April 16, 2015 8:59:20 AM
STARKVILLE -- Martha Alwal still can't grasp the enormity of her situation.
Four years ago, Alwal was a shy, 6-foot-4 center then-Mississippi State women's basketball coach Sharon Fanning-Otis "found" and offered a scholarship to leave Worthington, Minnesota, to come to Starkville to play basketball in the Southeastern Conference.
On Wednesday night, Alwal showed off a new hairstyle for the MSU women's basketball program's Hail State Hoops Award Banquet at Mize Pavilion. The hairdo easily could have been arranged to make sure Alwal was ready for an even bigger occasion tonight: the WNBA draft. The event, which will be broadcast at 7 tonight on ESPN2, will be the next step for 36 players who hope to pursue a professional career.
Alwal and senior guard Kendra Grant are MSU's most likely players to get selected tonight or to receive an invitation to attend a tryout for a WNBA team.
For Alwal, who averaged 9.5 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds in 28 games (13 starts) this past season, tonight can't come fast enough because she has been anxiously waiting to find out which team is going to draft her so she can set her travel schedule.
"I am just so shocked and in awe of everything," Alwal said. "I don't know how I really feel right now, but it is a good feeling."
Alwal said her agent, Tom Cross, of The Cound Group, has told her he would be "surprised" if she didn't get selected in the three-round draft. At WNBA.com, Alwal is projected to go to the Chicago Sky with the No. 22 overall pick (second round). Another mock draft on swishappeal.com lists Alwal as a possible second-round or low first-round pick.
Alwal said Cross has talked to general managers and representatives from WNBA teams. The Cound Group, a sports management and marketing agency, also represents Danielle Adams, a player MSU coach Vic Schaefer coached at Texas A&M. Adams is a four-year veteran of the San Antonio Silver Stars.
Alwal finished her MSU career ninth in scoring (1,328 points), second in rebounding (1,010), and first in blocked shots (328). Back surgery limited Alwal at the start of this past season, but she emerged in the second half and played a key role in helping MSU (27-7) set program records for overall wins and victories in the Southeastern Conference (11).
"She will have to prove herself," Schaefer said. "Once she gets drafted, she will have to go in there and compete against other veterans and show she can score and defend. I think the defending part will be the easiest part for her and the scoring part will be the hardest. She will probably have to prove herself against somebody who has been in the league."
Alwal was a second-team All-SEC and All-Defensive Team selection this past season. She earned first-team All-SEC honors and co-Defensive Player of the year honors as a junior. She became the second player in SEC history to lead the conference in blocks all four years while joining two other players in league annals to record 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, and 300 blocks.
"Being able to prove myself here will help me prepare for the WNBA or overseas, wherever I end up," Alwal said. "
Alwal said she hopes to receive an invitation to a WNBA training camp if she isn't drafted tonight. If neither option pans out, Alwal said she would like to play overseas because she wants to travel the world. She isn't sure where she might play, but she hopes to end up in Spain.
Schaefer feels Alwal has a strong shot to be selected. He said Alwal's credentials stand out because she was in the SEC, which is one of the best conferences in the nation.
Schaefer also feels Grant, a 5-11 guard, has a chance to stick with a WNBA team or to play overseas because she can shoot the basketball. The Richland native finished her career at MSU 14th in scoring with 1,156 points. This past season, she eclipsed 100 made 3-pointers with 108, eighth-most in program annals.
Grant said she has talked to Schaefer about what might be her best options. She said she has been working out with Alwal several days a week to stay in shape for training camps or tryouts. She said she is in the process of securing representation to help her find a team or a place to play.
"My jump shot is my biggest thing," Grant said. "I remember back when coach Schaefer kind of switched my shot up a bit. That let me know I had some work to do. Now I am just trying to go with it."
Grant's field goal percentage improved every season at MSU. She shot 39 percent last season and averaged 11.4 ppg. This season, she shot 42.9 percent from the field and averaged 11.3 minutes.
Grant hopes she can make an even bigger improvement after she graduates because she will have the time to focus on basketball.
"I have my fingers crossed (that she will be picked today)," Grant said. "If not, we will move forward with it."
Schaefer said it is a matter of finding the right fit for Grant and having her go in and make shots to help her back up a first impression.
"What both of them will realize is all of the veterans will have the edge and it will hard for the newbie to break in because all the coaches seem to lean toward bringing a veteran back instead of going to get a newbie," Schaefer said. "They like that experience."
Alwal said she won't attend the WNBA draft at Mohegan Sun, a casino in Uncasville, Connecticut. She said it remains difficult to believe how much she has changed and grown as a player and as a young women in her time at MSU.
"I think I have just gotten more comfortable," Alwal said. "If you wouldn't know me, I am really, really shy and I keep to myself. But when I am with my teammates, they bring my goofiness out. I am still a shy person, though, outside of basketball."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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