April 9, 2010 11:32:00 AM
Dreams came true Thursday for three Mississippi State women''s basketball players and the University of Mississippi''s Bianca Thomas.
Now Armelie Lumanu, Chanel Mokango and Alexis Rack, of Mississippi State, and Thomas are faced with the hard part: Making the most of their opportunities.
Things likely will be a little easier for Mokango and Thomas, who were selected with the No. 9 and the No. 12 picks in the WNBA draft by the Atlanta Dream and Los Angeles Sparks, respectively.
The Indiana Fever used the No. 23 overall pick in the second round to draft Lumanu, while the San Antonio Silver Stars selected Rack with the No. 29 overall pick in the second round.
Mississippi State, which is coming off its first appearance in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, was one of just two programs (Oklahoma was the other) that had three players selected. It was the first time MSU had multiple players selected in one draft, and the third time a Lady Bulldog had been selected in the first round.
In 2003, LaToya Thomas, the school''s all-time leading scorer, was selected as the overall top pick, while Tan White, the No. 2 all-time leading scorer, was selected second in the 2005 draft. Many of the players will report to training camp April 25 to begin preparations for the beginning the of WNBA season May 15.
Mokango, a 6-foot-5 center, was one of 14 college players invited to Secaucus, N.J., to attend the draft. Despite the invitation, which suggested she would be selected relatively early in the draft, she said she still was surprised when she heard her name called.
"I was thinking maybe New York (with the No. 13 pick) and Washington (the No. 6 and the 14 picks)," Mokango said. "I am just going to go there and work hard and play the way I play. I think the dream is coming true. I just have to work hard to make it really, really, really come true. I know I have a long way to go, so I just have to work hard so I can do good."
On an Internet chat shortly after she was drafted, Mokango said she had "one dream," which was to finish school and to get a degree." She also said she wanted to "play hard and do my best in college and go to a Division I school and do what I can do make it as a pro."
She said she planned to lift weights, to run, and to shoot so she will be ready April 25 when she has to report to training camp. She said she plans to take her final exams early so she will be able to focus on basketball, and then will return to Starkville for graduation.
Mokango, who is from Kinshasa, Congo, transferred with Lumanu and Rima Kalonda from Southeastern Illinois College to MSU. She averaged 11 points and 6.5 rebounds a game, was named to the Southeastern Conference All-Defensive Team both seasons and set a school record for blocked shots in a career and in a season.
Mokango improved her draft stock with three solid games in the NCAA tournament. She helped hold Alysha Clark, the nation''s leading scorer at 28.3 points per game, to 17 points and scored 20 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in a 68-64 victory against Middle Tennessee State. She had 19 points in an 87-67 upset of All-America center Jantel Lavender and Ohio State.
Mokango also had 20 points, nine rebounds, and four blocked shots in a 74-71 loss to Jacinta Monroe and Florida State in the Sweet 16. Monroe, who was selected by the Mystics with the No. 6 pick, had 11 points, eight rebounds, and five blocks.
Thomas, who led the SEC in scoring this season (20.9 ppg.), also said she was surprised by her selection.
"I didn''t have a clue they were going to pick me," Thomas said. "It was surprising to get the phone call and to hear my name. It is a dream come true."
Thomas was at a friend''s house watching the draft. She was en route to Jackson to be a part of the ceremony to announce the winners of the Howell Trophy and the Gillom Trophy, which recognize the state''s best college basketball players.
The only hiccup Thomas encountered when she talked to representatives from the Sparks was getting a jersey number. She wasn''t able to secure No. 45, the number she wore at Ole Miss, and had to pick about 10 different numbers until she settled on No. 20.
Thomas, a 5-10 shooting guard, knew which WNBA teams were looking for shooting guards entering the draft. She said her focus now is to do everything she can to fill that role and make the 11-player roster.
"I can''t put into words how it feels," Thomas said "Growing up as little girl, I had that dream, and now that it has happened and I have the opportunity, I have to go out and fulfill that dream. I am very excited and blessed to have the opportunity."
Thomas became the third player in school history to average more than 20 points a game for a season. She is the first Rebel since Jennifer Gillom in 1986 to lead the conference in scoring. A first-team All-SEC pick by the league coaches and the AP, Thomas finished her career sixth all-time at Ole Miss in scoring with 1,511 points.
Lumanu and Rack had their dreams realized a little later in the afternoon.
Lumanu, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and a second-team All-SEC pick, was MSU''s second-leading scorer (12.4 ppg.). She also was second on the team in rebounding (7.1) and assists (129), and first in steals (87). The 5-9 guard played every position except center this season.
Rack, a 5-7 guard, played point and shooting guard. She paced the Lady Bulldogs in scoring (17.5 ppg.) and led the team with 108 3-pointers and 154 assists. She was second on the team in steals (71).
For her career, Rack, a first-team All-SEC pick by the league coaches and a second-team pick by the Associated Press this season, finished as the program''s No. 3 all-time leading scorer with 1,756 points. She owns the program and SEC record for most 3-pointers made in a career (340) and in a season (108).
"It is definitely a great feeling. It hasn''t settled in yet," Rack said. "It feels good. It is just about a dream come true. When I started out playing I wanted to reach the highest goal. I have not reached it, but I have an opportunity to reach it. I am grateful to have the opportunity."
Rack said she doesn''t know much about the Silver Stars. She said she plans to give it her "best shot" and won''t hold anything back in training camp. She said she plans to take her final exams earlier so she can concentrate on basketball when it comes time to report for training camp April 25.
The selection was the first good news Rack received Thursday. Later in the day, she received the Gillom Trophy in honor of being the state''s top women''s college basketball player. MSU''s Jarvis Varnado received the Howell Award in recognition of being the state''s top men''s player. It is the second consecutive year Rack and Varnado have won the awards.
"That is a great honor and another blessing," Rack said.
MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis used the word "blessing" to praise the accomplishments of her team and Lumanu, Mokango, and Rack. She said the team continued to work hard and wanted to improve every day, which helped it make history. Individually, she said Lumanu, Mokango, and Rack helped set the tone with solid play and leadership.
"I am so proud for them because this is something all three really wanted," Fanning-Otis said. "It is a reflection of how hard they worked and what they did for their team, and now it is coming back back to them individually."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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