Stringer discussed Vaughn’s potential. “There is nothing she can’t do, nothing she can’t imagine, and no amount of her work she won’t do.
“I just want to be sure that she’s with a program that is going to teach her, really teach her, because she desires to be so good. She’s not lazy. She’s a hard worker. We just didn’t get the ball to her enough. In two years, she’ll dominate.”
New York is coached by Patty Coyle, a former West Catholic star who with her twin sister Mary helped lead Rutgers to a national title in 1982 under the former Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW).