NEW YORK — Kelsey Plum went first in the WNBA draft Thursday. Then, South Carolina took over.
Plum was taken No. 1 by the San Antonio Stars. The Washington guard finished her college career with an NCAA-record 3,527 points. The Stars had the worst record last season and held the top pick for the first time in franchise history.
“I’ve been dreaming about it for so long,” Plum said. “I’m really excited and grateful for the opportunity and will make the most of it.”
It’s the second straight year that the Stars have drafted a guard. They took Moriah Jefferson with the No. 2 pick last season. Plum played with Jefferson on a USA Basketball Under-18 team and was excited for the chance to play with her again.
Chicago drafted Alaina Coates with the second pick. The South Carolina star, the first of three Gamecocks selected in the first round, injured her right ankle in the SEC Tournament and didn’t play in the team’s run to the national championship.
She still isn’t able to really fly because of the injury and risk of blood clots, so she made the nearly 11-hour drive up to New York from South Carolina. She got around the draft on a scooter she affectionately called “scoot, scoot.” Coates said she had surgery on the ankle a few weeks ago and doesn’t know how long she’ll be out. She hopes to be able to play this season.
“For me to go number two with my situation, I’m really excited about that as well,” Coates said. “I don’t know when I’ll be able to play. It’s all up to what the doctors say.”
Dallas took Kentucky forward Evelyn Akhator with the third pick, and the Wings came back with South Carolina’s Allisha Gray with the fourth choice.
Gray decided to forego her senior year of eligibility and enter the draft a day after the Gamecocks won the title. Kaela Davis was taken by the Wings at No. 10, meaning the two Gamecocks who had both transferred into South Carolina together and skipped their last year to play in college will be together in Dallas.
“It’s great to have the connection and familiarity in an unknown situation,” said Davis of playing with Gray.
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley was at the draft and thrilled to see her three players get picked. The Gamecocks became just the third school to have three players taken in the opening round, joining Tennessee, Georgia and UConn. The Huskies had the first three picks in last year’s draft. They had no one taken in the first round this year for the first time since 2012. Saniya Chong, the lone senior on the team, was picked by Dallas in the third round.
“It’s so great to see those three young ladies get a chance to realize their dreams,” Staley said. “I couldn’t be happier for them.”
Northwestern’s Nia Coffey went fifth to San Antonio, with Maryland’s Shatori Walker-Kimbrough picked sixth by Washington.
Atlanta took Brittney Sykes of Syracuse seventh. Brionna Jones of Maryland went to Connecticut with the eighth pick. Chicago used its second pick in the first round to select Tori Jankoska at No. 9. That made for four Big Ten players drafted in the first nine picks.
Sydney Wiese of Oregon State went 11th to Los Angeles and Alexis Jones of Baylor closed out the first round heading to Minnesota.
The draft was held in an event space in New York with WNBA President Lisa Borders announcing the picks from a deejay booth, creating a party-like atmosphere although there wasn’t the traditional podium and stage for the players to walk up to and greet the president.
Borders was thrilled with the new venue.
“It went incredibly well,” she said. “The most important thing was the rookies were happy. At the end of the day it’s about the draftees and they were thrilled.”
The league will start its 21st season on May 13 with training camps opening on April 23. The WNBA unveiled a new “Watch me Work” 2017 video on Thursday during the draft.