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UNC Basketball: Stephanie Watts selected in first round of WNBA Draft

She’s headed to LA after being selected 10th overall by the Sparks.

NCAA Womens Basketball: North Carolina at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

While in the NBA and NFL Draft, we get months of lead up and speculation over who’s going where. We’re not afforded that luxury when it comes to the WNBA Draft. The college season may have just ended a couple weeks ago, but many of those players saw their names already called last night.

Due to the WNBA running their seasons from May to September, last night was the big day, and there were a couple Tar Heels up for selection. It didn’t take long for us to see one go off the board.

It took just ten picks as North Carolina’s Stephanie Watts was selected in the first round and is headed to the Los Angeles Sparks.

The grad student got a sixth year of eligibility last season, having missed her planned grad transfer season at USC. She returned to UNC, where she had played from 2015-19. This year, Watts finished as the Tar Heels’ second leading scorer, averaging 12 points per game, 5.4 rebounds, and 3.1 assists. In Carolina’s season ending NCAA Tournament loss to Alabama, she didn’t go down without a fight, scoring 29 points, while knocking down seven threes.

As for Watts’ new team, the Sparks are coming off a 15-7 season and second round playoff exit in last year’s WNBA bubble season. She’ll have a Tar Heel teammate there, with Tierra Ruffin-Pratt currently on LA’s roster.

With the Sparks, the career 14.8 PPG scorer will be likely be tasked with helping add some scoring to the backcourt. LA lost a pair of 10+ PPG scorers in the offseason and only Brittany Sykes is the returning Sparks’ only guard who took more than six shots a game. It’s not just the backcourt either. In total, LA averaged 85 points per game last season, and 43 of them aren’t on the roster this season. They’ll get Kristi Toliver back after missing the 2020 season and also signed Erica Wheeler and Bria Holmes, but there should be some opportunities for Watts.

The first round selection came as somewhat of a shock, since she wasn’t appearing in the first round of too many of the mock drafts. However, it’s a fully deserved selection. Watts missed nearly two entire years due to injury over her college career. However, she still battled back through it all and helped UNC to their second NCAA Tournament appearance since the scandal semi-wrecked the program. Thanks to the work of her and others, the program seems to be back on track. She even got a shoutout from an LA basketball legend.

Unfortunately, she would be the only Heel to get her named called on draft night, despite several others being up for selection. The most notable non-selection was center Janelle Bailey. According to ESPN’s draft rankings, she was the 23rd ranked player overall, which equates to about a late second round pick. Petra Holešínská was also available for selection, after her 35% from three shooting season. Alas, the final two rounds went by with neither Heel getting selected. Hopefully, they’ll catch on somewhere this season.