Seattle Storm pick USF’s Kitija Laksa in first round of WNBA draft

The Bulls’ No. 6 all-time scorer is taken with the 11th overall selection
Former USF star Kitija Laksa (33) was the 11th overall pick in Friday night's WNBA draft. [Times files]
Former USF star Kitija Laksa (33) was the 11th overall pick in Friday night's WNBA draft. [Times files]
Published Apr. 18, 2020|Updated Apr. 18, 2020

Some of the best news of Kitija Laksa’s basketball career arrived overseas via the red-eye.

The former USF women’s basketball long-range sharpshooter was selected by the Seattle Storm with the 11th overall pick in the first round of the WNBA draft Friday night ― or early Saturday morning Latvia time.

The program’s No. 6 all-time scorer, Laksa’s name was called at roughly 3 a.m. Saturday in her native Latvia, where she followed the proceedings with her family.

“It’s definitely a crazy feeling, a dream come true," Laksa said on a teleconference roughly two hours after being drafted. "Couldn’t have gone any better, couldn’t have gone and joined a better team. I’m very excited. Definitely a very, very good feeling right now ― even at 5 a.m.”

She acknowledged reports earlier Friday evening that she won’t join the Storm until 2021, presumably to afford her more time to rehab from a horrific knee injury that ended her college career three games into her senior season in November 2018.

“That was not my decision," Laksa said. "That was the team’s decision, and altogether we made an ‘our’ and ‘us’ decision. So for now, I’m just enjoying my draft night and we’re gonna connect and talk about what the future holds for me and the team later on.”

Laksa becomes USF’s sixth WNBA draftee, and the first since shooting guard Courtney Williams was taken by Phoenix with the eighth overall pick in 2016.

“I could not be prouder of Kit,” Bulls coach Jose Fernandez said.

“Unfortunately her career here was cut short ... but her impact and influence on our program will go down in history. She was an excellent representative of our program on and off the floor and I couldn’t be prouder of her on this special evening.”

Despite a mildly abbreviated college career, Laksa finished as USF’s career leader in 3-pointers (308) and free-throw percentage (89.6), subsisting off the plethora of perimeter screens designed to free her up in Fernandez’s offense. In her final full season (2017-18), she averaged 21.1 points, setting an NCAA record with 11 consecutive 3-pointers in one game.

“Quick release, great shooter,” Storm point guard and 11-time WNBA all-star Sue Bird told ESPN. “She can space the floor, fits our style perfectly, and I think she’s hungry.”

Six months after the injury, Laksa announced she wouldn’t seek a medical redshirt for another season. She began her professional career this year with TTT Riga, a 60-year-old organization in her native country that has won 18 EuroLeague Women’s titles.

In seven games with the club, she averaged eight points and shot only 20 percent (7-for-35) from 3-point range.

“I feel like my knee will be something I will be taking care of my whole career, but I do feel good about it," Laksa said. “I started playing in December and I felt good. Of course there were some ups and downs, but along the way everything felt good, everything felt right.”

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Seattle, led by Bird and former UConn All-American Breanna Stewart, won the 2018 WNBA title before losing to Los Angeles in the ’19 conference semifinals.

“Seattle is loaded. They do not need a player who can come over right away and impact the team, so this could be a pick for the future as well," ESPN women’s basketball analyst Rebecca Lobo said.

"(Laksa) is a phenomenal 3-point shooter. ... she makes tough shots, she moves really well without the basketball.”

Two other players from state universities were chosen in the three-round draft. Miami power forward Beatrice Mompremier was taken by Los Angeles in the second round (20th overall), and FSU forward Kiah Gillespie was taken by Chicago in the third (32nd).