West makes plenty of moves in bleary-eyed draft

Updated: April 6, 2006, 9:50 AM ET
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

BOSTON -- Almost everybody was a little bleary-eyed for this. The day after a late-night NCAA championship game, the WNBA held its draft. If you didn't know that LSU's Seimone Augustus was the overwhelming favorite to go first, you probably clicked on this column by mistake.

Cappie Pondexter
AP Photo/Josh ReynoldsAfter Seimone Augustus went No. 1 overall to the Lynx, Phoenix picked Rutgers' Cappie Pondexter.

If you did know, you're also aware that this was a first for the league, holding the draft in the Final Four city right after the event ended. We can tell you who wasn't here: the national champion Maryland Terrapins, a team led by underclass players.

Meanwhile, Duke's Monique Currie was here, answering questions such as, "What's it like to go from the most heartbreaking moment of your college career to the start of your pro career in the space of a few hours?"

OK, I know that sounds totally tactless … but it's hard to ask it any other way. For her part, Currie was gracious, well-spoken, understandably subdued. She went from a locker room full of crying teammates to her hotel, then had to pack, try to get psyched up for today, go to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center early and be ready for the draft show on TV.

Before the draft, WNBA president Donna Orender had a press conference/pep rally about Season No. 10 for the league. The All-Star Game will be in New York; Orender and the Liberty's Becky Hammon unveiled the logo for it. There will be an all-decade team named, and the WNBA's 10 greatest moments will be picked (fans will be able to vote online in for both).

Then the draft was held, and I can assure you that one of the WNBA's 10 greatest moments will not include Sacramento coach/GM John Whisenant referring to his first-round pick as Liz Smith.

No, the defending WNBA champion Monarchs did not draft the New York Post's gossip columnist, and it's a good thing. I don't think she can shoot, pass or rebound very well. I know who can, though, and that's Kim Smith, who was a four-time Mountain West Conference Player of the Year.

Yes, that's the same Kim Smith who was referred to as "No. 4" by Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne in an interview during the NCAA Tournament. No. 4 and her teammate, No. 10, led the way for Utah in defeating the Sun Devils.

No. 10 … that would be Shona Thorburn, who good-naturedly acknowledged Wednesday that she's become known as "the girl who missed the free throw against Maryland." Thorburn, who should in fact be known as "a key player who helped Utah to its first Elite Eight," was picked No. 7 by Minnesota, which needed a point guard and got a very good one. This after the Lynx did, indeed, add the sweet-shooting Augustus to its cast of young talent with the first pick, along with Notre Dame guard Megan Duffy in the third round.

And, just to get this straight, Thorburn's first name is pronounced "SHOW-na," as in, "Show me the money," not Shanna, as in Shanna Zolman.

However, Tennessee's Zolman was drafted, too. She went to San Antonio with the second pick of the second round (16th overall). San Antonio's first pick -- No. 4 overall -- was Baylor jumping jack Sophia Young, who gets to stay in Texas. That guarantees that more than a few carloads of Waco folks will be making the three-hour or so drive to San Antonio to see Young and the Silver Stars this summer.

Meanwhile, Rutgers guard Cappie Pondexter went No. 2 to Phoenix, which then added UConn's Ann Strother (in a trade with Houston for fellow picks Liz Shimek of Michigan State and Mistie Williams of Duke) and Iowa's Crystal Smith.

There's always a lot to break down and examine on draft day -- even though in a month or so, a chunk of the players drafted already will have been cut.

Draft day is a little like Selection Sun... whoops, Selection Monday, in that there are all kinds of possibilities open.

What I started thinking about, though, was how the three teams in the West who are still seeking their first WNBA title now look after the draft.

Minnesota, Phoenix and San Antonio have to try to make the climb in a conference where the other four teams -- Houston, Los Angeles, Seattle and Sacramento -- already have won at least one championship.

"I think it's more difficult moving up in the West," San Antonio coach/GM Dan Hughes said. "The teams at the top are not old enough that they're being depleted by age; the majority of them are in the prime. They're not losing people, so you have to get better to try to catch them."

Hughes' team now has the past two Big 12 players of the year in Young and Kansas State's Kendra Wecker, who will be like a rookie this season. She tore her ACL just 11 minutes into the season opener last year.

Hughes is excited about having both of them and says that Young was definitely the player he wanted Tuesday.

"I feel we got the best athlete in the draft and the best shooter in Zolman," said Hughes, who also added DePaul's Khara Smith in the third round.

Minnesota added the top scorer in Division I this year (Augustus) and the player who was No. 2 in assists (Thorburn). I think you call that "ka-ching!" Those two and Duffy will join post players Nicole Ohlde, Vanessa Hayden and Tamika Williams.

Augustus, like Currie, dealt with a big disappointment at the Final Four.

"After the semifinal loss [to Duke], I mainly went back to my room and read books, just to keep my mind off what happened," Augustus said.

Augustus said she expects her first WNBA season to be somewhat like her rookie year at LSU: that she will be able to take some time, learn about things, ease in gradually. All I can figure is that Augustus has forgotten that she didn't really "ease in" at LSU: She averaged 14.8 points as a freshman.

However, I think she definitely will feel less weight on her shoulders with the Lynx, whose outlook right now looks about as bright as the unfortunate Minnesota Gophers' future appears bleak in Minneapolis. I'm not sure, but I think the Gophers have had so many departures that they might have to start at least two life-sized cardboard cutouts of players next season.

And then there's Phoenix, or the Western Big East, where former top pick Diana Taurasi is now joined by former adversary Pondexter and former teammate Strother. The plan for the Mercury under Paul Westhead is to play the highest-octane offense and defense there is, and it should be interesting to see how that all works.

Will the Silver Stars, Lynx or Mercury actually make moves up the ladder this summer? At least on draft day, they gave themselves a chance.

Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.