April 14, 2014
UNCASVILLE, Conn. - For the third consecutive year, the Notre Dame women's basketball program was represented near the top of the first round in the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) Draft, and for the second time in three years, two Fighting Irish players were chosen in the first round of the Draft, as senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride (Erie, Pa./Villa Maria Academy) was selected by the San Antonio Stars with the No. 3 overall pick, and senior forward/tri-captain Natalie Achonwa (Guelph, Ontario/St. Mary's Catholic) was chosen ninth overall by the Indiana Fever in the 2014 WNBA Draft that was held Monday night at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.
At No. 3, McBride matches former teammates Devereaux Peters ('11) and Skylar Diggins ('13) as the highest-drafted Notre Dame player in program history -- Peters went third overall in the 2012 WNBA Draft to the Minnesota Lynx, and Diggins followed suit last year when she was chosen third by the Tulsa Shock.
What's more, Notre Dame becomes just the second school to have players chosen with WNBA draft lottery picks in three consecutive years since the introduction of the league's draft lottery (a weighted system to help determine the order of the top four selections from among those teams that do not qualify for the postseason) -- Connecticut had a three-year run of WNBA draft lottery choices from 2009-11.
The selections of McBride and Achonwa also gives Notre Dame five first-round WNBA Draft picks in the past three seasons (all within the top nine overall selections), six in school history and 12 total draftees since 2001. In addition to Peters and Diggins going at No. 3 the past two years, Natalie Novosel ('12) went eighth overall in the first round of the 2012 WNBA Draft to the Washington Mystics.
The quintet of McBride, Achonwa, Diggins, Peters and Novosel joins 2001 consensus National Player of the Year and three-time All-America center Ruth Riley ('01) as Fighting Irish players who were later selected in the first round of the WNBA Draft (Riley was chosen with the No. 5 overall pick in 2001 by the Miami Sol before being taken first overall in the 2003 WNBA Dispersal Draft by the Detroit [now Tulsa] Shock in 2003 when the Miami franchise folded). Riley is preparing to begin her 14th WNBA season next month, and her second as a member of the reigning WNBA Eastern Conference champion Atlanta Dream (with whom she signed as a free agent midway through last season).
McBride and Achonwa (along with fellow senior tri-captain Ariel Braker) are less than a week removed from spearheading the most successful four-year run in Fighting Irish women's basketball history and helping lead Notre Dame to four consecutive NCAA Women's Final Four appearances (2011-14), including three national championship game berths (2011, 2012 and 2014), and a 138-15 (.902) record. In addition, during the trio's career, the Fighting Irish won three consecutive outright conference regular season titles (2012 and 2013 in the BIG EAST; 2014 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) and back-to-back conference tournament crowns (2013 in BIG EAST; 2014 in ACC), while posting a staggering 47-1 (.979) regular season league record in the past three seasons (55-2 including conference tournament play), including undefeated 19-0 combined regular season/tournament records in 2013 (BIG EAST) and 2014 (ACC - the first-ever by a league member in its inaugural season and first by any ACC squad since 2002-03).
McBride saved her best for her final college season in 2013-14, earning consensus first-team All-America honors, in addition to being named the ACC Player of the Year by the conference's 15 head coaches and a finalist for every major national player of the year award. She averaged career highs of 17.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game with one double-double and a team-high 14 20-point games. She also ranked among the top 10 in the ACC in free throw percentage (2nd - .880; also 13th in nation), assist/turnover ratio (6th - 1.78), assists (9th), scoring (10th) and three-point percentage (10th - .366). In addition, her 669 total points rank fifth on the school's single-season scoring list, and her 23-game double-figure scoring streak earlier this year is the fifth-longest in program history.
For her career, McBride ranks fifth on Notre Dame's scoring list with 1,876 points, as well as first all-time in free throw percentage (.882), sixth in games played (133) and double-figure scoring games (100), seventh in minutes played (3,735) and tied for ninth in games started (114).
One of the most gifted versatile posts and vocal leaders in Fighting Irish history, Achonwa earned Associated Press third-team All-America honors and was a second-team all-ACC choice in 2013-14 while starting 33 games despite a pair of knee injuries. She also averaged career highs of 14.9 points and 2.8 assists per game along with 7.7 rebounds per contest, a career-best .611 field goal percentage (seventh on the school's single-season charts) and a team-high eight double-doubles. What's more, she placed among the top 15 in the ACC in field goal percentage (2nd; also 3rd in nation), defensive rebounds (tied-4th - 5.6), rebounds (7th), blocked shots (10th - 1.2 bpg.) and scoring (15th).
In 145 career games at Notre Dame (third-most in program history), Achonwa ranks 12th on the Fighting Irish all-time scoring list with 1,546 points and fourth on the school's career rebounding chart (970). In addition, she is tied for fifth in school history with 28 career double-doubles, and her .562 career field goal percentage stands sixth on the program's all-time list.
While with the Shock organization from 2003-06, Riley helped the franchise win two WNBA titles, earning WNBA Finals Most Valuable Player honors in 2003 to become the first of only two players to be named the finals MOP at both the college and professional levels (she earned the collegiate honor in 2001 while leading Notre Dame to its first national championship). In 2006, Riley teamed up with another Fighting Irish alum to drive the Shock towards another title, as Jacqueline Batteast ('05) came aboard after spending her rookie season in Minnesota.
A third Notre Dame standout joined the Shock's roster in 2005, when current Fighting Irish assistant coach/recruiting coordinator Niele Ivey ('00) signed on as a free agent following four successful seasons with the Indiana Fever (the most recent Notre Dame player to be drafted by the Fever prior to Achonwa's selection Monday night).
Riley, who also has served as the first vice president of the WNBA Players Association since 2005, is one of four Fighting Irish players who have won WNBA titles during their professional careers -- Batteast, Peters and 1991 graduate Coquese Washington (2000 Houston) also have earned league championship rings -- while Riley is one of just nine women's basketball players in history to earn an NCAA title, WNBA title and Olympic gold medal (2004) during her career.
Riley's 2001 selection by Miami started Notre Dame's current string of 12 players selected in the WNBA Draft. Also in 2001, Ivey was a second-round choice (19th overall) by Indiana, while Kelley Siemon ('01) was taken in the third round (48th overall) by the Los Angeles Sparks. A year later, Ericka Haney ('02) was a third-round selection (47th overall) by the Detroit Shock. They were followed by Minnesota's selections of Batteast and Megan Duffy ('06) in 2005 and 2006, respectively, and Charel Allen ('08) going to Sacramento in 2008, before the 2012 twin first-round picks in Peters and Novosel, and Diggins' selection a year ago.
Three other Notre Dame alumnae -- Washington, current associate coach Beth Cunningham ('97) and Katryna Gaither ('97) -- spent time in the WNBA (selected in dispersal or allocation drafts, or signing as free agents) after previously playing in the now-defunct American Basketball League (ABL). Washington played for four teams from 1998-2003 and was the first president of the WNBA Players Association, while Cunningham played for the Washington Mystics in 2000 (both Washington and Cunningham later stepped away to pursue their coaching careers full-time), and Gaither saw time with five clubs from 2000-02 before electing to continue her professional playing career overseas.
The official WNBA web site (wnba.com), as well as the individual team web sites for the Tulsa Shock (tulsashock.net), Minnesota Lynx (lynxbasketball.com), Atlanta Dream (atlantadream.net), San Antonio Stars (sastars.com) and Indiana Fever (feverbasketball.com), features the complete 2014 schedule for each team, along with the dates when the Fighting Irish women's basketball alumnae and their squads will be playing close to the Notre Dame campus, and details on how to purchase tickets for those games.
Notre Dame women's basketball fans will have one more opportunity to celebrate this year's historic 37-1 season, and bid farewell to the senior trio of Achonwa, Braker and McBride, when the Fighting Irish hold their annual awards banquet April 22 in the Joyce Center Fieldhouse (north dome) -- doors open at 5 p.m. (ET), with autographs from 5:30-6:30 p.m. (ET) and dinner at 6:45 p.m. (ET). Tickets are on sale by contacting the Murnane Family Athletics Ticket Office, located inside Gate 9 (Rosenthal Atrium) at Purcell Pavilion, from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. (ET) weekdays.
Notre Dame is expected to return two starters and 10 monogram recipients from this year's squad, led by 2013-14 second-team All-America guard Jewell Loyd (Lincolnwood, Ill./Niles West). The Fighting Irish also will welcome a three-player incoming class that has been ranked as high as third in the nation by several national recruiting services, and includes the 2013-14 Gatorade National High School Player of the Year and 2014 McDonald's High School All-America Game Most Valuable Player, forward Brianna Turner (Pearland, Texas/Manvel).
For more information on the Notre Dame women's basketball program, sign up to follow the Fighting Irish women's basketball Twitter pages (@ndwbbsid or @ndwbb), like the program on Facebook (facebook.com/ndwbb) or register for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the "Fan Center" pulldown menu on the front page at UND.com.
-- Chris Masters, Associate Athletic Media Relations Director