PALM HARBOR, Fla. – For the first time in school history, two Texas A&M women’s basketball players, Morenike Atunrase and A’Quonesia Franklin, were selected in the 2008 WNBA Draft presented by adidas Wednesday afternoon at the Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club.
Atunrase was picked 24th overall by the league’s newest expansion team, the Atlanta Dream, in the second round, but was later traded to the San Antonio Silver Stars along with WNBA veteran Ann Wauters and Atlanta’s 2009 second round pick for Camille Little and Georgia Tech’s Chioma Nnamaka who was drafted 21st overall. Franklin was later selected 38th overall by the 2005 WNBA champion Sacramento Monarchs in the third round.
It marked the first time that an A&M player was drafted into the WNBA since 2004. Atunrase and Franklin become only the third-and fourth-ever Aggie draft picks next to former player Jaynetta Saunders (1999-01) who was selected 27th overall by the Cleveland Rockers in the second round of the 2001 WNBA Draft and former player Toccara Williams (2000-04) who was selected 34th overall by the San Antonio Silver Stars in the third round of the 2004 WNBA Draft.
“This is just another great day for Texas A&M women’s basketball,” said Texas A&M head coach Gary Blair who led the Aggies to their first-ever Big 12 Tournament title and NCAA Elite Eight appearance this past season. “I’m just so happy for Morenike and Aqua, because they have been very special to our program. They are now standing tall and will represent A&M well. It shows our commitment to developing players for that next level. We have kids who are interchangeable, can play a lot of roles and are being recognized because of the style of basketball we play. We play on both ends of the floor on offense and defense and that’s what the next level is looking for.”
Both Aggies were one of three Big 12 Conference players selected in the 43-player draft over the course of three rounds. Atunrase becomes the highest-ever draft pick at A&M and will play under San Antonio Silver Stars head coach Dan Hughes who has called several television broadcasts involving the Aggies for Fox Sports Net.
“It feels great,” said Atunrase on being drafted and one of 20 invitees at the selection site in Florida. “This is something I have worked hard for over the last four years and Texas A&M has prepared me well. It’s another new and exciting chapter in my life. I am excited to stay in state, although Atlanta would have been a good fit as well.”
Atunrase, a 5-foot-10 combination guard/forward from Shreveport, La., finished out her illustrious four-year career at A&M as the school’s all-time leading shot blocker with 176 career blocks which ranks sixth all-time in the Big 12 Conference record books. The 2008 Big 12 Sixth Man Award recipient came off the bench and averaged 10.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.4 steals per game for the nationally-ranked Aggies who advanced to their first-ever NCAA Elite Eight appearance this past season. Atunrase ranks sixth all-time in career scoring (1,317), eighth all-time in career field goals made (462), sixth all-time in career three-pointers made (110) and seventh all-time in career steals (199). She was named Big 12 Freshman of the Year in 2005 and an All-Big 12 First Team selection in 2006 as a sophomore.
“Morenike will have a great chance of making San Antonio’s roster,” Blair said. “She’s the same type of player as former San Antonio Silver Stars guard Marie Ferdinand-Harris who now plays for Los Angeles. It will be a good fit for her and a great chance for Aggies to continue to watch her career.”
Franklin, a 5-foot-3 guard from Tyler, Texas, closed out her four-year career as a 2008 Associated Press All-America Honorable Mention selection for the second year in row and a member of the all-tournament teams for the NCAA Oklahoma City Regional and Big 12 Tournament. The 2008 All-Big 12 Second Team honoree ranks third all-time in school history with 627 career assists which ranks fifth-best in the Big 12 record books. She also ranks 12th all-time in career scoring (1,115), second all-time in career three-pointers made (157), sixth all-time in career steals (209) and led the Big 12 in assist-to-turnover ratio for four-straight seasons.
“I feel so honored and blessed to have the opportunity to possibly play behind two great point guards in Kara Lawson and Ticha Penicheiro,” Franklin said. “I hope to learn a lot from them as a rookie and I want to thank the Sacramento Monarchs for taking a chance on me. It’s been a great day with well wishes from all of my family, friends and teammates throughout the draft experience. My main focus and mindset will be to go in there and make the roster. I have family in California, but I knew that anywhere I went, I just wanted to be a part of a team.”
The 2008 WNBA season tips off on Saturday, May 17 as the San Antonio Silver Stars travel to Sacramento for their regular-season opener.
TEXAS A&M ALL-TIME WNBA DRAFT PICKS
Morenike Atunrase – 24th overall – 2008 Second Round – Atlanta Dream (traded to San Antonio Silver Stars)
A’Quonesia Franklin – 38th overall – 2008 Third Round – Sacramento Monarchs
Toccara Williams – 34th overall – 2004 Third Round – San Antonio Silver Stars
Jaynetta Saunders – 27th overall – 2001 Second Round – Cleveland Rockers