There was distress Sunday when Notre Dame was unable to repeat as NCAA women’s basketball national champions. It fought back from a 17-point deficit and led by one with less than three minutes to play. The vibe had shifted. But Baylor was just too big and too resilient for the Fighting Irish to overcome in their 82-81 loss.
That was a bummer. But as it turned out, the disappointment was short-lived because their program accomplished something Wednesday no other in the history of college basketball had ever done before.
Each of Notre Dame’s five starters, who combined to score over 10,230 points in their careers, were selected among the Top 20 players in the WNBA Draft, an extreme sign of respect for the program Muffet McGraw has built in South Bend.
“It’s a historic moment for our program,” McGraw said. “We’ve had a lot of accomplishments, but this one stands alone. It’s probably something that will never happen again.”
And it started at the top when the Las Vegas Aces, coached by former Irish center Bill Laimbeer, selected guard Jackie Young with the first pick. She was the only junior in the draft.
“It means the world to me,” Young said. “This is what I worked for my whole life. You always dream of being the first pick, but to actually be able to achieve that is just crazy. I didn’t know what to think, honestly. My heart was racing the whole time. … Honestly, I don’t even remember what happened. I think I blanked out.”
And then things started to roll.
Guard Arike Ogunbowale, the star of the 2018 Final Four, went fifth to Dallas. Forward Brianna Turner went 11th to the Atlanta Dream, but was later traded to the Phoenix Mercury. Center Jessica Shepard was taken 16th by the Minnesota Lynx. And guard Marina Mabrey, the program’s all-time three-point shooter, was drafted 19th by the Los Angeles Sparks.
“It’s incredible what they’ve accomplished,” McGraw said.
The only true comparison to what when down was when Tennessee had five players taken in the 2008 draft. But that took much longer to unfold. Candace Parker was taken first. Alexis Hornbuckle was drafted fourth. Shannon Bobbitt and Nicky Anosike went back-to-back in the second round and Alberta Auguste was a third-round pick.
UConn had the first three players taken in the WNBA’s 2016 Draft. Breanna Stewart went to Seattle, Moriah Jefferson to San Antonio and Morgan Tuck to Connecticut.
Notre Dame had never had more than three players taken in any draft. After winning the national championship in 2001, Ruth Riley (first round), Niele Ivey (second round) and Kelly Siemon (third round) were selected. But having three in the first round surpassed the pair they had in 2012 (Devereaux Peters and Natalie Novosel) and 2014 (Kayla McBride and Natalie Achonwa).
Young, who is 6-0, averaged 14.7 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists. She’s an incredibly quick player who was only eligible for the draft because she’d turned 22. The WNBA only allows undergraduates to be drafted if they’ve reached that age by draft day.
“I just thought this was the best move for my family and I,” Young said. “It was definitely a hard process for me,” Young said. “I had to sit down, talk to my family, talk to Coach [Muffet] McGraw and make the best decision for me.”
Louisville guard Asia Durr, a two-time AP All-American, went second to the New York Liberty.
“Honestly, I think I was sitting in my mom’s womb,” said Durr, when asked when she first began dreaming about playing in the WNBA. “Tonight, I was about to cry, and I don’t cry. This is a dream come true.”
The Indiana Fever took Mississippi State center Teaira McCowan at No. 3. Chicago selected UConn’s Katie Lou Samuelson fourth. The Huskies, who lost to Notre Dame in the national semifinals, had as second player taken in the Top 6 when Naphessa Collier when to Minnesota at No. 6.