September 27, 2012
By DOUG FEINBERG AP Basketball Writer
Phoenix Mercury coach Corey Gaines looked at his phone and a one-word text from star Diana Taurasi said it all — “Wow.”
Gaines was still in shock after his team won the WNBA draft lottery Wednesday night and earned the No. 1 pick next year and the rights to take Brittney Griner.
Even though the Mercury (7-27) had the second worst record in the league and a 28 percent chance of getting the No. 1 choice, Gaines didn’t expect it.
“I could see where I was sitting each time she (Laurel J. Richie) opened the envelope, and the first one I saw was Washington,” Gaines said. “My first instinct was that I felt sorry because they really needed that pick, Then that went away and I saw the next one, and I saw the order they were going in, and then all of a sudden I realized it — we just got the No. 1 pick. It’s just got to be lucky.”
Chicago will pick second and Tulsa third. Washington, which had the worst record in the league will pick fourth. The Mystics (5-29) had a 44 percent chance to win the top pick. Only four times in the 11 previous lotteries has the team with the worst record secured the top pick.
Neither Gaines nor Mercury President Amber Cox would commit after the lottery results were announced to taking Griner with the No. 1 pick.
“Griner has a unique skill set,” Cox said. “We’ll look at the class and it’s our job over the next few months to figure out what’s the best fit for us.”
Griner though is a once in a lifetime talent. The 6-foot-8 Baylor star is an unbelievable shot blocker and also can play above the rim. She helped guide Baylor to a national championship last year and the first 40-0 season in college basketball history. The reigning Associated Press player of the year will try to lead the Lady Bears to a second straight championship when the season starts next month.
“We like to fast break and you need to rebound and play defense to get out and run,” said Gaines, smiling. “Obviously she can block shots and rebound the ball well.”
Griner headlines a talented class. Delaware’s Elena Delle Donne led the nation in scoring last season and is a versatile 6-foot-5 guard who can score from almost anywhere on the court. Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins has guided the Irish to the past two national championship games and is one of the most followed female athletes on Twitter.
“They all are very different players and can do different things for us,” Cox said.
Phoenix was plagued by injuries most of the season. Taurasi only played in eight games and Penny Taylor missed the entire year while recovering from an ACL injury. Candice Dupree also missed 21 games because of a left knee injury.
“This was a difficult season with all the injuries we had,” Gaines said. “The players this year tried so hard and now the texts are coming in from them. They are ready to come back and excited.”
The Mercury have had the first pick in the draft two other times, including 2004 when they drafted Taurasi.
This was the first time that the lottery was shown on television. In the past the lottery had been held later in the calendar year behind closed doors at a league meeting.
But with the WNBA playoffs starting on Thursday and the incredibly talented senior class, the league moved up the lottery.
“This is what you love about sports. To have our lottery televised live on ESPN with all the drama of the envelopes coming out. I think it went great,” WNBA President Laurel Richie said. “We’re trending on Twitter.”
In a similar fashion to the NBA draft lottery, the actual lottery was held two hours before it was revealed on TV in a separate room. Each team had representatives in that room and they were sequestered until the results were shown.