After significantly upgrading their roster during free agency, the Washington Mystics had the luxury on WNBA draft night of selecting the best fit for their projected up-tempo attack rather than picking for need.
The result? General Manager and Coach Mike Thibault stayed local, choosing Maryland guard-forward Shatori Walker-Kimbrough with the No. 6 pick in the first round Thursday night.
Two picks later, center Brionna Jones, Walker-Kimbrough’s teammate for four years in College Park, went to the Connecticut Sun. It was the second time two Maryland players went in the top eight. The first instance came in 2009, with Marissa Coleman and Kristi Toliver going Nos. 2 and 3, respectively.
University of Washington guard Kelsey Plum, as expected, went No. 1 overall to the San Antonio Stars. Plum finished as the all-time scoring leader in major women’s college basketball and set the single-season Division I record for points as a senior.
“I’m on cloud nine right now,” an emotional Walker-Kimbrough said in a video conference call from the draft site in New York City. “All the support I’ve had at Maryland means the world to me. From this point on I’m just trying to represent Maryland in the best way possible.”
Walker-Kimbrough, listed at 5 feet 11, provides the Mystics with a wing player who’s an efficient three-point shooter and can create her own shot by slashing to the basket. She also developed as a defender for the Terps, finishing tied for first this past season in steals, frequently getting into passing lanes for deflections that led to uncontested layups.
The fourth-leading scorer in Maryland history finished as the school’s all-time leader in three-point field goal percentage and led Division I as a junior at 55 percent.
“You’re talking about a kid that every year has come in and gotten better in some phase of her game,” Thibault said. “By the time she was a junior, she had made herself into the top three-point shooter in the country. This year she tried to improve her individual defense, and we feel like we can have her defend both guard spots and against some small forwards.”
Walker-Kimbrough initially is forecast to serve as a backup to starting off-guard Tayler Hill, providing another three-point threat off the bench for a team that has three of the league’s top four three-point shooters based on percentage from this past season.
Included in that group is prized acquisition Elena Delle Donne, the 2015 MVP who shot 42.6 percent last season from beyond the arc for the third highest percentage in the league.
Washington forward Emma Meesseman led the WNBA last season in three-point shooting percentage (44.8), and Toliver was fourth (42.4). Toliver signed as an unrestricted free agent soon after Delle Donne, transforming the Mystics into a contender in a matter of days.
“All those people we have now can do different things,” Thibault said. Walker-Kimbrough “gives us kind of almost the same speed and quickness that Tayler gives us, and she’s as consistent a jump-shot shooter as anybody in this draft I think.”
Walker-Kimbrough joins a team with two Maryland players on the roster, most notably Toliver. The WNBA all-star was part of the Terrapins’ national championship team in 2006, hitting a memorable last-second shot against Duke to force overtime in Maryland’s 78-75 victory over its heated rival at Boston’s TD Garden.
Also on the Mystics is former Maryland standout Tianna Hawkins, who re-signed this offseason. Hawkins ranks second in career rebounds at Maryland.
Jones, meanwhile, also is headed to a club with a Maryland presence. Originally picked No. 4 overall in 2014 by the New York Liberty, Alyssa Thomas went to the Sun in a draft-day trade. Thomas is the Terrapins’ all-time leader in points and rebounds and played with Jones during Jones’s freshman year.
Former Maryland forward-center Lynetta Kizer also plays for Connecticut.
Jones is third all-time at Maryland in rebounding and this past season scored 42 points during an 89-83 win against Penn State, matching Coleman’s school record for single-game scoring.
“I’m just really excited,” Jones said. “I know Alyssa Thomas is there and Lynetta Kizer. I’m looking forward to playing with them.”
In the second round (18th overall), Washington selected Old Dominion guard Jennie Simms, who was second in the country in scoring (26 points per game) this past season behind Plum. Simms (Riverdale Baptist High) was named Conference USA player of the year.
Washington’s final pick, No. 27 overall, was Wisconsin Green Bay forward Mehryn Kraker.