No. 1 Bird Heads to Seattle in WNBA draft

Saturday, April 20th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SECAUCUS, N.J. (AP) _ Four seniors on Connecticut's undefeated national championship team took one final bow.

Led by No. 1 pick Sue Bird, the UConn players dominated the top six selections in the WNBA draft Friday.

Bird went to Seattle and Swin Cash was chosen second by Detroit. Asjha Jones was the No. 4 pick by Washington and Tamika Williams was the No. 6 selection by Minnesota.

UConn's senior class finished with a career record of 136-9, three Final Four trips and two NCAA championships. They'll be expected to revive the Storm, Shock and Mystics, all 10-22 last season.

``The challenge now is going to a program and turning it into the program they just left,'' UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. ``That's the price you pay for being really good. The players will adjust OK. They won't settle for losing.''

Connecticut is the first school to have four players selected in the first round of the WNBA draft.

``We've gone through so much together at UConn, and I guess once you get to this plateau you can finally say everything's paid off,'' Cash said.

Oklahoma's Stacey Dales-Schuman went to Washington with the No. 3 selection and Portland picked North Carolina's Nikki Teasley fifth.

The Fire then traded Teasley and Sophia Witherspoon to the Los Angeles Sparks for Ukari Figgs and second-round draft pick Gergana Slavtcheva from Florida International.

The Mystics may have benefited most from the draft. They used Tennessee coach Pat Summitt as their consultant to select Dales-Schuman and Jones to complement All-Star Chamique Holdsclaw.

Summitt had no qualms taking a player from rival Connecticut.

``Not at all,'' she said. ``I'm here to work on assessing talent, taking the best available players.''

She's impressed with Dales-Schuman.

``There's not a more versatile perimeter player in this position,'' Summitt said. ``She's a winner.''

Dales-Schuman is looking forward to playing with Jones, whose UConn team beat the Sooners 82-70 in the national title game.

``She's one of the toughest players I've come across,'' Dales-Schuman said.

The 5-foot-9 Bird is the first guard chosen as the top pick in the WNBA's six-year history. The national player of the year helped UConn go 39-0 and win its third national title.

Bird averaged 14.4 points, shot 46 percent from behind the arc and led the country in foul shooting at 89.2 percent. She'll join forward Lauren Jackson, who was the top pick in the 2001 draft

Williams will be reunited with former UConn player Svetlana Ambrosimova at Minnesota. Auriemma thinks that will make for an interesting tandem.

``One guy shoots all the time and the other guy likes to rebound,'' he said. ``It's a great combination.''

Williams is looking forward to being a rookie for the Lynx.

``Once again, Svetlana will get the blame for everything and I'll be the little puppy running the wrong play,'' she said.

The four UConn seniors are eager to move on to the next level.

``We're ready to go to different teams, meet new people,'' Williams said. ``Nobody's really seen us out of our shell. All of us want to become a lot more versatile and improve.''

That might be a scary concept for opponents. But Bird, who recently practiced with the U.S. national team, knows it's a lot different in the pros.

``It's the highest level to be playing at right now,'' she said. ``I know it's going to be a challenge.''

Bird is looking forward to competing against her old roommates.

``My team better win,'' Bird said. ``It will be fun to play against them. Mostly I look forward to the dinner they'll be taking me out to.''