BRISTOL, Conn. (AP) — Nnemkadi Ogwumike is excited to be staying in California.
The Stanford senior was picked No. 1 in the WNBA draft by the Los Angeles Sparks on Monday.
“I’m grateful for the L.A. Sparks for picking me,” Ogwumike said. “It means a lot and it’s one of the highest accolades I’ve ever received. I’m looking forward to going back to Cali.”
Ogwumike helped guide the Cardinal to the Final Four during all four of her seasons at the school, including this year’s loss to eventual champion Baylor. The 6-foot-2 forward, who averaged 22.5 points and 10.2 rebounds this past season, is the first Stanford player to be taken with the No. 1 pick. Previously three Cardinal players have been drafted third overall.
“I think looking back, a lot of the players could have gone No. 1,” Ogwumike said. “Things go different ways. I’m really proud to be part of this legacy.”
Despite finishing with the fourth-worst record in the league at 15-19, the Sparks won the draft lottery in November. They had the smallest chance of the four teams with a shot at winning with only a 10 percent chance. They are the second team in the 11-year history of the lottery to win with the fewest number of chances. Phoenix did it ahead of the 2007 draft.
Los Angeles also had the top pick in 2008 and selected Tennessee star Candace Parker, who went on to win Rookie of the Year and MVP honors in her first professional season.
While Ogwumike’s selection was almost a certainty with the top pick, the rest of the draft was a bit more of a mystery with no clear-cut choices going in.
Tennessee guard Shekinna Stricklen went second to the Seattle Storm, who will be without star Lauren Jackson for the first part of the season since she will stay in Australia to train for the London Olympics this summer.
“I was a little surprised,” Stricklen said. “It helped when I did a workout with coach Brian (Agler), I had a feeling but wasn’t sure.”
Notre Dame post Devereaux Peters went third to the defending champion Minnesota Lynx, who had five of the first 20 picks in the draft. She was surprised she was picked so high, having recovered from two ACL surgeries on her left knee since entering Notre Dame.
“I never thought I’d be (drafted) at that point,” Peters said. “When they interviewed me they talked about my knee. To come this far and have 2½ years where I got to play free from injury is great. It’s great to see all my dreams come to fruition here.”
The Lynx also picked Damiris Dantas of Brazil with the final choice of the first round. Minnesota drafted mid-major stars Julie Wojta of Wisconsin-Green Bay and Kayla Standish of Gonzaga in the second round. The Lynx rounded out their five picks with Russian guard Nika Baric.
Tulsa, which had the worst record in the league last season with just three victories, took Glory Johnson fourth. The Tennessee forward has a good chance to make an immediate impact with the Shock. The team also picked Miami guard Riquna Williams in the second round. She missed the Hurricanes two NCAA tournament games after being suspended for conduct detrimental to the team by coach Katie Meier.
Williams wasn’t surprised she slid down the draft.
“I mean after what happened at the end of the season, I wasn’t expecting to go in the first round. It was a mistake I made and something I had to deal with the outcome,” she said. “I’m not this horrible person that the media portrayed me to be after one mistake. I think with Tulsa picking me, it’s a great honor for them to believe in me and to know one situation doesn’t determine who I am.”
Williams’ teammate at Miami Shenise Johnson went fifth to San Antonio. Phoenix took Ohio State point guard Samantha Prahalis sixth.
“It’s the perfect fit,” Prahalis said. “They love playing up-tempo and so do I, I’m really looking forward to playing with Diana Taurasi.”
The New York Liberty drafted Kelly Cain seventh. Natalie Novosel went eighth to Washington. The Mystics also took LSU’s LaSondra Barrett with the 10th pick.
Connecticut chose 6-foot-8 Astan Dabo from Mali with the ninth pick. Georgia Tech’s Sasha Goodlett went 11th to Indiana.
The Atlanta Dream didn’t have a first round pick, but they selected Connecticut’s Tiffany Hayes with the second pick in the second round. Atlanta then picked Isabelle Yacoubou of France in the third round, but she turned out to be ineligible to be drafted because she’s too old.
League rules stipulate that international players can only be drafted in the year in which they turn 20. The 6-4 Yacoubou turns 26 on Saturday. Atlanta could try to sign her as a free agent.
The WNBA season will begin on May 18 with training camps opening on April 29.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.