COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Success continues to follow former Texas A&M women’s basketball players Morenike Atunrase (Shreveport, La.) and A’Quonesia Franklin (Tyler, Texas) as the pair recently completed their first year as WNBA rookies.
Both reached the 2008 WNBA Playoffs in their first seasons with the San Antonio Silver Stars and Sacramento Monarchs respectively, extending a year of milestones for the former standouts, who led the Aggies to a Big 12 Conference tournament title seven months ago in March and to the school’s first-ever appearance in the NCAA Elite Eight in April. Atunrase and Franklin were two of just three players drafted out of the Big 12 last season.
“The whole year was great from the start of WNBA Draft Camp to team training camp,” said Atunrase fresh off the WNBA Finals, where the Silver Stars lost to the Detroit Shock in the best of three-game series. “It is a different level of play in the WNBA. We had a great season as an organization and I was blessed to be on a team full of veterans such as Becky Hammon, Helen Darling and Ruth Riley. The playoffs were really fun, but I wish we could have pulled off the victory in the end.”
Atunrase played in 33 games of the season averaging 10.5 minutes per game and registered a season-high nine points versus Houston on June 24. She averaged 1.3 points, 0.9 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.1 steals and 0.1 blocks in the WNBA Playoffs which also included postseason wins over former teammate Franklin’s Sacramento team in the first round and Candace Parker and Lisa Leslie’s Los Angeles team in the Western Conference finals.
“Coach (Dan) Hughes says that I still have a lot to learn, but he says he sees so much potential in me,” Atunrase said. “Coach believes I have a great future here in San Antonio and I the feel the same way, too.”
Meanwhile, Franklin received valuable playing time during the season for the Monarchs after injuries to veterans in Ticha Penicheiro and Rebekkah Brunson, and gained confidence in her transition from the college ranks to the professional ranks. She played in 34 games of the season and averaged 1.6 points, 1.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game. The Monarchs’ playoff run was cut short by Atunrase’s San Antonio squad in the first round.
In the off-season, Atunrase is finishing school through distance courses and has four more credit hours to complete toward graduation at A&M. Like Franklin, who is now playing in Sweden, Atunrase hopes to play overseas beginning in January. Both look forward to keeping up with their former teammates and the women’s basketball program this season and value the lessons they learned during their four-year experiences in Aggieland.
“Coach Blair was always challenging me past my perceived limits throughout my college career,” Franklin said. “Working hard, being at my best and leading, were the standards he set for me everyday. This has helped me in my professional career because everyday brings a new challenge, which because of the foundation Coach Blair and Texas A&M gave me, I am more readily equipped to handle. Most importantly, he has helped me create a work ethic for myself which is a must at the professional level.”
Atunrase and Gant Jerseys On Display at Women’s Basketball HOF…The basketball jerseys of Morenike Atunrase and senior All-America candidate Danielle Gant (Oklahoma City, Okla.) are currently on display at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn. Both were chosen for the facility’s Ring of Honor exhibit in recognition of their outstanding play during the 2007-08 season.