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Monday, April 11, 2011

All Duke seniors, two Tar Heels hear their names called in WNBA Draft

Posted by on Mon, Apr 11, 2011 at 7:41 PM

Jasmine Thomas wasn’t unhappy she wasn’t called until the final pick of the first round of today's WNBA Draft.

Duke guard Jasmine Thomas was the final pick in the first round.
  • File photo by Al Drago
  • Duke guard Jasmine Thomas was the final pick in the first round.
The Duke guard is going to the best team in the league.

And one pick later UNC forward Jessica Breland’s name went on the board, setting her up for a trade later in the day.

All three of Duke’s seniors were chosen as forward Karima Christmas went late in the second round and center Krystal Thomas was chosen with the very last pick, while UNC’s Italee Lucas was chosen midway through the second round.

The Triangle players in blue were five of the seven ACC players picked in the draft, which took place at the ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn.

In one of the worst-kept secrets in the history of women’s basketball Connecticut’s Maya Moore was the No. 1 pick, going to the Minnesota Lynx.

The ACC players were picked as follows:

First round — No. 11: Alex Montgomery, Georgia Tech (New York Liberty); No. 12: Jasmine Thomas, Duke (Seattle Storm).

Second round - No. 13: Jessica Breland, UNC (Minnesota Lynx, later traded to New York); No. 15: Carolyn Swords, Boston College (Chicago Sky); No. 21: Italee Lucas, UNC (Tulsa Shock); No. 23: Karima Christmas, Duke (Washington Mystics).

Third round — No. 36: Krystal Thomas, Duke (Seattle Storm).

At the time of the phone interviews arranged by ESPN, Krystal Thomas had not been drafted and the Lynx still had the draft rights to Breland.

Jasmine Thomas and Breland were among the 15 players at the studio for the selections.

Seattle went 28-6 and won the league championship last season.

“(The selection announcement) made my heart kind of start racing,” said Jasmine Thomas, who led Duke to ACC titles and NCAA Elite Eight appearances in each of her final two seasons. “Just the anticipation of finding out where I was going to be was pretty nerve-wracking. It was just exciting and relieving to finally hear my name.

“Going to Seattle is exciting! I’ve been watching (the Storm’s) Sue Bird since I was younger, and she’s such a great point guard, one of the best there is. Just to have the opportunity to meet her and play with her and learn from her, that’s such a good place for me to be.”

Thomas said she’s ready for even higher expectations now.

“It’s different from when I went to Duke (as a freshman),” she explained. “I was coming in as the only point guard, and I was expected to come in and make an impact right away. Obviously coming into the Seattle team where they’re the defending champions and have the great group there already, it’s really going to come down to my hard work and showing I have potential to be a great player and a player they can see fitting into their system somehow.”

The Storm had also earlier signed Duke 2010 senior wing Bridgette Mitchell for a free-agent tryout.

“I love Bridgette and how hard she works,” Thomas said. “She was a great player for us, and it’s exciting that we’re both going to have the opportunity to try out for Seattle.”

Breland won a well-documented battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma during the 2009-10 season, and came back to be a key member of an ACC team that played in the ACC title game and made it to the Sweet 16 this time.

UNC forward Jessica Breland had fought off Hodgkins lymphoma to become a WNBA draft pick.
  • File photo by Al Drago
  • UNC forward Jessica Breland had fought off Hodgkin's lymphoma to become a WNBA draft pick.

“This is wonderful — it’s like the feeling of a child being born,” Breland said of being selected after going through such struggles two seasons ago. “Just being grateful and being blessed to have the opportunity to play in the WNBA when it had been taken away, it’s an honor. Playing against and among the best, it really doesn’t get any better than this in life.

“I’m a different player than I was a couple of years ago. Physically I might be a little bit down, but mentally I think I’m really strong right now. I didn’t really have that before I was diagnosed. I didn’t have as much heart and passion.”

The 6-3 Breland will likely spend time at both forward positions for the Liberty.

“I’m a combination,” she explained. “Before the draft I had been thinking about my game. I’ve been thinking that I need to extend that outside game more and that would help me out a lot in developing my game. I need to be more confident at the 3-point line and dribbling. Coach (Sylvia) Hatchell didn’t want me to dribble so much.”

Lucas will be headed to a team that went 6-28 last season under Coach Nolan Richardson, but will have many familiar faces.

The Shock, which got 6-8 Australian sensation Liz Cambage with the No. 2 pick, has fellow UNC alumnae Ivory Latta, Rashanda McCants and Marion Jones in camp along with former Duke center Chante Black.

Christmas will be joining a team that has ACC written all over it under head coach and N.C. State alumna Trudi Lacey. Current members of the Mystics include Duke alumnae Alana Beard, Lindsay Harding and Monique Currie along with
N.C. State grad Chasity Melvin and four other ACC products: Maryland’s Marissa Coleman and Crystal Langhorne, Florida State’s Jacinta Monroe and Miami’s Maurita Reid.

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