Seattle makes Jewell Loyd WNBA's top pick

Doug Feinberg
Associated Press

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Jewell Loyd and Amanda Zahui B. shared a hug after they were taken with the top two picks in the WNBA draft. The underclassmen's decisions to turn pro were justified.

Loyd went first to the Seattle Storm, and Zahui B. was taken second by the Tulsa Shock on Thursday night.

"For me, it was the best thing," Loyd said about skipping her senior year at Notre Dame. "For (Zahui), it was the best thing for her."

Zahui B., who is a red-shirt sophomore at Minnesota, said she doesn't know if this will be a trend with underclassmen turning pro. The league has strict rules and both players were eligible because they will turn 22 this year.

"I'm not really sure, both me and Jewell are very unique players," Zahui B. said. "Whoever wants to do it, be sure about it. Make sure you're happy. This feeling is amazing."

Loyd was the first Notre Dame player to be taken No. 1, an honor that Loyd said jokingly she will remind former teammate Skylar Diggins. Diggins was taken third by Tulsa two years ago.

"It's humbling going No. 1," Loyd said.

While Loyd's announcement to turn pro came as somewhat of a shock, happening shortly after Notre Dame lost in the NCAA championship game to Connecticut, Loyd said she spent a lot of time on the decision.

"It's always been a dream of mine to play in the WNBA," Loyd said Thursday afternoon before the draft in a sit-down interview with The Associated Press.

"I talked to my family for a long time. It wasn't like I woke up in the morning and decided to do something new. I figured out what was best for me. After talking to my family and bringing up the pros and cons it was the right decision for me."

Overall, Loyd started all 39 games this past season, averaging career highs of 19.8 points and 3.0 assists per game, plus 5.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals. She led the ACC with her 20 20-point games this past season, while her school-record four 30-point games also set the ACC standard.

Loyd said the decision to go pro had nothing to do with finances. Loyd will make just under $50,000 and could make a few hundred thousand dollars playing overseas.

"Finances had nothing to do with it. That would have not been a good reason to turn pro," said Loyd. "I just felt it was my time to play at the next level and face the next challenge."

The All-American said she discussed her choice to turn pro with Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw and finally told her hours after the Irish lost to UConn of her decision.

"She's like another mother to me and she was clearly disappointed, but she gave me a hug," Loyd said.

Loyd said she also told her teammates at Notre Dame who were supportive of her decision. They joked with her about making sure that she doesn't forget about them.

"They told me they had my back and that they understand what I'm doing," Loyd said.

It's been a whirlwind week for Loyd since declaring for the draft. She was out in Los Angeles for the Wooden Award and got a chance to meet her idol Kobe Bryant at a Lakers game. The two have been friends on Twitter for months.

"He hit me up on Twitter after the championship game loss and told me to hang in there," Loyd said. "It was great to meet him in Los Angeles."

Loyd said the two have chatted many times on Twitter and she's honored to call him a mentor.

One thing that Loyd was disappointed about was that she had to miss Notre Dame's team banquet Tuesday, where she earned MVP honors for the Irish.

"I was sad I didn't get a chance to talk to the fans," she said. "To me this wasn't goodbye, but I'll see you later."

Loyd said she definitely plans on going back to Notre Dame and finishing her degree.

In Seattle, Loyd will be joined by UConn's Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who was taken third by the Storm.

"It's great going back to the West Coast," said Mosqueda-Lewis, who was born in California. "It definitely will be easier for my family to see me play."

Duke senior Elizabeth Williams went fourth to the Connecticut Sun. Chicago took former Middle Tennessee State player Cheyenne Parker with the fifth pick. Parker was dismissed from Middle Tennessee State in late February for a failed drug test for marijuana.

Dearica Hamby was picked sixth by San Antonio, making her the first Wake Forest player to be taken in the WNBA draft.

"It's a great feeling, I'm glad I could be the person to be the stepping stone for Wake," Hamby said. "I definitely think it's a stepping stone. You don't have to go to some big time school to be successful."

Crystal Bradford of Central Michigan went seventh to the Los Angeles Sparks and Dayton's Ally Malott was drafted eighth by Washington.

The New York Liberty were active making two trades to get into the first round. New York took Brittany Boyd with the ninth pick after trading Alex Montgomery to San Antonio. The Liberty then traded Anna Cruz to Minnesota for the No. 11 pick and took Kiah Stokes.

Defending champion Phoenix closed out the first round, taking Isabelle Harrison of Tennessee. The senior forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in February. She had surgery in early March and was still on crutches.

The ceremony was held at the Mohegan Sun for the second straight year. A spirited crowd, which included many of the UConn women's basketball players, cheered on the picks.

Training camps open May 17, and the WNBA's 19th season tips off on June 5.

Notre Dame's Jewell Loyd, right, spends time with her family as a television crew films her before the WNBA basketball draft, Thursday in Uncasville, Conn. Loyd was one of the rare women's basketball players to leave school early to turn pro. (AP Photo/JESSICA HILL)