May 6, 1997
Hoop Program Gains Bragging Rights after Inaugural WNBA Draft
LOS ANGELES - When it comes to bragging rights, USC's football program boasts the No. 1 pick in the 1996 NFL draft and the No. 2 pick in the 1997 draft.
Well, the Women of Troy basketball program has done the gridiron gang one better.
In the WNBA's inaugural draft, USC sent hoopster alums Tina Thompson and Pam McGee back-to-back as the league's first two picks.
Thompson (1994-97), who just completed her record-setting career with the USC women's basketball team, was taken first by the Houston Comets in the April 28 draft.
Selected right behind Thompson with the No. 2 pick by the Sacramento Monarchs was Trojan star McGee, who, with her twin sister Paula, played for USC in 1981-84, helping USC to national titles in 1983 and 1984.
Said Thompson about being drafted first: "It was exciting and a little surprising. It's a great feeling knowing that I'm going to be a part of history as the first player picked in the WNBA. It's still a little overwhelming."
For McGee, who has played professionally in Europe and was a member of the 1984 gold medal-winning women's basketball team, the WNBA has provided her a chance to play at home while her game is still in top form.
"I've always been a pioneer," McGee said. "I'm a fellow Trojan, also, so I'm excited for Tina, a fellow Trojan coming out first in the draft. When I came out, I only had one option, to go overseas. I'm excited that in some way I was able to be a part of Tina's experience of having that option to go to the WNBA because of the brickwork that I have laid down as a pioneer of women's basketball."
Neither Thompson nor McGee will be alone in the WNBA as far as ex-Trojans are concerned.
The Pac-10's all-time leading scorer and Naismith Award winner Lisa Leslie (1991-94) will play for the Los Angeles Sparks, an organization ripe with Trojans. The Sparks are coached by Linda Sharp, USC's women's basketball coach from 1978-89, and the team's general manager is a former player of Sharp's and a star in her own right, Rhonda Windham (1983, 1985-97).
Cynthia Cooper, who played for USC from 1982-84 and 1986, was, like Leslie, an elite selection, thus assigned to a team before the draft. Cooper was assigned to the Comets and will play with Thompson as well as 1996 Olympian Sheryl Swoopes.
And don't forget the legendary Cheryl Miller (1983-86), a three-time Naismith Award winner, former USC head coach and NBA commentator for the TNT. She is the head coach for the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury.
It was only two years ago that Thompson wouldn't have had any options other than to play out of the country if she wanted to play pro ball.
This year, however, she had two choices, the WNBA and the ABL, which completed its first season this spring.
In fact, two former Women of Troy players, Nicky McCrimmon (1993-94) and Michelle Campbell (1994-97) will both play in the ABL's second season. McCrimmon was assigned to the Long Beach expansion team and Campbell was selected in the ABL's May 5 draft in the third round by the Richmond Rage.
Several of the NCAA's top seniors were courted by both the ABL and the WNBA, Thompson included.
She says she chose the WNBA for the many opportunities it affords, one of which is time to return to school for graduate work.
Each team in the WNBA will play a 28-game schedule, playing four games each against the other seven teams in the league. The season kicks off June 21 with a nationally televised game (4 p.m. ET) between Leslie's Sparks and the New York Liberty, which features UConn standout Rebecca Lobo. Thompson, Cooper and McGee will also be in action that night.
Miller will make her WNBA coaching debut on June 22 in a game to be televised by NBC (3 p.m. ET).
Other scheduling notes include L.A.'s first meeting with Houston (June 30 at Houston), Houston's first appearance in L.A. (July 16) and Sacramento's first game in L.A. (June 27).