Ashley Earley Feverish for the WNBA

For Vanderbilt senior Ashley Earley, Saturday morning began like any other day. Get up. Eat breakfast. But before the day was over, the next phase of her life as a basketball player would begin. It was the day that the WNBA called her name.

Each year the WNBA invites the players that are expected to be drafted in the first round to Draft Day festivities in New York. The rest of the hopefuls are scattered around the country, watching the draft on television or following along on the Internet, on their college campuses or home with their families. Earley was in the latter group.

"My parents came up to Nashville," she said on Monday. "We went downtown to Bailey's to watch it down there. ESPN2 had the first round, but the second and third rounds were on NBA-TV, so we went down there where we could watch it."

According to Earley, the first two rounds went by pretty quickly.

"Then there was a big gap between the rounds, then when they came back from a commercial, they popped up about eight names," she said. "My name was one of them. It took a minute for me to actually realize what had happened."

What had happened is that she had been drafted by the Indiana Fever as their third pick in the 2005 WNBA Draft, the 29th overall selection. Earley's selection meant that in three of the last four drafts, a Vanderbilt player has been drafted by Indiana.

In 2002, the Fever drafted Zuzi Klimesova and Jillian Danker, and in 2003 they drafted Ashley McElhiney. In addition, Jenni Benningfield, who was drafted by the Charlotte Sting in the 2004 draft and later released, signed with the Fever as a free agent.

"I guess they love Vandy girls," Earley said with a laugh. On a more serious note, she added, "Jenni and I play well together, so that's a positive. Anytime you play with your friends, you work harder and push each other to get better."

Benningfield, who has just completed a season of professional basketball in Spain and will be returning to the United States this week, was thinking along the same lines when she heard that Earley would be joining her in the Fever's training camp.

"I'm very proud of Ashley, and this is an opportunity that she deserves," Benningfield wrote in an email from Spain. "Although we might be competing against each other for a spot, I'm also looking forward to being on the same court with her again. She is an incredible player, and I know that we will compete and make each other better."

With the excitement of Draft Day behind her, Earley has a hectic week ahead of her.

First, there's the matter of finishing up her schoolwork for the semester. Because of training camp, Earley may not be able to walk in the graduation ceremony in May, but she will be graduating on schedule.

"I've been working with the professors for a few weeks now, and I'm pretty much settled," she said. "I had to work out a few things and will have to fax some things, but everything's pretty much in place."

On Thursday, she'll fly to Chicago for the WNBA's Rookie Orientation where the 2005 draft class will attend seminars on a gamut of topics, from finance to nutrition. Then on Sunday, she'll go to Indianapolis to begin training camp with her new team.


Ashley Earley (AP Photo/James Crisp)

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