Five starters drafted by WNBA

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – All five Tennessee seniors went from a national championship Tuesday night to being drafted by the WNBA – Candace Parker went No. 1 to the Los Angeles Sparks – on Wednesday afternoon. The three Lady Vols who attended the draft arrived together for one last time as teammates.

The Lady Vol players stayed up through the wee hours of Wednesday – they officially accepted the NCAA/WBCA national title trophy in a hotel ballroom at 1 a.m. and celebrated later among themselves – and then attended a 9 a.m. press conference with writers who somehow had more questions.

"There wasn't curfew and I got about an hour and a half of sleep," Alexis Hornbuckle said. "I am struggling to keep my eyes open right now. We were just all sentimental last night. Having fun, dancing, singing, rapping. We were having fun. Getting a little emotional saying how much we're going to miss each other."

The coaches, staff and most of the team returned Wednesday afternoon to Knoxville, where a celebration was held with the hometown fans at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Candace Parker, Nicky Anosike and Hornbuckle stayed in Florida for the WNBA draft, where they were joined by their families at the Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club, a sprawling upscale complex about 20 miles northeast of Tampa.

The three players arrived together in their finest draft attire – Parker in a white and lilac suit, Anosike in a black dress and Hornbuckle in a taupe suit with dress shorts and high heels. They had been in orange Lady Vol sweats just a few hours earlier.

"It couldn't have been any better," Parker said. "I think we were riding over in the car and realizing that was the last time that we were going to ‘play' with one another but also that we were opening up a new chapter in our lives.

"We were talking on the way over here when their team comes to town us going to dinner and always keeping in touch. We all have another excuse to go back to Knoxville now because we've got to raise another banner. We're going to be friends for life."

Tennessee, led by five seniors in the starting lineup, defeated Stanford, 64-48, on Tuesday at The St. Pete Forum, to claim back-to-back titles and the program's eighth national championship.

While Parker was talking to the media – reps from Knoxville, Nashville and Chattanooga stayed in Tampa to cover the draft – the announcement came that Hornbuckle had been taken with the fourth pick by the Detroit Shock.

"Oh, great! Wow," Parker said.

The drafted players went through a gauntlet of media and promotional events as soon as their names were called and they had posed for a photo with WNBA President Donna Orender.

"Ladies, this is the next big step in your illustrious basketball careers," Orender told the players just seconds before the draft officially started.

The three Tennessee players on location – Anosike was taken at the No. 16 spot by the Minnesota Lynx – all looked rather bleary-eyed but adrenaline kept them moving from place to place within the building as they fulfilled media and league duties.

Shannon Bobbitt, the first pick of the second round, was taken at No. 15 by the Sparks and will join Parker in Los Angeles. Alberta Auguste was taken in the third round at the No. 35 spot by the N.Y. Liberty.

The Lady Vols have now had 24 players drafted, the most of any school, since the WNBA began play in 1997. Connecticut is next with 20, followed by Stanford with 17.

"I just want to say that these last 15 or so hours have been amazing," Parker said. "To win a national championship and then switch gears and come and be at the WNBA draft surrounded with my peers that I've played with ever since I was in junior high school has been amazing, and I just am really, really blessed and I want to give all the glory to God because I wouldn't be here without him."

Parker will join Lisa Leslie, a stalwart of women's basketball on the college, pro and Olympic level. Leslie is returning to the team after missing last summer to give birth, and the Sparks immediately paired them in a marketing campaign with a she's back and she's here slogan.

"Lisa Leslie has been one of my idols ever since I was younger watching the USA teams growing up and watching her win championships with Los Angeles," Parker said. "I've never had the opportunity to play alongside of her yet as a result of her pregnancy and her not being able to come on the USA trip, but I'm really looking forward to it. She's a great role model and I'm just looking to take in whatever she tells me."

Former Lady Vol Sidney Spencer, a forward for the Sparks, was at Innisbrook to lend support to the league at the draft, and bubbled with excitement over both Parker and Bobbitt heading west.

"When they said Shannon, I was like, "LA, Tennessee, Lady Vols.' It's really exciting," Spencer said. "Shannon can knock down that three ball. Shannon can get the ball to the bigger players, and we've got Lisa and Candace now. She knows how to get the ball inside the post. Temeka Johnson is probably going to take her under her wing and really show her the ropes."

Bobbitt was among those who could have participated in the draft, but she opted to return to Knoxville, according to Hornbuckle.

"She was ready to get back and do some schoolwork," Hornbuckle said, since the team has been on the road for most of the past three weeks, making it much harder to keep up with the student part of student-athlete.

Despite the fancy trappings and the pro environment, the players have to finish school this month and will be back in class as soon as possible.

"It's a great opportunity to be here," Hornbuckle said. "I'm glad I came, but it's been very draining this tournament run as a whole and the last 24, 48 hours in general just crazy."

Hornbuckle is still sorting through what happened in Tampa – she won a national title and became a professional basketball – and how much her life is about to change.

"It has not processed completely," Hornbuckle said. "Bits and pieces when things happened when the buzzer hit zero, zero, zero. Today hearing my name. I think my mom got more excited than I did because it didn't really hit me. I just wanted to go in the top 10 and to go in the top five, really excited."

Three of the first four players drafted played in the SEC – Parker, Sylvia Fowles (Chicago Sky) and Hornbuckle. The third player picked was Candice Wiggins of Stanford, who was taken by Minnesota.

Parker looked both relieved and a little surprised when she heard her name announced first.

"Anything nowadays does not surprise me so I was like, ‘OK, I'm not going to believe I'm a L.A. Spark until they say my name,' " Parker said. "And when she (Orender) said my name, first she said Candace and I was like, ‘OK, there's Candice Wiggins. I'm not there yet,' and then I heard Parker and I was just really, really, really excited."

Parker was stylish in dress but wiped out as she met the media on little sleep and a whirlwind of activity since the buzzer sounded on her collegiate season Tuesday. She has spent the past week rehabbing her injured left shoulder, a situation that left her little time to rest. She also reevaluated her decision to leave a fifth year of college eligibility behind.

"It's been really hard," Parker said. "Obviously I've wavered. I think everybody wavers on decisions all the time, especially when you're in the moment and there's orange surrounding you and people are begging you and telling you one more year. But I gave my word and I just felt like it was time for me to leave, and we left on top.

"I feel like living in the moment is how I've been able to balance everything and stay with my head above water because it's been a tough couple of hours. I want to apologize to my family because I've been kind of stressed."

Hornbuckle had to put her mother, Quan Hornbuckle, to work Wednesday morning to find an outfit. Hornbuckle's usual attire is casual but her draft look was styling.

"It's not hard to get me dressed up if it's for a good occasion," Hornbuckle said. "I like to look cute. I was going to go to the mall, but I didn't have time. I relied on (mother), and she came through. I already had the shoes. I told her just match something with brown. I had the shirt. I needed something to go over the top."

"Lex likes to strut in heels more than people know," Anosike said. "She works it in the heels. I see her at least a few times a month rockin' the heels so it's really not that big of a deal."

"I love you Nicky," Hornbuckle said.

Hornbuckle welcomed the last day of doing something with Parker and Anosike as a team. Their obligations to finish school and join their pro teams will pull them apart after Wednesday.

"It's amazing just knowing that last night wasn't the end of me seeing them," Hornbuckle said. "Obviously we still have school to finish but just to come over and be able to experience that with my teammates was great. I hugged Nick before I went up to the podium just like I was hugging my family, and it's just great to see her here and Candace here as well."

Anosike wished that her roommate could have been at Innisbrook to share the moment.

"All the work we put in and now it's paying off and we get to go to the next level," Anosike said. "I'm just sad that Shannon couldn't be here with us because I would have loved to see her walk up on stage and receive that jersey. I would have liked to have spent one more event with her. I think it's great that we're all going and we're all going to be successful at the next level.

"I think Shannon (was) definitely watching, and I think the L.A. Sparks are going to be become the University of Tennessee Lady Vols so I'm excited."

Hornbuckle heard about Bobbitt's selection and quietly celebrated as she participated in a promotional event.

"I was clapping for her," Hornbuckle said. "People were on the phone so I couldn't really scream. I was excited for her to go to L.A. I think it's a great opportunity being there with Temeka Johnson. She's a great point guard. I think she'll learn a lot from her. I'm anxious to see Shannon playing at that next level."

Parker and Hornbuckle were taken quickly, but Anosike had to wait until Minnesota, reportedly thrilled that she was still available when they made their second pick after Wiggins, called her name.

"It kind of felt like the selection show just sitting there waiting," Anosike said. "It was nerve-wracking trying to figure out where I would be spending the rest of my career. I didn't really care where I went. I just want to be happy wherever I go. "I'm feeling a little tired, but I'm upbeat. The adrenaline is rushing. I'm excited to look up the team and see who's on the roster."

The high school class of 2004 became the college class of 2008, and this draft was regarded as deep and talented.

"I think our class, the '04 class in general, can make an impact on the league," Hornbuckle said. "They've done so much for the collegiate game as a whole. Just bringing a lot of dimensions and versatility and energy to the game. … We're bringing more of a faster pace and looking forward to the impact that we could potentially have."

The class of the class, of course, was Parker, whose unsurpassed talent on the court and marketing skills off of it have been cited as reasons why Los Angeles could entertain trade offers but would never pull the trigger.

"We know that this player was equal to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy and Magic Johnson," said Sparks Coach Michael Cooper, who played with all three as part of the "Showtime" sensation with the Lakers.

Cooper said in an ESPN interview that Parker could play the one, two, three or four spots for the Sparks. Spencer said Parker would be moved around to take advantage of her skill set that also comes with size and speed.

CP "I think she's an unbelievable player. The sky is the limit for her," Spencer said. "I think in our system she can move around. She can be at the top of the key. She can go short corner. There's no designated spot. And even when I'm the three, Coach says I can run down the middle of the floor if I think I can get a wide-open layup.

"I don't think she's going to have a position on the floor. He gives us the freedom to move around. I think it's an excellent fit."

Parker must first have her shoulder examined with a course of action determined. She sustained two dislocations in one game in the NCAA tourney but thanks to a brace and relentless rehab, the shoulder remained in place for the Final Four.

"I'm going to get in with L.A. Sparks medical staff and they're going to evaluate and I'm sure there will be some communication between Jenny Moshak and them about my shoulder," Parker said. "I'm just going into it with an open mind. I'm going to do whatever I can in my power to rehab my shoulder. I think right now it just needs rest, and we'll go from there."

Minnesota wanted a post player who could defend and rebound so Anosike also apparently got a perfect fit.

"That's my identity," Anosike said. "That's what people know me by. I've been surrounded by great players since I've been at Tennessee and I think my offensive game has kind of been in the shadows. But I think a lot of people are going to be surprised at what I can do."

Hornbuckle also seems to have landed with the right team. The Shock likes to put a body on opponents, and Hornbuckle is a scrapper. Coach Bill Laimbeer had said before the draft that he liked athletic guards that can rebound.

"I'm definitely excited for the opportunity that was presented going to Detroit," Hornbuckle said. "I haven't talked to Coach Laimbeer yet, but I've heard he's a very interesting guy. I'm ready to meet him and excited to play for Detroit.

"I like their style of play. They're up-tempo. They're very physical. I love physical. I don't shy away from it. I'm excited to play. I think it's a good fit, and I think it's going to work out well."

Hornbuckle joked that there were limits to her willingness to mix it up, specifically if she found herself squared off against Anosike.

"I'm not going down there where she's at," Hornbuckle said. "I stay away from the posts ... she might pick me up in the full court press. We're two very competitive individuals and have a lot of love for each other. Obviously now it's going to be a lot of love off the court and on the court it's all business. I know she's a tough defender and I had better be ready to take care of the ball if she's guarding me."

The fact all Tennessee five starters were among the 43 players drafted Wednesday was a source of pride for the Lady Vols.

"I think playing at Tennessee definitely prepared me for playing at the next level," Hornbuckle said. "Obviously you never know until you get there, but playing with Candace Parker and Nicky Anosike and Shannon and Bird and going against them and with them helps you get different style of plays and learning to adjust to different personalities and you'll have that with a whole new team.

"I think it speaks volumes about the talent that we brought to the team this year and our senior class how strong we are. It speaks volumes for the program and the type of play that we were able to give to collegiate basketball."

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