Eugene, Ore. -- Kelly Graves couldn't drive back from Black Butte ranch to Eugene on WNBA Draft night. He was as nervous as anyone even though he knew it would be a great night for his former athletes. And it was. Sabrina Ionescu was taken first overall, the first Oregon athlete in any sport to be selected at the top of a professional sports draft since Dave Roberts in 1972. Ionescu also signed with Nike, the richest deal a women's basketball player has ever signed, and a strong possibility of a signature shoe down the line. Satou Sabally went second overall to the Dallas Wings, joining NBA hall-of-famer Dirk Nowitzki as another German pro player in the Metroplex.
What surprised many fans was what happened at pick number eight where the Chicago Sky selected Ruthy Hebard one pick before the New York Liberty. That, of course, spoiled Duck fans dreams of seeing the Sabrina-Ruthy pick-n-roll that had tormented Pac-12 teams for four years head to the WNBA. But Graves, sitting up in Black Butte, wasn't surprised. In fact, he'd had a feeling for a few weeks after one of his former Gonzaga stars, Courtney Vandersloot, came calling.
"[Vandersloot] was lobbying her general manager who is also her coach both in Chicago and her team in Russia," Graves explained over the weekend. "So they're pretty close. [Vandersloot] is the best point guard in the WNBA so I think she has a little pull. She assured me a couple of days ago that Ruthy wasn't going past 8. Even when the Liberty made the trade she said 'Kelly, [Ruthy]'s not going past 8.'"
The Ducks three selections in the top eight of the WNBA Draft is the most picks from one team since UConn had three players taken with the top three spots in the 2016 draft. Sabally in particular, who skyrocketed up draft boards as a junior this past season, drew praise from pro scouts, coaches and media who believe she could be the best player along with Ionescu when all is said and done. But it's what Sabally plans to do off the court, and how she plans on branding herself as a pro athlete, that has Graves impressed.
"She is the whole package," Graves said. "She is the most interesting player I've coached and I don't just mean as a player. It's off the court where I really think she is a transcendant kind of player. She is super intelligent. She is just book super smart. But she is very socially aware. She is not afraid to opine on social injustices that she sees around the world and in our borders."
"I think she has a unique perspective from around the world being from Berlin. I tell her all the time I wouldn't be surprised if some day she took over for Chancellor [Angela] Merkel to be the Chancellor of Germany. She's got that potential. I'm really happy for her and I think she's got big things in store."
The only Oregon member of the 2020 senior class that was not selected in the draft was Minyon Moore, who transferred from USC before the start of last season. With Moore in the backcourt aside her old AAU teammate Ionescu, Moore helped the Ducks transform into a more stout defensive unit while giving up a large amount of touches in the offensive end. While she wasn't selected by a team, Graves did mention that she has more options other than basketball on the table, including a prestigious internship with Jordan brand.
"She was gonna be set to go back to Chicago and I think she kind of wants to move on with her life," mentioned Graves. "Hopefully someone gives her a chance, I think Chicago will. I actually talked to them, they'll probably invite her to their camp. She's such a sharp person. She was a big part of what we did, whether she got drafted or not she was a big part of what we did this year."
With the 2020 class moving on to bigger and better things, attention now shifts to the next class of athletes, all five of whom were ranked in the ESPNW Top 25 on National Signing Day.
"These guys just got us started," Graves says of the 2020 graduates. "This group we have coming in, on paper, when you look at the accolades and rankings and all that is, on paper, much better than the class that just left us. So there's I think great things in the works but I think we also have the kinds of players that want to be a professional basketball player."