UConn trio, led by Breanna Stewart, makes history at WNBA draft
The UConn women’s basketball team just completed one of the finest seasons in college hoops history with its 82–51 victory over Syracuse last week in the national championship game. The win solidified the Huskies’ dynasty with a women’s record fourth straight title, and 11th overall, while granting them their sixth undefeated season in program history with an unblemished 38–0 mark.
While UConn has had a rich winning tradition for much of head coach Geno Auriemma’s 31-year tenure, the past four seasons have been particularly impressive with this year’s senior class of Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck leading the way. Besides being the first class to win four straight national championships, the trio is also the winningest class in NCAA history with 151 victories, including 75 straight, against just five losses.
Following their unprecedented collegiate successes, The Big Three made history yet again, this time as professionals. Stewart, Jefferson and Tuck went consecutively with the top three picks in Thursday’s WNBA draft, marking the first time a group of players, men or women, did so from the same school.
Here’s a look at UConn’s unprecedented senior class and the historic implications their selections had.
UConn’s “Big Three”
Aside from their collective accomplishments over four seasons at UConn, Stewart, Jefferson and Tuck recorded three of the most impressive individual careers in program history.
Stewart, the No. 1 pick by the Seattle Storm in this year’s draft, is a three-time first-team AP All-America selection. The forward is the only Husky other than four-time pick and 2014 WNBA MVP Maya Moore to be chosen for first-team honors more than twice. Stewart is also the three-time Consensus National Player of the Year, as well as the first-ever four-time Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four in NCAA history. A three-time Naismith College Player of the Year and two-time Wade Trophy recipient, Stewart averaged 17.6 points and 7.8 rebounds in her four seasons at UConn. She’ll graduate ranked first in Huskies history with 414 blocks and second with 2,676 points.
Jefferson, whose name was called second by the San Antonio Stars, was named an AP All-America selection three times. The point guard was a first-team pick as a senior, second-team honoree as a junior and honorable mention selection as a sophomore. The two-time Nancy Lieberman Award winner as the nation’s top point guard is UConn’s all-time assists leader with 659 for her career, while also ranking second in steals with 353.
Despite being hampered by knee injuries throughout her time in Storrs, Tuck managed to garner awards that most fully healthy players in the country only dream about. The third overall selection by the Connecticut Sun, Tuck opted to enter the draft despite possessing one more season of NCAA eligibility as a result of her injuries. She is a two-time AP All-America honoree, landing on the second-team this season and honorable mention squad last year. Tuck was also named to this year’s Final Four All-Tournament team, and is a two-time first-team American Athletic Conference honoree and Sportsmanship Award winner.
Stewart, Jefferson and Tuck were all named “Huskies of Honor” this season, entering the program’s Hall of Fame with 18 other UConn greats.
Previous draft dominance
The only other times multiple players from the same school were chosen in the WNBA draft within the top three picks were in 1997, 2002 and 2009. This feat has occurred on the men’s side five times—in 1969, 2002, 2004, 2012 and 2014.
The inaugural WNBA draft in 1997, which had a three-stage format unlike each of the drafts that followed it, included initial player allocation, an elite draft of professional women’s players from other leagues and a college draft. The first two picks from the college draft came from USC in Tina Thompson and Pamela McGee, respectively. Thompson and McGee, though never teammates, were both All-America selections during their college tenures. Thompson was selected immediately after her senior season at USC, while McGee was 34 years old when she was drafted.
In 2002, former UConn stars Sue Bird and Swin Cash were taken No. 1 and No. 2 in the WNBA draft. Bird, who was selected by the Storm, was a three-time Nancy Lieberman Award winner in college, as well as a Wade Trophy and Naismith Award recipient in her senior season with the Huskies. Cash, a two-time NCAA champion and the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA tournament as a senior, was taken by the Detroit Shock. Bird and Cash, AP first-team All-America selections as seniors, helped UConn to a 39–0 finish and its third national title in their final season.
Former Maryland stars Marissa Coleman and Kristi Toliver became the next duo to be selected within the top three picks in the WNBA draft from the same school. In 2009, Coleman and Toliver were chosen by the Washington Mystics and Chicago Sky, respectively, with the No. 2 and No. 3 picks. Both players were named AP All-America first-team selections as seniors and helped lead the Terrapins to their first national title in 2006.
In 2012, the Kentucky Wildcats became the first men’s college basketball program to produce the No. 1 and No. 2 selections in the same NBA draft. After winning the NCAA title that season, freshman Anthony Davis was taken with the top pick, while classmate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was selected second.
Similar to the Maryland women in 2009, Duke’s Jay Williams and Mike Dunleavy Jr. were selected No. 2 and No. 3 in the 2002 draft, while UConn’s Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon were also taken with the second and third picks, respectively, in 2004.
UCLA’s 1969 national championship squad produced two top-three selections when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the No. 1 draftee and Lucius Allen was No. 3. Similarly, the 2014 Kansas squad also turned out the No. 1 and No. 3 draft picks in freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid.
How these duos have faired as pros
After becoming the first-ever college player selected in WNBA history, Thompson played 15 seasons in the league, making nine All-Star teams and winning four titles. McGee, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist, was in the twilight of her career when the WNBA launched. She played just two seasons in the league before retiring from basketball.
Following their tenures with the Huskies, Bird and Cash have both gone on to have illustrious WNBA careers. Bird, who has played each of her 13 professional seasons with Seattle, is a two-time WNBA champion and nine-time All-Star. Cash, who played with Bird on the Storm for four seasons, is a three-time WNBA champion and four-time All-Star.
Coleman and Toliver have also experienced success in the WNBA, and played together on the Los Angeles Sparks for two seasons. Coleman was named an All-Star in 2015, as well as a member of the All-Rookie team in 2009. Toliver was an All-WNBA second-team selection and the league’s Most Improved Player in 2012, while also being named an All-Star in 2013.
In the NBA, Davis made a splash from the onset of his career, having already been named to three All-Star teams and the All-NBA first-team in 2015. Kidd-Gilchrist, who was named to the NBA’s All-Rookie second-team, has been hampered by injuries during his time in the league and has seen limited action.
Duke’s former No. 2 and No. 3 picks from 2002 did not quite live up to expectations. Williams infamously had his NBA career cut short by a motorcycle accident in 2003, and Dunleavy has played for four different teams in his 15 NBA seasons, primarily as a role player. UConn’s Okafor and Gordon were both All-Rookie first-team selections in 2005, with Okafor being named the Rookie of the Year and Gordon dubbed the Sixth Man of the Year in their first NBA campaigns.
UCLA’s Abdul-Jabbar went on to have one of the best careers in NBA history, being named a six-time league MVP and 19-time All-Star, while Allen was a 10-year NBA veteran and champion in 1971 with the Bucks. Kansas’s duo has had mixed results, thus far. Though Wiggins was the 2015 NBA Rookie of the Year, Embiid has missed his first two seasons with injuries since being drafted.