PALM HARBOR — The first four picks of Wednesday's WNBA draft had a Final Four feel to them, with Tennessee's Candace Parker leading a group of impact stars who just finished their college careers at the St. Pete Times Forum, some just hours earlier.
Parker, selected first by the Los Angeles Sparks after opting to forgo her senior year at Tennessee, said she had second thoughts as she celebrated the Vols' national title Tuesday night.
"Everybody wavers on decisions, especially when you're in the moment and there's orange surrounding you and people are begging you and telling you 'One more year,' " Parker said from the Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club. "But I gave my word, and I just felt like it was time for me to leave, and we left on top."
As expected, LSU center Sylvia Fowles went second to Chicago, with Stanford guard Candice Wiggins going third to Minnesota after leading the Cardinal to its first national championship game in 16 years.
The biggest excitement is for Parker, who will share the spotlight in Los Angeles with Lisa Leslie, who took last season off for maternity leave. The potential turnaround could be like the San Antonio Spurs of 1997, who paired rookie Tim Duncan with veteran David Robinson, returning from injury, and went from 20 wins to an NBA championship in two years. The Sparks were a franchise-worst 10-24 last season.
"We're so elated that we got Candace Parker," coach and general manager Michael Cooper said. "It's going to be fun watching her expand her game at this level. & Fans are going to be excited, not just in Los Angeles, but throughout the WNBA."
Tennessee guard Alexis Hornbuckle went fourth to Detroit, joining Parker as the first of four pairs of college teammates in the opening round.
Rutgers' Matee Ajavon and Essence Carson went fifth (Houston) and seventh (New York), and Maryland's Crystal Langhorne and Laura Harper went sixth (Washington) and 10th (Sacramento). UNC teammates LaToya Pringle (Phoenix) and Erlana Larkins (New York) were the final two picks of the opening round, which had 11 players who played in the Elite Eight.
Unlike their male counterparts, WNBA players won't step into riches. Under league rules, the top four picks are each slotted to make $44,064 as their rookie base salary.
Tennessee, which repeated as national champion, had four players in the top 16 picks, with guard Shannon Bobbitt (Los Angeles) and center Nicky Anosike (Minnesota) going at the start of the second round. The fifth starter, forward Alberta Auguste, went in the third round to New York. The only other time a school had five players selected was Tennessee in 1999.
For players such as Fowles and Wiggins, whose careers ended with losses to Tennessee, Wednesday brought excitement after their disappointment on the court.
"It was somewhat of a dagger," said Fowles, whose Tigers lost to Tennessee in the final second of Sunday's semifinal. "I was very proud of my team for what we accomplished, but it was hard for our seniors to lose that kind of way."
For the first time since 2003, no players from colleges in Florida were among the 43 selected.