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Gators' Page drafted third

A Polish player with Shaquille O'Neal-like size was the No. 1 pick, and Florida's Murriel Page went third overall to the Washington Mystics in Wednesday's WNBA draft.

With the top pick, the Utah Starzz chose Malgorzata Dydek, a 7-foot-2, 223-pound center and Warsaw native. Two-time All-American Ticha Penicheiro of Old Dominion went second to the Sacramento Monarchs.

Page joins former Gator and Gainesville native Tammy Jackson, picked up by Washington from the Houston Comets during the expansion draft.

"I'm very excited to be a part of a team that's in its first year of existence," Page said. "If I could go down there today I would, but I have to go back to Gainesville and take a final (exam) tomorrow. I'm just excited. When I get there I plan to make the most of it."

Page, a 6-foot-2 forward-center, finished with 1,915 points and 1,251 rebounds, both second all-time at UF.

This season she averaged 19.1 points and 12.6 rebounds, second in the nation. She led the nation in double doubles with 27 in 32 games and had 65 in her career. She also became the third player with two Southeastern Conference rebounding titles.

"We're not surprised at all that she was picked as high as she was," UF coach Carol Ross said. "We thought all along she would be one of the first five players selected. We know how much talent she has and the success she brought to the Florida program. She's going to have a terrific professional career."

Dydek turned heads at the predraft camp in Chicago with her 85-inch wingspan, 14 blocked shots and 27 rebounds in five games.

"She was listed as 6 feet 6 at the combine," Detroit Shock coach Nancy Lieberman-Cline said. "Who knew until we saw her? She's a legit 7-2."

Dydek was first in the Euro-League in field-goal percentage (.614) and blocks (2.6) for Spain last season. She has played professionally in Europe since 1992.

"It's my dream to be in the United States," said Dydek, who turned 24 Tuesday. "I think there were a lot of good players who could have been picked in the first round. It was a surprise for me."

WNBA president Val Ackerman said Dydek was an unknown until she came to predraft camp.

"She did a great job at camp," Ackerman said. "She has a nice touch with the ball and moves very well for a player of her size."

Dydek will be the tallest player in the WNBA by six inches over Haixia Zheng of Los Angeles.

Penicheiro, a point guard who led the nation in steals (5.0) and was third in assists (7.5), signed on the eve of the draft with Connecticut's leading scorer, Nykesha Sales, and Stanford's Kristin Folkl.

Because of injuries, Sales and Folkl will not play this season and were not eligible for the draft. Sales ruptured her Achilles' tendon and Folkl recently had knee surgery. Lieberman-Cline said each will be assigned to one of the 1999 expansion teams, Minnesota or Orlando.

Rounding out the first round, Los Angeles took guard-forward Allison Feaster of Harvard, Cleveland chose guard Cindy Blodgett of Maine, Charlotte took North Carolina forward Tracy Reid, Phoenix selected Russian center Maria Stepanova, New York chose forward Alicia Thompson of Texas Tech and defending champion Houston took Bulgarian center Polina Tzekova.

State selections

Players with a Florida connection chosen in Wednesday's WNBA draft.

School Draft choice Team

Murriel Page Florida No. 3 overall Washington Mystics

Octavia Blue Miami No. 5/2nd round L.A. Sparks

Gergana Branzova FIU No. 4/3rd round Detroit Shock

Albena Branzova FIU No. 9/3rd round N.Y. Liberty

Tracy Reid UNC No. 7 overall Charlotte Sting

(Miami native)

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