It comes as no surprise that 136 out of the 144 players on the 2020 WNBA roster competed in Division I women’s college basketball. But there’s one college that sends far more athletes into the league, than any other. And that school is UConn.
UConn women’s basketball is one of the most successful dynasties in NCAA history. It’s a little bit like Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club which birthed Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, and Justin Timberlake. It’s now nationally recognized, and has created stars that have gone on to have very successful careers in their field. But, it’s not clear whether it’s the caliber of the stars, of the coaching, or of the program (revenue!), that’s driving the success. Probably a little of each.
Regardless, in total, 38 UConn players have now been drafted into the WNBA, including five number one picks and 25 first-round picks. Furthermore, 14 of them have been selected to the league’s All-Star Game. And, five of those players—Diana Taurasi, Tina Charles, Maya Moore, Breanna Stewart, and Napheesa Collier—were named WNBA Rookie of the Year, and WNBA Most Valuable Player (except Collier). Plus, nine UConn players have won at least one Gold Medal at the Olympics.
So today, we’ll take an in-depth look at this prime athlete funnel. We’ll reveal who the current and former Huskies players in the WNBA are. We’ll share how many UConn players are in the WNBA this year. And we’ll discuss top colleges fueling the WNBA. Finally, you’ll discover who’s the best UConn player in the WNBA!
One of the leading women’s program’s in the nation, the Huskies have appeared in 20 Final Fours and won 11 national titles since 1991. Plus, they’ve played in the NCAA tournament in every season since 1989. Beyond that, they’ve won 24 conference tournament championships. So it comes as no surprise, that UConn has sent more players into the WNBA than any other college.
38 Uconn players have played in the WNBA. And at least one UConn women’s basketball alumna has been selected or allocated in the past 12 consecutive WNBA Drafts. That includes 25 first-round picks:
While 36 UConn-ers were drafted, two UConn women’s basketball players – Rebecca Lobo and Nykesha Sales – were allocated as the WNBA was initially formed. Lobo was assigned to the New York Liberty, and Sales was the first player for the expansion Orlando Miracle team, which later relocated and became the Connecticut Sun.
In 2020, the Huskies had 16 former players in the league, including three former number one picks. Seasoned veterans Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury and Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm pursued another WNBA championship. Meanwhile, reigning Rookie of the Year, Napheesa Collier of the Minnesota Lynx was still out to earn one. Today, Bird’s Storm still remain in the 2020 WNBA finals, ready to take on the Aces.
The 2019 season was the most stacked season of Huskies in history with 19 former Huskies on WNBA rosters. Three teams led the way with the most UConn players. The New York Liberty had four. Chicago Sky had three. And the Seattle Storm had three.
Excitingly, UConn’s most recent graduates, Katie Lou Samuelson of the Chicago Sky and Napheesa Collier of the Minnesota Lynx, made their professional debuts against each other. And while Maya Moore and Breanna Stewart didn’t play the entire season, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, and Moriah Jefferson also missed significant portions.
All the way back in the 2018 season, UConn had 17 players in the WNBA. Though, had Natalie Butler and Kelly Faris not been cut by the Dallas Wings and New York Liberty, that number would have been 19. In short, for years now UConn has continued to have the largest college presence in the league.
In its most recent years the league has welcomed former UConn players Katie Lou Samuelson (2019), Napheesa Collier (2019), Crystal Dangerfield (2020), and Megan Walker (2020).
Collier won 2019’s Rookie of the Year. Dangerfield won the 2020 WNBA Rookie of the Year award, and leads the 2020 WNBA All-Rookie Team as well, the WNBA announced recently. And, Walker was selected to the first team All-American by the Associated Press and by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association in 2020.
However, the span of UConn greatness currently in the WNBA goes all the way back to Sue Bird from the class of 2002 and Diana Taurasi of 2004. Another big-name player currently making waves in the league is Breanna Stewart.
In fact, while her 2018 season with the Seattle Storm had ended with a championship and her being crowned the league’s Most Valuable Player, this year has been the WNBA season Breanna Stewart had hoped for when she plotted her return after rupturing her Achilles’ tendon while playing in the 2019 EuroLeague championship. Breanna finished the regular season in a tie as the league’s third-leading scorer (19.7 points per game) and in the top 10 in rebounds and blocks.
Meanwhile Maya Moore continues to make waves for social justice. Moore, a 6x All-Star, 5x WNBA First-Team honoree, 4x WNBA Champion, and 2014 WNBA MVP, took a sabbatical in February 2019 to find her life’s purpose. Since then, it has become clear that Moore saw criminal-justice reform and social justice as a major part of her calling.
And while Tina Charles may be out this season, she will certainly be back to pursue a championship with the Washington Mystics. Even if Tina Charles never plays another basketball game, she’s bound to be a Hall of Famer. That’s according to UConn’s Geno Auriemma — but it doesn’t take winning 11 national championships to see that her enshrinement is inevitable.
There is also Stefanie Dolson on the Chicago Sky, Tiffany Hayes on the Atlanta Dream – though out this season, Moriah Jefferson on the Dallas Wings – out much of this season, and Kia Nurse on the New York Liberty, who are all leaders on their own teams.
Without a doubt, the UConn Huskies have more players in the WNBA than any other school. Here’s the complete list of UConn players in the draft.
They are followed by the Maryland Terrapins and Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Only six others — Duke, Maryland, Rutgers, South Carolina, Tennessee (6 each) and Baylor (5) — have five or more players in the league. That’s out of the 55 schools with representation in the WNBA!
Alyssa Thomas of the Connecticut Sun is arguably the best Maryland player in the WNBA right now. In the 2019 finals, Thomas played all 40 minutes of Games 1, 2 and 4 of the WNBA Finals and averaged 18.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, 7.6 assists and 2.2 steals over the course of the five-game series.
Then, there’s Natasha Cloud. The Washington Mystics point guard put her career on hold this season to work for social justice. Cloud doesn’t regret her decision, because some of what she’s already accomplished would have been impossible if she’d been in the WNBA’s bubble. Such as turning the Mystics’ arena into a voting center.
Meanwhile, this year, Crystal Langhorne, a 2006 national champion with the Seattle Storm, is on her way toward winning her second professional WNBA title with the Seattle Storm. However the Connecticut Sun, complete with its trio of Terps, fell to the Las Vegas Aces in Game 4 of their series.
Kristi Toliver of the Los Angeles Sparks is sitting out this year, but made the last two All-Star Games. And other former Terps making an impact in the WNBA include Lexie Brown of the Minnesota Lynx, Kiara Leslie of the Washington Mystics, and her teammate Tianna Hawkins of the Mystics, who is trying to take her game to the next level after a great 2019 season spent coming off the bench.
A major rival of UConn’s, Notre Dame’s players have also made a tremendous mark of the league. Some of the more seasoned Fighting Irish players include Skylar Diggins-Smith of the Phoenix Mercury who just made the AP All WNBA second team, and the Indiana Fever’s Natalie Achonwa who offered a look inside the WNBA’s 48-hour stoppage this year. Plus, Jewell Loyd (hello, three-point buzzer beater!) and Kayla McBride (headed to the finals with her Aces) are among the best guards in the league.
Beyond those stars, 2019’s No. 1 overall pick, Jackie Young of the Las Vegas Aces is notable. As is Arike Ogunbowale of the Dallas Wings, the No. 5 pick in the 2019 draft. And Brianna Turner of the Phoenix Mercury made an impact this year, being named to the WNBA All-Defensive First Team.
Head coach Dawn Staley and star player A’ja Wilson turned the Gamecocks into a powerhouse in the mid-2010s, winning the national championship in 2017. This year, league MVP A’ja Wilson took over and carried the Las Vegas Aces to the championship round.
Allisha Gray, a fourth-year guard for the Dallas Wings, is scrappy, and can shoot the 3, pull up from midrange or knock down free throws. The 2017 W.N.B.A. rookie of the year, Gray lit it up this year, but in a new way — as a reserve coming off the bench. In the season’s first game, against the Atlanta Dream, she finished with 19 points and began to relish her role as “bench leader,” powering the Wings’ second unit for several games and helping them become fifth in the league in points off the bench.
Meanwhile, former No. 2 overall pick Alaina Coates recently signed with the Mystics. The No. 2 pick in the 2017 draft, Coates played for three teams in her first three seasons. Finally, Mystics Coach-General Manager Mike Thibault called, and today as a 6-foot-4 and 225 pound member of the Mystics, Coates has the most size on the active roster and had a chance to fill a gaping hole in the lineup. The team relied on her shot-blocking presence, and her help defense throughout the season.
Tiffany Mitchell of the Indiana Fever has made a big impact on the league as well. Plus, South Carolina alumni Mikiah Herbert Harrigan of the Minnesota Lynx and Tyasha Harris of the Dallas Wings were picked in the first round of the draft this year.
The Lady Vols are the second-best program in women’s college basketball history, and are well-represented in the WNBA. Candace Parker of the LA Sparks is the one remaining Lady Vol in the league who has won a college national championship. And Parker was just named the 2020 WNBA defensive player of the year.
Glory Johnson of the Atlanta Dream is another Lady Vol who is an established and well-respected star, but who had to miss the start of this year’s season due to a positive COVID-19 test. Also Diamond DeShields of the Chicago Sky is an up-and-coming potential superstar, but left the wubble for personal reasons this year.
That left former Laby Vols’ Isabelle Harrison of the Dallas Wings, Mercedes Russell of the Seattle Storm, and Shekinna Stricklen of the Atlanta Dream to be essential contributors in the league. Unfortunately Isabelle’s season was ended early this year too, by an ankle injury.
Long-time Blue Devils head coach, Joanne P. McCallie, who recently stepped down, may not have won a national championship in her 14 years in Durham, but she helped many aspiring champs to make it to the next level.
Chelsea Gray has been impactful for the Sparks, even in clutch games. As just one example, she came up with 20 points with seven assists to help the Sparks beat Chicago 86-80 on a Sunday night in early September. And her growth has been tremendous.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Williams has made her mark with Atlanta Dream. The WNBA announced the 2020 All-Defensive first and second teams Tuesday with former Duke standout Elizabeth Williams of the Atlanta Dream one of five members selected to the first team.
And Jasmine Thomas led the Connecticut Sun to the WNBA Finals last year. For example in game one of the WNBA semifinals, Jasmine Thomas had a career-high 31 points, Alyssa Thomas scored 18, and the Connecticut Sun pulled away early and cruised to an 87-62 win over the Las Vegas Aces.
Here’s the complete breakdown of how many players each college has in the WNBA this year. The takeaway? A handful of schools send the majority of players, but there’s a long-tail from other colleges.
Now this is the debate of a lifetime. The UConn G.O.A.T. is so hard to pick because there are so many talented players that have emerged from the school over the years. Here’s a look at a few of our very favorites, who have had a gigantic impact on the WNBA. These are seven standout players among many greats.
OK Sue Bird was — and still is — one of the best guards ever to play the game. In fact, she helped put the game on the map because she’s been in it for so long. Plus, off the court, she brought us A Touch More.
Sue is one of only 11 women to have won:
At UConn, she emerged as one of the top shooters, passers, and decision makers in women’s basketball, losing only four games her entire collegiate career.
Today, Bird owns UConn’s records for career 3-point shooting percentage (45.9), career free-throw percentage (89.2) and most assists in a single-season, handing out 231 in UConn’s 2001-02 campaign. She is also fifth all-time in assists at UConn, and holds the single-season records for best 3-pointing shooting percentage (49.7) and free throw percentage (94.2).
She is a three-time winner of the Lieberman award and twice an All-American. Plus, she also won the Naismith, Wade, AP National Player of the Year awards.
In the WNBA, she broke the WNBA’s all-time career games started on Aug. 5, 2017 at San Antonio, starting her 470th career game, moving past Tina Thompson. And she scored her 5,000th career point on Aug, 2, 2015 at New York, becoming the first player in WNBA history to score 5,000 career points and record 2,000 assists.
She’s an eleven-time WNBA All-Star, five-time All-WNBA First Team, and three-time All-WNBA Second Team. In addition to being a four-time Olympic Gold Medalist.
Today, Diana Taurasi’s penchant for scoring in crucial situations has earned her the nickname “White Mamba”, first coined by Kobe Bryant. And all the way back at UConn, Taurasi was already a phenomenal player, where she led the team to three consecutive NCAA championships.
In her collegiate career, she scored 2,156 points, averaged 15.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. As a result, she claims the ninth spot in all-time in scoring for the program.
The difference between UConn and every other team during their three-peat championship run was simple according to Geno Auriemma, who told reporters: “We got Diana and you don’t.”
A three-time All-American, a two-time winner of the Naismith award, a two-time Big East Player of the Year, and a two-time winner of the Lieberman award, Taurasi also won the Wade Trophy and the AP National Player of the Year Award.
She was drafted to the WNBA in 2004, where she’s played with the Phoenix Mercury ever since. In 2009, she led the team to the best record in the Western Conference after missing the playoffs the year prior. And she won her third scoring title in four years, scoring 20 or more points 20 times, including hitting 30 or more twice.
She has won three WNBA titles, and is one of four UConn players to win the league’s MVP award (2009), and she’s been an Olympic Gold Medalist four times.
Maya Moore’s pile of Olympic gold medals from the 2012 and 2016 Summer Games, W.N.B.A. titles, and her leadership of two undefeated championship teams at UConn put her on the map as one of the greatest winners basketball has ever known. Beyond that, Maya led UConn in scoring in each of the four seasons she was there, a feat no other player has accomplished for UConn.
Maya is tenth all-time in scoring in NCAA Division I history and owns the Huskies’ scoring record with 3,036 career points. Also, she owns UConn’s records for career scoring average with 19.7 points per-game, and the Huskies’ single-season scoring record, with 868 points in 2010-11 (22.8 points per game).
She is second all-time in rebounds for the Huskies (1,276), fourth in career steals (310), eighth in assists (544), eighth in blocks (204), eighth in free throws made (383) and fourth in 3-pointers made (311).
Plus, she was the first freshman, male or female, to be named the Big East Player of the Year. A four-time All-American, a three-time winner of the Wade Trophy and a two-time winner of the Wooden and Naismith awards, she also won the AP National Player of the Year twice. And she’s a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist.
In the WNBA, Moore has six WNBA Finals trips, four WNBA titles, and one league MVP award. According to FiveThirtyEight’s WNBA metric of wins generated, Moore (46.0) was the second-best player of the 2010s, despite not playing at all in either of the seasons that bookended the decade. And on a per-season basis, Moore generated more wins (5.7 per year) than anyone in WNBA history … except the GOAT herself, Cynthia Cooper.
Breanna Stewart led UConn to win four national championships in a row. Stewie was also named the Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four in each of those seasons. This accomplishment is unmatched by any other player in the history of women’s college basketball.
Stewie owns UConn’s records for career free throws made (484), blocked shots (414) and the single-season record for free throws made (147). She is second only on the UConn scoring charts. She totaled 2,676 points in her career, and is fifth all-time in rebounding, grabbing 1,179 boards for the Huskies. Plus, Stewie had a 151-5 record in her collegiate career.
She’s also the only UConn Player to win three Naismith awards and three AP National Player of the Year awards. And she is a two-time winner of the Wade Trophy, a three-time AP All-American, a three-time AAC Player of the Year, and a two-time winner of the Wooden Award.
Prior to her first WNBA game, Stewie signed a multi-year endorsement deal with Nike. Stewie was the first overall pick in the 2016 WNBA Draft and was named the 2016 WNBA Rookie of the Year. She is a two-time All-Star. And incredibly, she has already won a championship and an MVP award, both coming in 2018 with the Seattle Storm, and she earned an Olympic Gold Medal.
Kerry Bascom led UConn to its first ever Big East regular season championship, first Big East Tournament championship, and first NCAA tournament appearance. And she scored 2,177 points (a record at the time), averaging of 18.1 points per game across her career.
She led the program to its first NCAA Tournament win in 1990, and in 1991 the first ever NCAA Final Four appearance.
Her scoring average of 22.6 in 1988–89 is the highest single-season scoring average among all Uconn players. In addition, she ranks among the top ten in UConn history for her career:
Bascom was also the first UConn player to be named to a national All America team. Plus, she played for the gold medal winning World University Game Team in 1991. And she won 1991 NCAA Tournament East Regional Most Outstanding Performer, Big-East Player of the Year three times, and Kodak Division I All-American team. Because there was no WNBA when she graduated, she went overseas to play in Spain for a year.
Rebecca Lobo led the Huskies to the 1995 National Championship with an undefeated record. And she was the first player in the Big East Conference ever, to earn First Team All American honors for both basketball and academics. During her time at UConn she scored a total of 2,133 points for an average of 16.9 points per game.
She won the 1995 Naismith and College Player of the Year award, and the prestigious Honda-Broderick Cup for 1994-95. Futhermore, she was a member of the inaugural class of inductees to the University of Connecticut women’s basketball “Huskies of Honor” recognition program.
In 1995 Lobo joined the national team, and won a Gold Olympic Medal in the 1996 Olympics. In 1997, the WNBA was formed and Rebecca joined the league from 1997-2003.
She was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010. And she was announced as one of the members of the 2017 class of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Tina Charles has stacks of awards and eye-popping stats from her run with the Liberty. A W.N.B.A. championship, and the spotlight, have eluded her. But back at UConn, Tina Charles was the best college player in the country, leading the Huskies to a national title as a junior, and two to undefeated seasons.
She owns UConn’s career rebounding record, grabbing 1,367 boards from 2006-10. She also still owns the Huskies’ single-game rebounding record, corralling 19 boards against Louisville in 2009. Also, she has the fourth best field goal percentage for a UConn player, knocking down 61 percent of her shots over her career. She is UConn’s fourth all-time leading scorer, with 2,346 points.
Charles was the Most Outstanding Player at the 2009 Final Four, won the John R. Wooden Award, the Naismith Player of the Year Award. Plus, she was awarded the AP National Player of the Year Award and the Big East Player of the Year award in 2010. She is also a three-time All-American. On February 13, 2010, Charles became the 12th UConn Women’s basketball player to be recognized in the Huskies of Honor.
Charles was drafted to the WNBA as the first pick in 2010. In the WNBA, Charles won the 2012 league MVP award, has led the league in rebounding four times, and is a seven-time All-Star. Plus, helped Team USA win two Olympic Gold Medals.
And, amazingly, since 2013, Charles has donated her W.N.B.A. salary to her Hopey’s Heart Foundation. The non-profit supplies automated external defibrillators to schools and recreational centers. This year, she shifted that donation to organizations that support the Black Lives Matter movement, Black-owned businesses and COVID-19 relief.
The former UConn women’s basketball players were busy this WNBA season. They reunited with previous teammates to build formidable offenses, set new records, and won even more awards.
This WNBA season saw two Huskies reunite in Dallas: Moriah Jefferson and Katie Lou Samuelson. “We’re going to count on both of those people to really bring their championship and winning pedigree to our team and help us build this franchise,” said Wings head coach Brian Agler. Unfortunately the season didn’t pan out the way the team had hoped, and saw Moriah heading back for another surgery. But don’t count this team out next year.
Crystal Dangerfield and Napheesa Collier picked back up where they left off. The two hit the court together as part of the Lynx franchise this year. “It feels like we haven’t really skipped a beat. Now it’s been it’s been a year and everything, but I still know her tendencies. She still knows mine and it’s been fun,” said Dangerfield.
Welp, it wouldn’t be 2020 without a Covid-19 story, and unfortunately former UConn players did not go unscathed. Stefanie Dolson opened up about her battle with COVID-19 in the Player’s Tribune in May this year. Two months later, she was in the wubble, playing for the Chicago Sky. Though, her road back to the court was not an easy one. Dolson noted that it took her a month to a month and a half to really recover and start working out again.
And finally, the Associated Press voted on honoring players for 2020. Four former Huskies were recognized for their success throughout the regular season including:
Undeniably the WNBA wouldn’t be what it is today, without its steady stream of former Huskies pushing the league to new heights. Future basketball players will continue to be inspired these women for years to come.
Written by Megan Mitzel, youth basketball coach, and Founder of Queen Ballers Club.
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