Dawgs, Aussies dominate first round
The Seattle Storm took Australian center Lauren Jackson with the first pick in the WNBA draft Friday.
SECAUCUS, N.J. -- It took 20 hours to get here, but Australian basketball star Lauren Jackson knew it would be worth the trip.
The Seattle Storm selected the 19-year-old Olympic silver medalist as the top pick in the WNBA draft Friday.
"The next three months will be a big test for me," Jackson said, after signing a one-year contract. "The Americans are the best team in the world. It's exciting playing against them and with them."
The 6-foot-5 center should provide immediate help for the Storm, who finished last in the WNBA as an expansion team last season. Seattle coach Lin Dunn likes Jackson's versatility.
Jackson, whose mother, Maree, starred at Louisiana State, has played the past two seasons for the Canberra Capitals in Australia's Women's National Basketball League. She was named co-MVP of the WNBL in 2000 and MVP in 1999 after leading her teams to consecutive WNBL championships.
"She has size, mobility, is an inside-outside player," Dunn said. "She can post up with her back to the basket like a center, then step outside and shoot the 3."
It was a banner day overall for Australia, which had two other players chosen. Penny Taylor, a 6-1 forward, went to the Cleveland Rockers as the No. 11 choice and Kristen Veal, a 5-11 guard, was taken by the Phoenix Mercury with the 13th selection. Both played with Jackson on the WNBL championship team in 1999.
As for homegrown talent, Georgia led the way with three members of the Lady Bulldogs selected in the first round. Twin sisters Kelly and Coco Miller, a pair of guards, and 6-foot guard/forward Deanna "Tweety" Nolan were taken among the first nine.
With the second pick, Charlotte chose point guard Kelly Miller, a two-time Southeastern Conference player of the year. Indiana then selected two-time national player of the year Tamika Catchings of Tennessee, who is recovering from a knee injury.
Jackie Stiles, the women's NCAA scoring leader with 3,393 points, went to Portland with the No. 4 choice. Stiles led Southwest Missouri State to the NCAA Final Four.
"My life has changed dramatically in the last two weeks," Stiles said.
Stiles had a parade in her hometown of Claflin, Kan., on April 14 and the town fathers put her image on a stamp.
"That was wild," she said.
The 5-8 Stiles understands she might have a harder time getting her shot off in the WNBA.
"It will be a tough adjustment for me," Stiles said. "The athleticism and size is incredible. There are high expectations on me, but hopefully my mom is right. She says I perform better under pressure."
Ruth Riley, the national player of the year who helped Notre Dame win the NCAA title, went to Miami as the No. 5 pick in the four-round, 64-player draft. Riley, the Naismith Award winner, led the nation in field-goal percentage (.683).
Detroit took Deanna Nolan of Georgia and Minnesota chose Connecticut's Svetlana Ambrosimova, who is recovering from a foot injury but expects to play in June.
At No. 8, Utah picked Marie Ferdinand of LSU and Washington selected Coco Miller. Orlando chose Katie Douglas of runner-up Purdue at No. 10.
All-American Shea Ralph, who injured a knee late in the season at Connecticut, went in the third round to Utah.
Indiana coach Nell Fortner was impressed by Jackson at the Sydney Olympics. Jackson had 20 points and 12 rebounds in the 76-54 loss to the United States in the gold-medal game.
"She's an incredibly gifted player," said Fortner, the U.S. Olympic coach. "She's a 6-5 Lisa Leslie-type, and she could play point guard if she needed to. I'm just glad she's going to the West."
Jackson was accompanied by her mother, Maree, who played for LSU and later played on two world championship teams in the Australian league during the early 1980s.
"I didn't sleep a wink last night and neither did my mother," Jackson said. "The adrenaline has kept me going. My mum gave me some insights. She just said I'm going to love it and cherish it."
Leo Karis, Jackson's agent in Australia, said it took five months to negotiate the WNBA contract. Jackson, who has a Nike sponsorship in Australia, is courting U.S. sponsors.
Jackson's family helped her develop a love for the game. Maree said her mother cut a dress down for little 5-year-old Lauren with "Australia" on the back in the country's green and yellow colors. That's when she started playing in the under-10 basketball league.
Washington Mystics coach Tom Maher -- who coached Jackson at the Olympics -- says she has enough credentials to play in the WNBA.
"At 16, she was the most valuable player at the under-20 world championships," Maher said. "She's played against the U.S. Olympic teams more than a dozen times and averaged better than 20 points and 10 rebounds. She's phenomenal."
Maher doesn't think Jackson will need to adapt to the American game.
"The WNBA might have to make a transition to having Lauren around," he said. "She's as good as it gets right now."
Training camps for the WNBA's fifth season open May 2. The 12-week season begins May 28.