Though Gonzaga star Courtney Vandersloot and Spokane native Angie Bjorklund were surprised to be selected by the Chicago Sky in the WNBA Draft on Monday, for some reason it seems quite natural that they are together for the next chapter of their lives.
“I finally get the chance to play with her,” Vandersloot said. “That’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
The two stars, who first played against each other in the State 4A girls basketball tournament as high school juniors and twice during stellar collegiate careers, were among three Washington natives taken in the first 17 picks of the three-round, 36-player international draft.
Vandersloot is the highest female draft pick with local ties and matches the highest basketball pick, joining former Gonzaga star Adam Morrison as a No. 3 overall selection.
“I was very surprised,” said Vandersloot, who was picked behind Connecticut star Maya Moore and 6-foot-8-inch Australian teen Liz Cumbage.
“I heard that Chicago was interested but I tried to come into it with an open mind. I tried not to expect anything, because it makes this whole process harder. I put it in the hands of someone else and for once I just got to relax and see what happens.”
Vandersloot, a 5-foot-8 point guard from Kent, Wash., who set numerous records this season en route to becoming a consensus All-American, was one of 15 players invited to attend the draft at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn. The first player in NCAA history with more than 2,000 points and 1,000 assists was projected to go between the third and ninth rounds.
Bjorklund, a three-time Greater Spokane League MVP for University High School, was the fifth pick in the second round, 17th overall, after setting a Tennessee record for 3-point baskets with 305.
“I had no idea,” said Bjorklund, a 6-foot shooting guard. “I had a couple of people say maybe Chicago, but other than that I was playing it by ear. During the first round I had a test. I finished in time to get online for the second round. I was staring at the screen, anticipating. I was getting pretty anxious.”
The New York Liberty made Georgia Tech’s Alex Montgomery, a graduate of Lincoln High School in Tacoma, the surprise 10th overall pick, giving Washington high school graduates three spots in the top 17.
Vandersloot and Bjorklund squared off in the State 4A tournament as juniors. Shortly after that Vandersloot committed to Gonzaga, where Bjorklund’s sister Jami was finishing her sophomore season.
They played twice in college, when Tennessee agreed to a home-and-home series.
“She’s a great point guard,” Bjorklund said of Vandersloot. “Having the opportunity to play with her is awesome. And she’s a great person off the court, too. During training camp I’ll have to ask her to help me out. I know Chicago’s looking for a scorer; maybe she can help me.”
Said Vandersloot, “It’s scary going into a training camp as a rookie. As Angie said, we can help each other play our own game.”
Both are excited to play for Chicago coach Pokey Chapman.
“Coach Chapman is a point guard and I’m really excited to play for somebody that’s been there, that knows how to teach it,” Vandersloot said.
Chapman coached at Tennessee rival Louisiana State when Bjorklund was a freshman.
“She’s seen me play,” Bjorklund said. “So hopefully it’s to my advantage just having that connection.”
WNBA training camps open May 15.
“Rookie orientation and graduation are on the same day,” Bjorklund said. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to walk (in graduation).”
Vandersloot, who has been gone since April 1 when she left for the Final Four to receive her numerous awards, including the Nancy Liberman Award as the best point guard in the country, returns to Spokane today. She graduates May 8.