BY MIKE PEDEN
The 2011 WNBA season officially commenced Monday afternoon with the much-publicized draft class headlined by Connecticut star Maya Moore.
There was no secret she would go to the team with the first pick, which the Minnesota Lynx won in last November's lottery.
Just a few minutes after 3:00 p.m. local time at ESPN's headquarters in Bristol, Conn. (2:00 p.m. in Minnesota), the Lynx announced Moore would join their roster. Over 1,200 miles west at the Target Center Hubert's Sports Bar and Grill, ESPN cameras captured Lynx season ticket holders celebrating loudly at their draft party.
For Moore's part, she gave her mother a hug upon her selection.
"It's officially started, this new beginning," Moore said. "I will bring energy and passion. I like to get out in transition, so hopefully I'll be able to bring some fun stuff there."
Moore's accolades are well-documented. She posted a 150-4 record in her four years at UConn, including back-to-back national championships in 2009 and 2010. She is the only player to win three Wade Trophies and ended her college career fourth in most career points with 3,036.
Moore also got professional seasoning last year, playing in the USA/WNBA All-Star game and winning a gold medal with the U.S. national team, comprised of current WNBA players, in the FIBA World Championship.
"It gave me confidence that I can be successful at the professional level, but it gave me some hunger to work on the little things to be successful at that level," she said.
Lindsay Whalen called in from Prague after Moore was drafted. Both were teammates on the gold-medal national team and the two played against each other in last year's All-Star Game.
"She brings so much toughness and all kinds of intangibles," she said. "She's a phenomenal jump-shooter. Quick release. Great balance. She's fearless."
Moore's future teammates had no fear displaying their excitement on Twitter. Rebekkah Brunson said, "My Lynx just got tougher. We are putting the pieces together."
Taj McWilliams-Franklin followed the draft from Russia. Although she was signed after the Lynx claimed the first pick in this year's draft, she posted, "So this is what it feels like to win the lottery."
Minnesota's fourth pick was no less ecstatic to join Moore this summer. The Lynx took Xavier's Amber Harris, who was named Atlantic 10 Player of the Year for the 2010-11 college season. Despite redshirting in 2008-09 because of injury, Harris finished her career with over 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.
"Going there and working together is going to help us out," Harris said.
Neither will have to wait long to greet each other, as a press conference is scheduled for both Moore and Harris Tuesday afternoon at the Target Center skyway concourse.
Harris' selection was a small surprise with local fans and media expecting her to be scooped up by the Chicago Sky, but Chicago used their first-round pick on Gonzaga's Courtney Vandersloot.
"Chicago did a great job keeping their draft picks a secret," said Roger Griffith, Lynx executive vice president.
"I had talked to the Chicago coach, so I was assuming they were going to pick me," Harris said.
Not that Minnesota is complaining about the Sky bucking most mock drafts.
"That was the big we wanted. She can shoot threes, she rebounds, she takes off the rim and goes coast-to-coast," said Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve, entering her second season.
Harris could have a rough time playing her natural position of power forward, following Brunson's outstanding season a year ago with Chardé Houston providing quality bench minutes at that spot.
She hopes to continue playing that position, but following the Lynx's trade of Nicky Anosike to Washington for a 2012 first-round pick, Harris understands the need to back up 40-year-old McWilliams-Franklin at center.
"They need a big down low, but most likely, I'd like to play in the three-four range," Harris said.
Naturally, there will be new tests as expectations rise for the Lynx to end their six-year playoff drought, which includes three tough eliminations in the last three years with three different coaches.
With position needs addressed, the biggest concern will be how this year's draft picks and other signings will affect on-court discipline. The Lynx lost nine games where they led by double-digits in 2010, not accounting for near-collapses, including an overtime win against the Connecticut Sun where Minnesota led by as much as 30. In virtually all of those nine losses, the Lynx would suffer defeat in the fourth quarter.
"I live in the land of high expectations at the University of Connecticut," Moore said. "It will help me grow as a person. It will expand my leadership and experience as a competitor."
On top of that, few could watch college women's basketball coverage on ESPN and not hear of Moore, whose college is close to ESPN's headquarters. To say Minnesota would not receive their attention to start the WNBA season would be a gross understatement.
"I believe we're the envy of the league with regard to the depth we have at each position," Reeve said. "Now my job is to find the combinations of players that play best together."
The Lynx drafted North Carolina's Jessica Breland and DePaul's Felicia Chester in the second round. Both were subsequently traded in prearranged transactions. Breland was traded to the New York Liberty for Angel Robinson and the Liberty's 2012 second-round pick. Chester was sent to the Atlanta Dream for player rights to Australian Rachel Jarry and the Dream's 2012 second-round pick.
Factoring draft day transactions, the Lynx will have six picks in the 2012 draft. Gauging how they will be used is too difficult to say, but with Minnesota's deep roster, Griffith decided to save some resources instead of using them on draft picks that likely would be cut.
"If you have the opportunity to pick up an extra asset, it's worth something to have that possibility," he said.
Capping off Minnesota's drafting was third-round selection Kachine Alexander. She and Robinson are Twin Cities natives who parlayed their high school talents into successful college careers at Iowa and Marquette respectively. Alexander averaged a double-double at Iowa her junior season, only one of two guards in the entire N.C.A.A. that year to do so. Robinson was an All-Big East First Team selection for Marquette last season.
Programs available for DVD purchase
Autism: The Wall That Knows No Limits - Award-winning documentary series providing insights on autism rarely seen in contemporary media. Produced by someone on the spectrum, this series is a wealth of information for anyone seeking to learn about autism.
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What Are You? A Dialogue on Mixed Race - Originally a school assignment, this one-hour documentary explores a population that existed for many years but didn't get much focus until recently. This program examines how a small but growing segment of the population could shift racial and cultural identity. Screened at the 2009 Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival and will be screened at the inaugural Critical Mixed Race Studies conference at DePaul University. $15
From Vices to Verses: Featuring Voices Merging - From Vices to Verses: A New Era of Hip Hop and Action is a biannual conference held at the University of Minnesota. The goal is to promote the culture and history of hip-hop, which is often lost in the corporate mainstream representation. In this program, you'll see how the Voices Merging student group absorbed what they witnessed and how their experience will transform them as a group and as individuals. DVD copies come with 14 minutes of bonus footage not seen online or on TV. $15
Minnesota Machine: 2010 - Geared for Greatness - Join the professional women's football team in their historic 2nd season. Despite several injuries that depleted the roster, the Machine finished 2010 with a 6-3 record and their first division title in franchise history, edging the Iowa Thunder in the Midwest Division of the American Conference. This highlight reel includes clips from the 2010 season and their interview on the cable television show Rollin' and Tumblin' - $15
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