After an accolade-filled two-year career at UCSB, senior forward Mekia Valentine’s dominance on the court has captured the attention of the WNBA. The New York Liberty drafted Valentine in the third round with the 34th overall pick, making Valentine the first Gaucho drafted since Kristen Mann in 2005.
“I’m so happy; I don’t even know what to do with myself,” Valentine said. “My mind is kind of all over the place right now. This is the best moment in my life thus far ever.”
Valentine transferred to UCSB in 2008 after two seasons at Wake Forest near her hometown of Greensboro, North Carolina.
“A whirlwind of events happened very fast,” Valentine said. “The season just ended, a week later after the season ended I was in pro-camp, then a week later I’m on ESPN getting drafted.”
This season, Valentine averaged 11.1 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks per game, becoming the first Gaucho to average a double-double in a season since Erika Kienast accomplished the feat in 1991-92.
“Getting drafted into the WNBA is the epitome of our sport right now,” Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb said to UCSB Athletics. “There are very few spots and Mekia being sought out speaks to the qualities about her ability and her character and it shines a light on our program, which makes me very proud.”
Recognized for her size, Valentine used her 6’4” frame and athleticism to finish eighth in the nation in rebounds per game and third in blocks, while earning Big West Defensive Player of the Year and posting the only triple-double in school history.
New York finished the season tied for first in the Eastern Conference last season before losing in the semifinals.
“We got exactly what we wanted in the draft today — quick, defensive-minded, athletic players that will serve as great complements to our already strong base of talented veterans,” said Head Coach and General Manager John Whisenant to wnba.com.
Whisenant and Valentine seem to be on the same page.
“I need to come in, rebound, and play defense, which is really what I keyed in on this season,” Valentine said.
After losing their leading rebounder via free agency, Valentine’s rebounding abilities fit the Liberty’s needs. She begins practicing with her new team in less than two weeks.
“It is kind of coincidental that it all fell into place and I’m really excited to be kind of going back closer to home,” Valentine said. “I’m so excited for the chance for my family to see me play again.”
Valentine — a history major who is one quarter from graduating — will complete her degree requirements while in New York.
“I am definitely graduating,” Valentine said. “That is really important to me and it has always been very important to me. You always have to have a backup plan and I think that’s an important one to accomplish.”