By GARY GRAVES, AP Sports Writer
A’dia Mathies didn’t start thinking about the WNBA until her Kentucky career began winding down. And when her Wildcats playing days ended, she didn’t dare think about what team might draft her.
Well, Mathies’ dream came true Monday night when the Los Angeles Sparks chose her with the 10th overall pick. The 5-foot-9 Louisville native joins a team that reached the Western Conference finals last year, led by all-WNBA forward and 2008 Most Valuable Player Candace Parker. With her ability to score, handle the ball and defensive prowess — skills that earned Mathies consecutive Southeastern Conference player of the year awards — she is Kentucky’s highest WNBA draft pick ever.
Mathies becomes Kentucky’s second first-rounder in the past three years, following Victoria Dunlap’s No. 11 selection in 2011.
“When you’re younger, you always write down, ‘I want to go to the WNBA,’ but when you get older you kind of forget about it,” Mathies said Tuesday of her thought process. “At least, I did. Just coming here to see how close I am to the opportunity and then seeing players that I played against in the WNBA, I feel like I can be there. I’m just glad I got selected, and I’m ready to work.”
Mathies heads to a Sparks team she said usually thought of when pondering the next level. But the uncertainty of when she’d be selected and by whom left her with an open mind as she and her family watched the draft unfold at her grandmother’s house.
Projected as an early second-round choice by some draft sites, Mathies grew more anxious late in the first round before excitement took over when her name was announced. Going to L.A. and reuniting with her brother there made it even better.
“Once they got up into (picks) seven, eight, nine, my heart starting beating fast on every single pick they was calling,” she said. “I’m just excited to get picked by L.A. … When you think about the WNBA, you automatically think of the Sparks. Just to be going there, my brother lives there, I miss him and am just very excited right now.”
Mathies is just a few weeks removed from finishing her Kentucky career as one of the Wildcats’ greatest players. Second all-time in women’s scoring with 2,014 points, she’s one of just five Wildcats to break 2,000 at Kentucky. Only Valerie Still (2,763), Hall of Famer Dan Issel (2,138), Kenny Walker (2,080) and Jack Givens (2,038) have scored more.
Mathies ranks in the top 10 on 13 lists, including No. 1 with 140 games played, 139 starts and 320 steals. This past season she led Kentucky in scoring (16.1 points per game), 3-pointers (73) and a .422 percentage from long range while ranking second in steals and assists.
Now comes the next phase of raising her game to get minutes on a Sparks roster boasting a strong, deep backcourt in all-WNBA second teamer Kristi Toliver, Alana Beard and Lindsey Harding.
Kentucky assistant athletic director Ukari Figgs believes that’s just a matter of Mathies continuing to show her versatility.
“I think A’dia’s going to be somebody that can come in and do a little bit of everything,” said Figgs, who helped the Sparks win the 2001 championship during a five-year WNBA career. “That’s what makes her special. Playing professional basketball, you have to be pretty versatile to make an 11-player roster. She can back up the point guard, she shoots well enough to play the 2 guard position and defensively she can guard an array of guards on the perimeter. She puts herself in a good position to be able do a little bit of everything.”
Not only that, Mathies must display her talents pretty quickly. Right after graduation on May 5 she heads west for the opening of training camp; Los Angeles begins the regular season May 26 against Seattle. It will be a whirlwind for sure, but with a track record of making plans come together in a hurry, Mathies is confident of following through on her dream.
“I think I can definitely help, especially playing for UK and the way we play up-tempo,” she said. “I think I can be a great asset to the team and really help them out a lot. … Right now, I’m on cloud nine.”