A historic night at WNBA Draft
The historic achievement of being the first teammates to be taken with the top three picks in a pro draft was special but more than anything else, the three former teammates were incredibly excited at the situations they are all walking into.
Stewart joins Sue Bird (now her teammate in Seattle), Diana Taurasi, Tina Charles and Maya Moore as the UConn players selected No. 1 overall in the WNBA Draft. Jefferson, the first Texas native to play for the Huskies, is returning home to suit up for San Antonio and Tuck was one of five draftees joining an already young nucleus for the Connecticut Sun.
"I have to wonder if it was actually real," Stewart said "I woke up this morning and my thought (was similar to) when we won the national championship 'wow, I am getting drafted today.' That is a childhood dream and it just came true.
"We've been waiting here, we've been up since 6:30 this morning and we want to know what is going to happen. I think to have Mo to my left, Morgan (around) the corner from me and just to be able to look at them, embrace them as I was walking to the podium, that just shows the kind of group we are, we care about each other and how each other are doing."
Jefferson figured she was in a win-win situation as she would either be suiting up in her native Texas or in the state that has become her home away from home these last four years.
"They asked me if I would rather go to Connecticut or come here and they are both like home now," Jefferson said. "Being here for the last four years, it was great to be able to go back home."
Jefferson joked that she would pick up the ball and throw it at Stewart the first time her former teammate blocks one of her shots and would keep her distance from Tuck since she "is going to try to knock me out too."
San Antonio coach Dan Hughes, a two-time WNBA coach of the year, attempted to put in perspective the history that transpired on Thursday night.
"It is equally as remarkable as four straight championships., it is just amazing," Hughes said. "That is the beautiful thing about Connecticut players and all three of those girls came in as freshmen, were impactful and got better every year. The escalation led to a unique time here in the WNBA with 1, 2 and 3.
"You get a Connecticut player, they do things rights whether it is on the court, there is a focus. They are supposed to win the games, how many times did they get out of the gate with a mentality that was professional with just how they did it. I started dealing with them after the season and their ability to communicate with me, I've been fortunate to have some Connecticut players and they all bear that resemblance to me, it just love that because I feel like they are ready."
Connecticut Sun coach Curt Miller said that after consultation with UConn coaches and medical personnel, there were no concerns about Tuck's knee issues impacting her pro career. If there were any concerns, the Sun would have selected George Washington's Jonquel Jones. As it turned out, Connecticut got both of them - at a hefty price by giving up guard Chelsea Gray, the No. 15 pick and next year's No. 1 in exchange for Jones and the No. 17 pick (used to select Oregon State's Jamie Weisner. Oh, the Sun also selected Minnesota's Rachel Banham with the No. 4 pick.
Both Stewart and Jefferson said they felt more joy when Tuck went third overall than when they were selected. For Tuck, it was a night she won't soon forget.
"I was in fourth grade, I loved Lisa Leslie and I did a project in school and since then I wanted to play in the WNBA," Tuck said. "Now to get drafted, it is kind of surreal that is happened."
Another dream was fulfilled when Atlanta selected former Hillhouse High star Bria Holmes with the No. 11 pick making her the first state native taken in the first round of the WNBA Draft.
“It has always been a dream of mine to play in the WNBA, and to finally get drafted, especially in the first round, it was a bitter sweet moment,” Holmes said. “I wasn’t really expecting to go in the first round, but my dream actually came true. I couldn’t be happier and more proud of myself. All of the things that I have been through in high school and at West Virginia really paved the way for me.”
Banham is now the answer to a trivia question for being the first non-UConn player taken in this year's draft. She hopes to be more than just a footnote in the history books.
"I really did want to come here so I was hoping to hear my name, once I did I was in shock," Banham said. "He said 'I want you to score' when I hear that I said absolutely, I am coming there. I am excited to work under him."
Banham seemed to enjoy watching the delight in the faces of Stewart, Jefferson and Tuck as they went right before her.
"Those three girls were going up there and the fans were loving it," Banham said. "This is a championship state. I watch UConn play every year and they just win, that is what they do. The vibes of the fans, they love it and they love basketball and that is fun to play in front of."
The 6-foot-6 Jones is an intriguing prospect as she has the ability to step out and hit from the 3-point range. She is aware that the Sun gave up quite a bit to get her.
"I just don't want to let them down now, you want go in training camp, spend a lot of time in the gym and show you are willing to work," Jones said
"I am really fond of her. I was telling her to make sure she leaves her mark. She was somebody I really enjoyed being around and I was telling her we should keep in touch so I guess we will be keeping in touch."
Weisner, who led Oregon State to the Final Four, and St. John's Aliyyah Handford will also be joining the Sun putting the roster at 19 but there are four players who could remain overseas at the start of training camp. With 15 players allowed in training camp at one time, that would allow the Sun to take a look at the new players before some of the veterans arrive.
Miller said he did not want to trade away Gray and certainly was in no hurry to lose next year's first-round pick but he felt that a talent like Jones was worthy the price of what the team surrendered. He said if Jones were in next year's draft that perhaps she would be the top player available.