Smith, Thorburn taken in first round of WNBA Draft

Shona Thorburn is on her way north, while her longtime teammate is headed to a defending national champion.

Ute hoopsters Thorburn and Kim Smith became the first two Utes ever selected in the WNBA Draft on April 5, as Thorburn was picked No. 7 overall by the Minnesota Lynx.

“I think I’m still in shock. It’s a little surreal right now. I’m just so excited,” Thorburn said. “I thought it was a possible chance that I would go early, but I was up against some other very good point guards in Nikki Blue, Megan Duffy, Erin Grant. So you really don’t know until your name’s called.”

Smith wasn’t far behind, getting snagged by the 2005 champion Sacramento Monarchs at No. 13 overall.

“It is a pretty unbelievable feeling. I was just sitting there, almost not expecting to hear my name called. But when they did call my name, it was just an amazing feeling,” Smith said. “I like to win, and I’m going to a team that wins. That’s nice.”

Both players were on hand at the Boston Convention Center, along with U head coach Elaine Elliott, to hear their names called and shake hands with league president Donna Orender.

Thorburn was the first true point guard selected in a draft that was deep at the position. The Lynx, whose head coach, Suzie McConnell, is a former star point guard at Penn State and for the WNBA’s Cleveland Rockers, were looking for a player who could push the ball up the floor and create her own shot, and the versatile Thorburn fit the bill.

The 5-foot-10-inch Canadian product was second in the nation in assists last season, but really made a name for herself in this year’s NCAA Tournament, where she carried the Utes on her back on their way to the Elite Eight.

“In all honestly, we were at one of her games looking at one of her opponents and noticed her,” McConnell said. “We liked a lot of things about her-her toughness, her ability to create, she can get into the paint at will, she creates for her teammates and she rebounds very well,” McConnell said.

Thorburn averaged 16.3 points and 7.0 assists per contest during the tourney, including a 21-point, eight-assist, seven-rebound effort in the first round, where she led the Utes back from a 15-point second-half deficit to claim a victory of Middle Tennessee State.

“Late in the game, when the game is on the line, she plays with a sense of urgency and has the ability to put a team on her shoulders,” McConnell said.

Thorburn’s Utah teammate, Kim Smith, heads to Sacramento, last year’s WNBA champs. The four-time MWC Player of the Year is expected to play small forward in the pros but, like Thorburn, was a highly touted prospect because of her versatility. Over her four-year career, she was one of the best scorers and rebounding players in the Mountain West Conference, and in pre-draft analysis WNBA scouts commented on her ability to create, in addition to her talents in the post.

“Throughout her four-year college career, Kim has had a great shooting percentage from the floor and the line,” Sacramento head coach/general manager John Whisenant said. “We think she can learn our defensive style and be an excellent team player.”

Now that she’s in the pros, Smith joins a Sacramento squad that will be looking to repeat as WNBA champions this fall. What Smith brings is a much-needed perimeter threat, as well as yet another scorer for what was the fourth-highest scoring team in the league last year.

“It seems like a great fit for me, with their team and style of play. I think I’ll fit in really well,” Smith said.

Thorburn, however, may have a better chance at earning extensive playing time right away. She joins a Minnesota group that finished just 14-20 last season.

“I really think I’m going to a team that I can contribute to, learn a lot from and just have a good time and win some basketball games,” Thorburn said.

Joining her on the 2006 squad is No. 1 overall pick Seimone Augustus as well as Thorburn’s former BYU rival, Ambrosia Anderson, who was picked up in a draft-day trade after being originally selected by the Detroit Shock.

“We expect (Shona) to contribute. The No. 7 pick isn’t always guaranteed to be a starter in this league. Nothing at this level is guaranteed for anybody. We do expect Shona to come in and contribute,” McConnell said. “From here on out, it is up to her. We don’t have a starting point guard returning, so she will have every opportunity to earn a spot from the beginning.”

The WNBA’s regular season begins in late May, and there are a few dates Thorburn and Smith will surely have marked on their calendars as they begin their careers at the next level. The Lynx and Monarchs will meet each other three times during the upcoming season, with the first meeting between the now-former Ute teammates set for June 29 in Sacramento.