NEW YORK — This will be a week that Kalani Brown and Chloe Jackson will surely never forget.
On the heels of leading Baylor to the third national championship in program history with Sunday’s 82-81 win over Notre Dame, the Lady Bear duo were both taken with top-15 picks in Wednesday’s WNBA Draft.
A three-time All-American, the 6-foot-7 Brown was taken by the Los Angeles Sparks with the seventh overall pick, joining a talented roster that includes former league MVPs Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike, two-time Defensive Player of the Year Alana Beard and former Baylor All-American point guard Odyssey Sims.
“I’m going to try to not act star-struck. I grew up watching them,” Brown said of playing with Parker and Ogwumike. “I’m just going to try to do what I can and whatever I can to help my team and be me.”
It’s been a whirlwind for Brown, who flew from Tampa, Fla., back to Waco on Monday, then up to New York on Tuesday for the pre-draft activities.
“The least sleep I’ve ever had, but the most exciting week of my life,” said Brown, who averaged 15.8 points and 8.2 rebounds as a senior. “It’s been a dream come true, a tiring dream come true. Coming off of that national championship, I was running on no sleep, it was a quick turnaround to come back here. But, it was a dream come true.”
The daughter of former NBA player P.J. Brown, Kalani said, “Just by making it here, I think I’ve created my own legacy. My parents have always told me that you don’t just want to be known as P.J. Brown’s daughter, make your own legacy, make your own path. And I think I’ve done that tonight.”
Speculation is that the Dallas Wings might trade for Brown to replace 6-8 center Liz Cambage, who has requested a trade and wants to play for the Sparks, but there was nothing reported by the end of the draft.
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey, who has had eight first-round picks and 16 players overall drafted in the last 18 years, said Brown “has a tender heart, but yet she is more competitive than you realize.”
“Kalani Brown is the ultimate team player,” said Mulkey, who was in New York for the draft and will appear on ABC’s “Good Morning America” between 6 and 8 a.m. CDT Thursday. “She will put her team before herself. As you watch her play, sometimes she will give up the ball when she needs to score the ball. But, she made us a better team.”
Jackson, a 5-8 guard who had been projected as a late third-round pick just a few days ago, had her name called early in the second round when she was taken by the Chicago Sky with the 15th pick overall.
A grad transfer from LSU, where she averaged 15.5 points in two seasons as a shooting guard with the Tigers, Jackson transitioned to the point guard role at Baylor and averaged 11.7 points and 5.3 assists in leading the Lady Bears to a 37-1 record and the national championship.
Jackson was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four after scoring 26 points in the final and hitting the game-winner with 3.9 seconds left.
“We knew Chloe was capable of doing that,” Mulkey said. “When Lauren Cox went down with her injury, Chloe just stepped up and did what seniors should do. It’s a sense of urgency for her, there is no tomorrow.”\
Chicago also took 6-3 guard/forward Katie Lou Samuelson in the first round, while all five of Notre Dame’s starters were taken with the first 19 picks – the first time in league history that all five starters from a collegiate team were drafted in the same year. Guard Jackie Young, who opted to forego her senior season, was picked first overall by the Las Vegas Aces.
“You’re excited for anybody that gets drafted,” Mulkey said. “We’re moving on fumes at times, because we haven’t had a lot of sleep, but it’s good. This is a great time for our university and our program and especially for Kalani Brown and Chloe Jackson.”