This column continues the Only One series in which this reporter shares his experiences as the only African American journalist on the scene.
Her original intent was to stay cool. But that went out of the window once Nia Coffey heard her name called.
“I don’t think I was that nervous or anxious until they turned on the lights and it was live,” reported Coffey of last week’s nationally televised WNBA Draft from New York City. She became the first Northwestern player drafted in the first round, the fifth overall pick by San Antonio.
The 6’-1” forward, a four-year all-Big Ten player, talked by phone to the Only One the day after the April 14 three-round annual draft.
“It was so stressful because everyone was saying how unpredictable the draft was going to be,” recalled Coffey, the only Minneapolis native in the draft. Some draft prognosticators had her possibly going late in the first round, possibly to the Chicago Sky with their second of two first-round slots.
However, the Stars picked Coffey, the fourth “sistah” selected — all but three first-rounders were Black.
“To hear my name called, I was so happy,” continued Coffey. “I tried to be as cool as possible, but then I began to break down. I couldn’t hold it in anymore.”
Nia’s father Richard Coffey told us, “It’s a blessing for Nia to be draft[ed]. Dreams don’t come true without a lot of hard work, dedication and sacrifice.”
“The unknown is out of the way,” added Richard’s daughter. “I’m excited to experience new things, meet new people. I’m so excited to move [to San Antonio].”
WNBA training camps open this weekend. Coffey and the other members of the Draft Class of 2017 now must fight for a roster spot as rookies. Since WNBA rosters aren’t fluid annually, roster locks aren’t always assured, even for first-round picks.
“It’s tough for everybody to make a team,” reiterated Los Angeles Sparks Coach Brian Agler. “Some first-round picks could get cut [this year] because it is difficult.”
Coffey’s coach, San Antonio’s Vickie Johnson, said before the draft that she likes both her and guard Kelsey Plum, the top overall pick, as “exceptional talents. These two young ladies so far have displayed that they have that intangible mental toughness that just gives them a good start to not only make a roster but have a solid career.”
“But once you get to training camp,” warned Agler, “it doesn’t matter if you’re drafted in the first round or if you’re taken as a free agent after the draft. Once everybody gets in [camp], it’s a competition, and then people get their opportunities and let the thing play out.”
If Coffey does make the Stars, she and her father will be the first daughter-father duo that I covered both in the WNBA and the NBA, where Richard played for a season with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Nia said she is ready to “do all I can and start a [pro] career” in San Antonio.
Alexis Jones last week was selected 12th overall by Minnesota, the last pick in the opening round. We talked to the 5’-9” guard both before the draft and soon after she was selected by the Lynx.
“I was happy. I was blessed with the opportunity to be picked by a championship-winning team,” said Jones on the possibility of joining last season’s WNBA runners-up.
Read more Post-WNBA reaction here.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.