SEC players highlighted in WNBA Draft

SECAUCAS, N.J., April 25 (UPI) -- With no players from national champion Connecticut to choose from, the Southeastern Conference took center stage Friday in the delayed WNBA Draft.

The Cleveland Rockers made Mississippi State forward LaToya Thomas, the SEC Player of the Year, the No. 1 overall pick. The Sacramento Monarchs selected Vanderbilt center Chantelle Anderson second.


The Detroit Shock was the only team with two first-round selections and took Louisiana Tech center Cheryl Ford, the daughter of Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone, third overall. With the No. 5 selection, the Shock reached into the SEC for guard Kara Lawson from Tennessee.

The Indiana Fever selected Tennessee forward Gwen Jackson with the sixth choice, followed by the Washington Mystics, who took Louisiana State center Aiysha Smith.

Forward Jocelyn Penn of South Carolina was the sixth SEC player selected, going to the Charlotte Sting ninth overall.

Originally scheduled for April 16, the draft was pushed back because the league and its players did not agree on a new collective bargaining agreement until early Friday.

Last year, four of the top six players drafted came from Connecticut's national championship team, with Sue Bird No. 1 overall.


Despite losing those players, the Huskies repeated as champions, but superstar Diana Taurasi will be back for one more year of college ball before she likely becomes the first overall pick in the 2004 draft.

This year, that honor belonged to the 6-2 Thomas, who has been compared to Houston Comets forward Tina Thompson.

"She's going to be a four (power forward) for us," said Rockers Coach Dan Hughes. "I love the mismatches she can create for us."

Thomas averaged at least 21 points per game in all four seasons with the Bulldogs.

Last season, Cleveland tied the Minnesota Lynx for the second-worst record in the league at 10-22. It was quite a fall for the Rockers, who went 22-10 in 2001 and captured the Eastern Conference regular-season title.

The Rockers won Thursday's draft lottery and earned the right to the top pick for the second time. In the 2000 draft, Cleveland selected Belgian center Ann Wauters first overall.

Without injured star forward Yolanda Griffifth most of last season, Sacramento chose the 6-6 Anderson, who was named to the SEC first team each of her last three seasons.

The 6-3 Ford earned Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year honors each of the last two seasons and will now play for Shock Coach Bill Laimbeer, who played against Malone in the NBA.


"Bill will give Cheryl work on rebounding which is good, but I kind of wish she was going to a West team," Malone said. "But Detroit is nice. Hopefully, Bill will like her more than he liked me."

The Phoenix Mercury took Texas Tech forward Plenette Pierson with the fourth overall pick before Lawson and Jackson of Tennessee went to Detroit and Indiana.

Seattle selected Korean center Sun-Min Jung with the eighth overall pick.

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