SEATTLE — It was the type of day that can turn a franchise around and its fans seemed to know it.
After the Seattle Storm missed the playoffs for the first time in a decade, several hundred fans packed Art Marble 21 restaurant and bar in downtown Seattle for the team’s 2015 WNBA draft party on Thursday.
The mood more closely resembled a fanbase of a franchise that had championship aspirations — not one coming off a 12-22 season.
Perhaps that had something to do with the Storm’s draft position. Seattle had two of the top three picks in Thursday’s draft, including the No. 1 overall selection. Seattle used that pick to select Notre Dame’s Jewell Loyd. Two picks later with the No. 3 overall selection, the Storm selected Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis from the University of Connecticut.
“We’re very excited about the players that we brought in,” first-year Storm head coach Jenny Boucek said. “We feel like they’re all really good players, but also fit our culture well. We’re excited to bring them in and see how they do.”
Both selections were a hit with the Storm fans at the party.
“I’m sensing a lot of unity and a lot of excitement about the future,” Storm president and general manager Alisha Valavanis said. “I think Jewell Loyd and Mosqueda-Lewis, these are pieces that are critical as you move forward. I think our fanbase — we have such a wonderful fanbase — and I think they’re excited about that.”
Loyd helped lead the Fighting Irish to the NCAA championship game the past two seasons — falling both times to UConn and Mosqueda-Lewis. Loyd averaged 19.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per game this season. For her career, she averaged 17 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.
A little over a week ago, the Storm didn’t even know Loyd would be available. As a junior, she had to forego her final year of college to enter the draft.
“I think we felt like that was a gift that was given to our city and given to our franchise,” Boucek said. “She’s got the potential to be a really good player in our league. We were just really grateful that she made that decision.”
In order to declare for early entry, the player must turn 22-years-old in the year of the draft.
The decision to leave school early isn’t one seen often in the WNBA, but it was the second of its kind leading up to this year’s draft. Minnesota’s Amanda Zahui B. announced she would enter the draft a day before Loyd. Many WNBA insiders expected Zahui B. to be the No. 1 overall selection until Loyd’s announcement.
For the past week, it wasn’t clear who the Storm would take with the top pick, but it was widely anticipated that it would be one of the two players.
“Going in, maybe three weeks ago, we were still excited about the talent in the draft,” Valavanis said. “We still thought there was an opportunity for us to add some pieces, but then things changed. With both Zahui and Loyd coming in it was really exciting and I think we’re really, really excited at where we landed.”
Before Zahui B. and Loyd entered the draft, Mosqueda-Lewis was widely expected to be the top selection. With two of the top three picks, the Storm knew they were going to get two of the three barring a trade.
“It was exciting that the (number) one pick was effectively at (number) three after the two players entered, in terms of the front-runner for it, but it was without question an open space for phone calls and conversations with other GMs,” Valavanis said. “I wanted to see where we would have the most value and tonight we landed on K.M.L.”
Mosqueda-Lewis averaged 14.9 points and 4.2 rebounds per game this past season, while helping the Huskies win their third straight national championship. She is the NCAA’s all-time leader in 3-pointers made with 398.
The Storm acquired the third pick and guard Renee Montgomery in January by sending forwards Camille Little and Shekinna Stricklen to the Connecticut Sun.
The Storm also held the eighth pick in the second round (No. 20 overall), which they used to select Vicky McIntyre from Oral Roberts and the second pick in the third round (No. 26 overall), which they used to pick Texas forward Nneka Enemkpali.
Enemkpali’s senior season with the Longhorns came to an end in January when she suffered a torn ACL in her left knee in a game against Baylor.
The Storm have yet to fill two spots on their roster, but after Thursday’s draft the roster is starting to take shape. One question remains the health of former WNBA Most Valuable Player Lauren Jackson. Jackson hasn’t played since the 2012 season, missing the past two seasons due to various injuries.
Jackson is currently rehabbing from her most recent setback.
“We are in on-going conversations with her,” Valavanis said. “It has been our priority for her to focus on her health and she is in that process of rehab and recovery. We really don’t have any more information on it yet.”
Aaron Lommers covers the Seattle Storm for The Herald. Follow him on Twitter at @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.