No one took a shot or made a pass, but the night was all about basketball.
Former Longhorn Imani McGee-Stafford had spent the whole day talking. She had made appearances with the media, smiled her way through interviews and chatted with potential coaches over the phone. Now, it was her turn to listen.
“Man, I was so busy on draft day that I didn’t even really have time to be nervous,” McGee-Stafford said. “Like, it’s such a long day because the draft isn’t until like 7 p.m., but you’re doing stuff from like 7 a.m.”
McGee-Stafford made the 1,800-mile journey from Austin to Uncasville, Connecticut, to hear her name called at the WNBA Draft on April 14, 2016.
The center waited patiently at her table on the floor of Mohegan Sun Arena. Each team had three minutes to make its selection. It felt like 15 to McGee-Stafford.
The Seattle Storm selected UConn post Breanna Stewart with the first pick. McGee-Stafford was unfazed. She didn’t care where she got picked, as long as it was for the right team.
“It’s funner to say you were drafted higher. But, it really doesn’t matter,” McGee-Stafford said. “It’s about going somewhere where you know you can fit in. All that other stuff is just for show. It’s not something you should worry about, because you just want to go somewhere you can play. That’s all it’s about, is being able to get on the floor as a rookie.”
As more picks came off the board, McGee-Stafford’s eyes became glued to the camera. Before each pick, the same cameraman ambled over to the table of the player who would be selected next.
As pick No. 10 approached, the cameraman walked toward McGee-Stafford’s table. WNBA commissioner Lisa Borders strolled up to the podium, holding the next draftee’s name on an index card.
“With the 10th pick in the 2016 WNBA Draft, the Chicago Sky select Imani Boyette (McGee-Stafford’s name at the time) from the University of Texas,” Borders announced.
“I was like, ‘Finally! Yes! Let’s get out of here!’” McGee-Stafford said.
The Sky’s rookie put an arm around Texas head coach Karen Aston first. The two had spent the past four years together, making the NCAA Tournament three times and reaching the Elite Eight in McGee-Stafford’s senior year.
“I don’t remember exactly (what I told McGee-Stafford). I just remember hugging her neck and being proud of her,” Aston said. “That’s the neatest part of all of it, is when they’re anxious and there’s a lot of anxiety, so it’s like their relief and their realization that their hard work has paid off happens in a quick moment when that name gets called.”
Texas senior guards Ariel Atkins and Brooke McCarty will go through the same process Thursday night — though not in the same place. They’ll wait three minutes at a time, but it’ll be at Aston’s house with the rest of the team.
McGee-Stafford has given her former teammates tips to prepare. She knows how important the draft can be.
“I talked to Imani today,” Atkins said on Tuesday. “She was just saying ‘enjoy the moment,’ because it literally does not come again. So don’t overlook it and don’t feel like it’s something that’s just supposed to happen. Because it’s not. It’s something that you’ve worked for. And to absolutely enjoy it.”
The 2018 WNBA Draft begins Thursday at 6 p.m. in New York City.