Connecticut nabs Whalen with fourth overall pick

Dan Miller

Lindsay Whalen appears to be leaving her hometown haven for the East Coast. Minnesota basketball’s all-time leading scorer was selected fourth overall in Saturday’s WNBA draft by the Connecticut Sun.

Whalen becomes the first Minnesota player to be drafted in the league and becomes the highest overall pick in Big Ten conference history.

The Minnesota Lynx have spent much of their offseason trying to put themselves into a position to draft Whalen and keep her close to her substantial Minnesota fan base.

Saturday, Whalen was asked after the draft if she thought the Lynx would find someway to acquire her.

“It’s tough to say,” she said. “It has been up in the air for a couple of weeks here with the trade rumors, but I have had an inclination that I would end up here in Connecticut so I’m just ready to get things started.”

Whalen and the Gophers drew the nation’s seventh largest average attendance this season, and many think Whalen’s popularity would help the Lynx’s attendance woes. They averaged just 7,074 fans per game last season.

“That is one of the many reasons why they wanted to keep Lindsay in Minnesota,” Minnesota coach Pam Borton said. “Women’s basketball in Minnesota is busting at the seams, and the Lynx were looking for a player like Lindsay to raise the level of excitement for the game, and with that comes the boost in ticket sales, attendance and to help the franchise survive, but I think Lindsay will be able to do that wherever she goes.”

But the Lynx did not make the trade many thought they would to move into the top four spots of the draft. Instead, they used their sixth and seventh overall picks to boost their inside game. Kansas State’s 6-foot-4-inch Nicole Ohlde was the sixth pick and Florida’s 6-foot-4-inch Vanessa Hayden was the seventh.

Some students around campus said the Lynx should still trade for Whalen.

“There is no doubt (the Lynx) should have her,” mechanical engineering sophomore Mark Rivers said. “So many more people would go to (the Lynx) games, or at least watch her on TV.”

But for the moment, it appears Whalen will be finding a new home in the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.

During the draft, reporters were interested whether the Lynx would pick up Whalen. Shortly after her name was called Saturday, she was asked if she was disappointed that she was not going to be playing for her hometown team.

She changed the subject.

“I’m just excited about the opportunity to be playing in this league. I’m excited to get it started.”

Deep draft

This year’s draft in New Jersey has been called by many the deepest WNBA draft because it featured a highly regarded senior collegiate class.

As expected, Connecticut’s Diana Taurasi was selected first by the Phoenix Mercury. Taurasi was the recipient of the Naismith Award and is a two-time first team All-American.

Taurasi and the Huskies beat the Gophers in the Final Four in New Orleans to advance to the national championship game where they beat Tennessee 70-61 on April 6.

Alana Beard was selected second by the Washington Mystics and Nicole Powell was picked third by the Charlotte Sting.

The WNBA season opens with Taurasi’s Mercury playing Whalen’s Sun on national television Saturday, May 22.