Sparks coach Brian Agler hinted before Thursday’s WNBA draft that the team was looking to add depth in the post and the Sparks addressed that need in the first round by selecting 6-foot-4 center Maria Vadeeva with the No. 11 pick.
A 19-year-old from Russia, Vadeeva plays with Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike for Dynamo Kursk, the 2017 Euro League champion.
“When you have one of the top players in the world fall in your lap you can’t pass it up,” Agler said. “She has maturity beyond her years, she can finish and she starts on the best team in the best league in Europe.”
Watching from Nike headquarters in Culver City, Sparks general manager Penny Toler couldn’t contain her excitement that Vadeeva was still on the board.
“She’s super, super good and the cherry on top is that she’s a teammate right now of Nneka, one of our players,” Toler said of Vadeeva. “She’s already been playing with America’s best since she was 16. She’ll be on the team!”
UCLA point guard Jordin Canada was picked fifth by the Seattle Storm as the heir apparent to 15-year veteran Sue Bird.
“I can’t put it into words ... my parents have sacrificed so much for me and I’m glad my parents are here to share this with me,” said Canada, who led the Bruins to the Elite Eight for only the second time in school history and ended her college career as the Pac-12 Conference all-time assists leader.
“Sue Bird is a role model to me. I’m going to try to learn and absorb everything she gives to me and take that and run with it. This has been a dream of mine since I started playing and the day has finally come. This is one of the top three accomplishments of my life along with the impact I’ve made at UCLA and winning the state championship my freshman year in high school.”
Canada is UCLA’s first top-five pick since guard Noelle Quinn was drafted fourth by Minnesota in 2007.
“I’ve known about Jordin since she was in high school. ... she may be small but she plays big,” Seattle coach Dan Hughes said. “I was anxious because this is the board we thought we’d look at, but this morning I wasn’t so sure.”
Las Vegas had the No. 1 pick and, as expected, the Aces chose national player of the year A’ja Wilson from South Carolina. Indiana chose Ohio State guard Kelsey Mitchell at No. 2 while Chicago selected Tennessee guard Diamond DeShields at No. 3 and UConn forward Gabby Williams at No. 4.
“I look forward to expanding my game, learning to read defenses and becoming a better player,” said Wilson, a 6-5 forward who had a message for fans in Las Vegas: “What happens in Sin City stays in Sin City!”
UCLA forward Monique Billings was chosen 15th overall by the Atlanta Dream.
“I had no idea where I’d go. I put God’s plan above mine. I’m just blessed to have this opportunity,” Billings said. “I think Atlanta is a good fit. I talked to a couple of the vets and I’m looking forward to playing with them.”
The Sparks used their second-round selection on Shakayla Williams, an athletic Florida State forward who Toler believes has a “super shot” of making the team.
The Sparks, who lost in the finals last season and are considered one of the favorites in 2018, drafted another European during the third round in 6-5 center Julia Reisingerova of the Czech Republic.