For 20 weeks, to commemorate the WNBA’s 20th season (the MSR having covered each season), the MSR sports section will feature a column or article on the W in our “20 in 20” series. This week: The rest of 2016 draft class
Seattle’s Breanna Stewart, judging from election-year talk, is the presumptive rookie of the year. She is among the league leaders in scoring, rebounds, assists and blocks. But there are other members of the 2016 draft class who are worth noting as well.
The 5’-7” point guard (second overall pick by San Antonio) is a four-time NCAA champion along with Stewart and Morgan Tuck (Connecticut Sun), the only female or male players to do so. But even with such impressive credentials, it means nothing when matched night in and night out against the league’s top guards.
“There are still a lot of things I have to get better at,” admits Jefferson. “To be a point guard in college to [being] one in the WNBA is completely different. I don’t think it can ever be a smooth adjustment.”
San Antonio Coach Dan Hughes pointed out after Jefferson went head-to-head against Minnesota Lynx veteran guard Lindsay Whalen in a contest earlier this season, “It’s really fun to watch, but Lindsay has such great strength for a point guard. That’s a good matchup watching her [Whalen] and MJ.”
It took only two decades, but Imani Boyette (10th overall by Chicago) is the first WNBA player whose mother once played in the league as well. Her mother, Pamela McGee, was the second overall pick in the W’s first-ever draft in 1997. Her daughter was born three years before the league started.
Asked if her mother told any “war stories” or offered any advice, Boyette told the MSR, “Not necessarily about her playing” but about the importance of having a good work ethic. “[That] is something I’m still learning about now that I’m in the pros.”
“I think Imani has really come a long way on picking up things from the collegiate level to the pros and learning a whole new system of play,” noted Chicago Coach Pokey Chatman on the 6’-7” player out of Texas and the team’s only rookie. “Now she’s [learning] different schemes… I think what helped her was that she’s a bright young woman.”
Her college coach was named one of the best players in the WNBA’s first 15 years and arguably one of the greatest players in U.S. women’s basketball history. Asked if she and Dawn Staley ever talked about her Hall of Fame career during her South Carolina years, Tiffany Mitchell (ninth overall pick by Indiana) said, “We had conversations a lot about her professional career. One of the reasons I chose South Carolina was because she’d done things in her career that I wish I could follow after and do as well. I think those conversations made it an easier transition from South Carolina to the WNBA.”
Staley’s approach to the game greatly helped her, said the 5’-9” guard: “To see how much she competed in basketball and also as a coach, it was contagious. She also is a very disciplined coach.”
Mitchell, a three-time college All-American who averaged over 13 points in her career, recorded the Fever’s second-highest scoring total in a rookie debut with a team-high 18 points against Dallas in May and has been in the team’s regular rotation ever since.
“I definitely don’t have it all figured out right now,” concluded Mitchell.
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.