Achonwa reflects and offers advice on the WNBA draft
Natalie Achonwa had prepped herself.
She knew how she was going to stand up, who in her family she was going to embrace first. The Guelph, Ont., native even rehearsed walking up the stairs to the stage, which was no easy task given she had just recently torn the ACL in her left knee.
Then WNBA president Laurel Richie announced that the Indiana Fever had picked Achonwa with the ninth pick in the 2014 WNBA Draft, and the Notre Dame seniors' mind went blank.
"I heard my name called, shed some tears, gave my family hugs, struggled up the stairs because I forgot that I needed to lead with my bad leg and it was kind of a mess," she recalls. "All the emotion hits you at once. As much as you plan for it, you only experience it once."
A number of Canadians are hoping to have their own moment on the stage Thursday during the 2016 WNBA Draft at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.
Adut Bulgak of Florida State, UCLA's Nirra Fields, and Oregon State teammates Ruth Hamblin and Jamie Weisner are eligible to be selected in what has potential to be a record-setting night for the Great White North; in the 20 year history of the WNBA, there has never been more than two Canadians drafted in the same year.
The draft unfolds over three rounds, each comprising 12 picks, and it's anyone's guess who ends up where. Achonwa can relate; Knowing she would not be able to play during the 2014 WNBA season because of her torn ACL made things more unpredictable for the six-foot-four centre.
"I still have chills when I hear or see any clips of the draft and having my name called and a great franchise like the Indiana Fever taking a chance on me," says the 23-year-old.
After a successful rehab, Achonwa made her WNBA debut last year, averaging 8 points and 3.5 rebound for an Indiana team that reached the WNBA Finals. She missed a portion of the season to help Canada win gold at the Pan American Games and FIBA Americas Championship for Women.
Now two years removed from her Draft Day experience, Achnowa has one bit of advice for this yearâ??s prospects:
Enjoy the moment.
"You only get one chance at life, you only get one chance at a draft, you only get one chance for a lot of things," she says. "So just focus on enjoying this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Adut Bulgak, Florida State
One of only 10 Seminoles to ever make the All-ACC Team multiple times, Blugak averaged 12.7 points along with 7.7 boards this season and was a Senior CLASS Award finalist. Last year, in just her second season with the Canadian National Team, Bulgak was instrumental in the Development Women finishing second at the FISU games in Korea, as she notched 15.5 points per game and ranked second among all players an average of 10.7 rebounds.
Nirra Fields, UCLA
Fields was named to the All-Pac 12 team for a third consecutive year and garnered Honorable Mention All-Defensive Team honours in 2016 after ranking among the top 20 in five different statistical categories during the conference season. A fixture on the Canadian Senior Womenâ??s Team since 2013, Fields was part of the gold medal sweep of the Pan American Games and FIBA Americas last summer when Canada clinched a berth in the Rio Olympic Games.
Ruth Hamblin, Oregon State
The Pac-12's all-time leader in blocks and the No. 1 rebounder in Oregon State history, Hamblin won the Pac-12's Defensive Player of the Year award in 2015 and 2016. She was an Academic All-American this season when she averaged 11.8 points, 10 boards and 3.5 rejections, while helping the Beavers reach their first NCAA Final Four. Hamblin has four years experience as a Canadian National Team member, including last summer with the FISU silver medalists.
Jamie Weisner, Oregon State
This season saw Weisner named the Pac-12 Player of the Year while earning WBCA First Team All-American and AP Second Team All-American honours. Her 2015-16 scoring average of 17.3 ppg included a 38-point explosion against DePaul in the Sweet 16 during the Beavers' historic run to the Final Four. A veteran of three years with the Canadian National Team, Weisner was selected to the FIBA All-World All-Star team at the 2013 U19 FIBA World Championships.