Amanda Zahui B. interview – selected second overall by Tulsa Shock in WNBA draft

UNCASVILLE, CT - APRIL 16: The number two overall pick Amanda Zahui B of the Tulsa Shock poses for a portrait during the 2015 WNBA Draft Presented By State Farm on April 16, 2015 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
UNCASVILLE, CT – APRIL 16: The number two overall pick Amanda Zahui B of the Tulsa Shock poses for a portrait during the 2015 WNBA Draft Presented By State Farm on April 16, 2015 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.

Amanda Zahui B. is the first Black University of Minnesota basketball player ever to be drafted so high in school history —Tulsa Shock selected her second overall in Thursday’s WNBA Draft.

“It’s still surreal. I’m still trying to wrap my head around all this, that I actually got picked,” admitted Zahui B., as she spoke to the MSR shortly after her selection. “It’s an amazing feeling. Isn’t it great?”

The only unanimous all-Big Ten first team selection by both coaches and media, the 6-5 center from Stockholm, Sweden, becomes the first Gopher since Janel McCarville (first overall, 2005) to be selected in the first three picks.

Zahui B. was among seven Black females chosen in the first seven picks in this year’s draft, the first time since 2009, when the first nine picks were Black females, and all but two of the first 12 selections were ‘sistahs.’

Zahui B. and top pick Jewell Loyd (Seattle) were the first ever early entry draft prospects to be selected one-two in league history. Many pre-draft prognosticators were virtually split on which of the two players would go first, but all agreed that neither player would be available when Seattle made its second selection at No. 3.

“You hear a lot of people speculate on where you are going to go in the draft. You really don’t know until you hear your name,” explained Zahui B. on the whirlwind she has experienced following her announcement that she intended to leave school early for the WNBA draft.

“When I declared, I knew it was the right decision. By sitting here now, I [know] I made the right decision. Everything takes its own time, and I’m so happy — God has a perfect timing for everything. All the hard work paid off.  I’m so excited,” she said.

When asked her initial thoughts after she heard WNBA President Laurel Richie, the first Black woman to head a professional sports league announce her name, “It was a thank you God moment,” said Zahui B.   Along with her and her mother at Thursday’s draft was former U of M coach Pam Borton, who recruited Zahui B. to come to America to play for the Gophers.

“She’s really excited,” said Zahui B. of Borton.  “She was sitting with my mom. I gave her a big hug. I’m so excited to have her with me.”  Her mother, on the other hand, virtually said nothing at first other than “Oh, my God,” reported her daughter. Her post-draft plans included spending quality time with her mom before she heads back home to Sweden to “just enjoy this moment and soak it all in.”

On Thursday, the Minnesota Lynx, for the first time since 2011, and the third in franchise history, selected all Black players in the draft: Reshanda Gray from California, and Zahui B.’s Minnesota teammate Shae Kelley, were picked at 16th and 35th respectively.

Gray, a 6-3 forward and Pac-12 Player of the Year, was originally predicted to be among the first few picks but slipped to the second round. “I’m very physical. That’s something I can add to the team as well as playing with a lot of heart and passion, and just doing little things,” noted the second-round pick.

The 6-1 Kelley was a first team All-Big Ten in her only season in Minnesota after transferring from Old Dominion. She was the next-to-last selection in the three-round draft. “I’m just excited to go to camp and do what I do best, which is play(ing) basketball,” she stated.

Ironically, the Lynx’s 2015 home opener June 5 is against the Tulsa Shock, which more than likely will have a former Gopher, and the first Minnesota player named to the AP All-America First Team on the visitors’ roster. Gray and Kelley, however, aren’t as assured to be on the home team’s roster since they were later picks, and there aren’t a lot of open spots on last season’s Western Conference runners-up.

“I’m always going to be a Gopher but it’s time to move on. I’m excited to play for Tulsa,” concluded Zahui B, who said that improving defensively is a top priority for her as she ascends to the pro game. “I’m ready to take on the challenge. I’m ready to go,” she said.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com