CHAPEL HILL, N.C.--UNC senior Nikki Teasley was traded to the Los Angeles Sparks Friday afternoon, just hours after being selected by Portland with the fifth pick of the 2002 WNBA Draft. Teasley and forward Sophia Witherspoon (Florida, '91) went to L.A. for guard Ukari Figgs (Purdue, '99) and second-round pick Gergana Slavtcheva of Florida International.
"I'm shocked but happy," Teasley said after learning of the trade. "I really like the Los Angeles staff and the fact they're the defending champions. I think they have a great chance to repeat and I'm really excited to go to L.A."
Teasley, UNC's career leader in assists and three-pointers, joins a squad that won the 2001 WNBA title. Los Angeles, led by league MVP Lisa Leslie, defeated Charlotte in the best-of-three championship series.
"Nikki Teasley is a superb athlete, one that reminds me of Magic Johnson," Sparks coach Michael Cooper said. "She is a big point guard that can not only hit the three-point shot, but she is a tough player who can pass the ball well and is a very good rebounder."
*********** CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Two University of North Carolina players were selected in the 2002 WNBA Draft on Friday, Nikki Teasley with the fifth pick by the Portland Fire and Jackie Higgins with the 32nd pick by the Los Angeles Sparks. Teasley, UNC's all-time leader in assists and three-pointers, will join Tar Heels Sylvia Crawley (UNC from 1991-94, now a Carolina assistant coach) and LaQuanda Barksdale (UNC from 1998-2001) on the Fire roster. "The first thing I thought about when Portland picked me is a Carolina reunion," Teasley said. "I'm happy to know where I'm going and it's even better to be going out there with a coach and a teammate."
Barksdale and Teasley played together for three years at Carolina and Crawley coached Teasley during the 2001-02 season. "With her passing, I know she can get the ball to me and anyone on the team who's open," said Crawley, Portland's starting center in her third year with the team. "I have my family out in Portland now. With "Q" and Nikki and Rasheed Wallace (who plays for the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers), this is the second Tar Heel town."
Along with family members and UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell, Teasley was among the crowd of top prospects watching Friday's proceedings from WNBA Draft headquarters at NBA Entertainment studios in Secaucus, N.J. She said waiting through the first four picks was the hardest part of the day. "I was just happy to hear my name called," she said. "It's really nerve-wracking to sit there. Hearing my name was a relief."
Teasley earned All-ACC Honors in 2002 when she averaged 15.2 points per game for the Tar Heels, who finished 26-9. The Washington, D.C., native became the first player to lead the ACC in assists in all four years of her career and the second conference player to earn All-ACC Tournament honors four times. Her selection at No. 5 in the WNBA Draft is the highest ever by a UNC player. The previous high was Tracy Reid, who went seventh in 1998.
"I think Portland is a great fit for Nikki," Hatchell said. "I'm really proud of her and excited both for her and for Jackie."
Higgins, who watched the draft from Chapel Hill, was surprised and pleased to be selected by Los Angeles, the defending WNBA champion. "They're a really aggressive team, which is the kind of game I like," she said. "I'm so excited, if for no other reason because they're the champions."
Higgins, a 6-1 forward/center from Durham, N.C., played for the Tar Heels in 1998-99 and 1999-2000 before leaving school to play professional basketball. She averaged 10.2 points and 8.1 rebounds for Carolina in 2000, but thinks her performance at the WNBA predraft camp last weekend was the key to her selection. "I got to play against players who are just getting out of college and see where I was against them," she said. "I felt like I could compete with them."
Higgins played for a professional team in Switzerland until the season ended in January.
UNC players in the WNBA draft
1998: Tracy Reid, seventh (Charlotte)
1999: Charlotte Smith, 33rd (Charlotte)
2000: LaQuanda Barksdale, 12th (Portland)
2000: Juana Brown, 49th (Seattle)
2002: Nikki Teasley, fifth (Portland)
2002: Jackie Higgins, 32nd (Los Angeles)
(Sylvia Crawley joined the Portland Fire as a free agent in 2000)