Sparks choose Oklahoma State’s Andrea Riley with team’s first draft pick
Logistics stated Andrea Riley wouldn’t leave Oklahoma.
The Tulsa Shock, the WNBA’s latest franchise, had the seventh overall pick in Thursday’s draft, and the Oklahoma State guard’s name was all over it, a hometown favorite in waiting. Riley would move from Stillwater about 70 miles east and become Coach Nolan Richardson’s cornerstone when league play begins May 15.
But a surprise trade intervened, and the high-scoring sparkplug fell to the Sparks, who snatched her with the eighth overall pick.
“Wow, what a gift,” new Sparks Coach Jennifer Gillom said.
Gillom should send a thank-you card to the Connecticut Sun, which brokered a deal with the Shock for the seventh overall pick, ultimately detouring Riley westward.
Riley, the nation’s second-leading scorer this season (26.7), will keep defenses from collapsing on the Sparks’ star forward Candace Parker. She’s also a skilled ball-handler — she led the Big 12 Conference in assists last season (6.5) — who can push the tempo.
“I’ve always talked about playing with Candace Parker,” Riley said. “She goes hard and she’s an unbelievable talent. I can’t wait to dish the ball to her.”
Riley will also improve the team’s three-point shooting, worst in the NBA last season (30%), as will the Sparks’ 12th overall selection, Mississippi guard Bianca Thomas, who is second all-time in Ole Miss history with 226 career three-pointers.
“She’s an excellent three-point shooter who definitely has to be respected,” Gillom said of Thomas.
Said Sparks General Manager Penny Toler: “To me, getting Bianca Thomas is pretty much like getting a Ray Allen.”
The other gap the Sparks needed to fill was the one left by the retirement of future Hall of Fame center Lisa Leslie. They drafted two centers — Georgia’s 6-foot-5 Angel Robinson and Rutgers’ 6-foot-4 Rashidat Junaid. “It gives us a different look with the bigger bodies being able to bang down low,” Gillom said.
The draft started as many forecast: Connecticut chose University of Connecticut center Tina Charles with the No. 1 pick. Former Rutgers guard Epiphanny Prince went fourth overall to the Chicago Sky, while Stanford’s Jayne Appel was taken fifth overall by San Antonio.
Riley was at the draft in Secaucus, N.J., with her mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, brother, sister, cousin and college coach. When they heard her name called, they were elated.
“They were like, ‘Oh, we’re going to go to Los Angeles!’ ” Riley said.
To hear Gillom tell it, the feeling is mutual.