What's next for star trio?
Griner, Delle Donne and Diggins must play well, help WNBA continue to grow
espnW @ WNBA Draft: Brittney Griner
BRISTOL, Conn. -- Now it's official: Nothing outlandishly bizarre happened. The 3 To See were the top picks in Monday's WNBA draft. So let's examine what lies ahead for Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins.
Baylor's Griner was the No. 1 selection and will begin her pro career in Phoenix. She'll join a veteran group that will eagerly welcome what she can bring: a big defensive presence inside, and a 6-foot-8 target offensively. The "XFactor" -- the nickname for the Mercury's passionate fan base -- has been waiting to revel in this huge addition to an already talented team since Phoenix won the draft lottery last September.
Griner had to know she was going to be called first -- it was, we have to say, a slam dunk -- but she was still caught up in the emotion of the moment. It was sweet to see her still struggling for words later, trying to take it all in.
Decked out in her white suit, brightly colored socks and white low-cut Chuck Taylors, Griner radiated joy. She's going to bring plenty of that to the Mercury.
"I hope I can be that defensive stopper down in the low post," Griner said. "And bringing the dunking element of my game to Phoenix, just that excitement. Seems like everybody will love to see Dee throw that alley-oop, and I catch it and slam it."
Dee, of course, is Diana Taurasi, who has led Phoenix to WNBA championships in 2007 and 2009. With players such as Taurasi, Candice Dupree, Penny Taylor, DeWanna Bonner and Samantha Prahalis, Griner is surrounded by stars. She will have a big role, but won't have a huge weight to carry. It should be a perfect fit for her.
The same could be said for Delaware guard/forward Delle Donne, who was selected with the No. 2 pick and is headed to Chicago. She carried a blue Sky cap into the news conference and looked as if she had gotten exactly what she wished for. The Sky have to feel the same way.
"I think this is a phenomenal team that I'll be joining; there are a lot of players who are going to be mentors to me," Delle Donne said. "I felt like I was a really good puzzle piece for this team. You don't want to say where you want to go before [the draft], but Chicago was definitely my pick. I wanted to go there really badly."
The WNBA doesn't need to be saved, it just has to continue to grow. In that regard, the best thing that Griner, Delle Donne and Diggins can do is play basketball well.
It's easy to see why: At 6-foot-5, her versatility could help get the Sky into the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Delle Done is precisely the addition Chicago needs.
"With Sylvia [Fowles] being such an incredible post presence, that is going to be amazing," Delle Donne said of her new 6-foot-6 teammate, one of the world's best centers. "They have to guard Sylvia, and they also need help to guard her. So I'm going to be able to spread the floor and create a lot of room on the court.
"You've got [point guard] Courtney Vandersloot, who can make any pass possible. And Epiphanny Prince, who can score the ball from anywhere. And Swin Cash; she is someone I'm really going to look to as a mentor."
There is mild irony there, considering Cash is an alum of UConn, the program where Delle originally committed but decided -- after a brief time in summer workouts -- wasn't right for her.
"When I left Connecticut, I told myself, 'That's it, basketball is not going to be in my future,'" Delle Donne said, recalling her tumultuous emotions that summer of 2008. "It's just been such a growing experience for me. People say when you're 18, you don't know what you want and you're crazy. I've been able to go to Delaware, be near my family, grow up and really expand as a person.
"Now I'm a 23-year-old woman, and this is so incredibly exciting. I can't wait to play professionally. I think there is a lot I can work on. I want to transform my body as best as possible. Number one, we want to get to the playoffs. I will work incredibly hard and play my heart out for this team."
Tulsa, with the No. 3 pick, realistically knew that not every player would necessarily be jazzed about coming to Oklahoma. Which is why when Notre Dame's Diggins was that enthusiastic after her name was called by the Shock, it immediately endeared her to the organization and its fans.
"'Look out Tulsa' is what we're saying," Shock president Steve Swetoha said. "This kid has a lot of pizzazz, and the personality to lift people up.
"Our first goal is to get to the playoffs. And with us going to our fourth season, our tag line is, 'Join the future.' We don't want to be in the lottery anymore. It's paid off this year, though."
Diggins goes from a Notre Dame team that went to the Final Four her last three seasons to a pro franchise that has struggled to compile victories since it relocated from Detroit. But last year, under coach Gary Kloppenburg, it was clear the Shock were making progress. And Diggins will join her close friend Candice Wiggins, a guard who will be in her first season in Tulsa and generally brings good cheer wherever she goes.
In Tulsa, the keys will be put in Diggins' hands to drive the car. That's exactly the position she wants to be in.
"My mom always says I'm bossy," Diggins said, laughing. "So I'm looking forward to that -- I love to run the show. But at the same time, I respect the players that are there and what they've accomplished in their careers. I know how to get people the ball, or whatever role I need to take."
There will be talk by some observers about how these three need to be "saviors" for the WNBA, which is inaccurate. The WNBA doesn't need to be saved, it just has to continue to grow.
In that regard, the best thing that Griner, Delle Donne and Diggins can do is play basketball well. As mentioned, while Griner goes to team that has won championships in the past, Delle Donne and Diggins are trying to take Chicago and Tulsa to the postseason, where neither has been.
The community-involvement part of being a WNBA player is important, too, and that's something that this trio is already adept at doing. Diggins, a native of South Bend, Ind., became the most prominent face of Notre Dame women's athletics and now will step in as the marquee player in Tulsa.
Delle Donne's relationship with her severely disabled sister has made her extra-sensitive to connecting with special-needs kids. The desire to stay close to her sister was a big part of her decision to play at Delaware. Now, she says she is emotionally ready to leave her home state, but she will still look to continue her work with the disabled in Chicago.
And Griner, who wants to use her platform as an athlete to raise awareness about bullying, will be prominent in those efforts in Phoenix. She remembers all too well the tough times she went through, especially in junior high school.
Griner got tears in her eyes during a draftees' luncheon earlier Monday, saying, "I was picked on for my size, my voice & I had some very low points. I am in a position where I can use my [status] now to help. I don't want to have a spotlight and not do anything with it."
This trio of rookies has been in a spotlight all during the past college season. They drew that attention again in this draft. And next month, they'll have it again as they launch their pro careers.
"I'm looking forward to the opportunity to grow the league," Diggins said, a sentiment echoed by Griner and Delle Donne as well. "It's a challenge I welcome."
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