Most children entertain fantasies of playing professional sports when they grow up – senior Kristen Mann will get to live out that dream.
Mann became the highest Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) draft pick in UCSB history Saturday when the Minnesota Lynx selected the swingman with the 11th overall pick in the first round of the 2005 WNBA draft.
“I was very shocked because I wasn’t really expecting to go in the first round at all,” Mann said. “When they called my name, I was so excited and it was such a weird feeling. It’s weird to think that my job is to be a professional athlete.”
Invited to attend the official live draft selection presentation in Secaucus, New Jersey, Mann traveled with her parents and two younger brothers to hear her name called by WNBA President Donna Orender.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity [for my family to experience], so we kind of milked it for all it was worth,” Mann said. “My mom [especially] has been there through thick and thin this season.”
Mann was voted the 2005 Big West Player of the Year and named honorable mention to both the Kodak/WBCA and Associated Press All-American teams after averaging 19.5 points per game (17th nationally) and 9.4 rebounds per contest. In addition to collecting 1,700 points (third in school history) and 820 rebounds (seventh in school history) during her tenure at Santa Barbara, Mann also represented the United States in the FIBA World Championships for Young Women in Croatia in 2003.
Serving as Santa Barbara’s lone captain this year, Mann played a vital role in the Gauchos’ 10th consecutive Big West Conference regular season title and ninth straight trip to March Madness.
In addition to Mann’s savvy perimeter prowess and tenacious attack to the basket, Mann’s positional versatility was extremely attractive to Lynx scouts.
“[Mann] is someone who can extend the defense out to the three-point line and hopefully open it up inside for our post players,” Lynx Head Coach Suzie McConnell Serio said at a post-draft press conference. “She also gives us the versatility of being able to put her out on the perimeter, so we’re very excited about what she will bring to our team.”
The Minnesota Lynx finished the 2004 season with an 18-16 record and secured the #3 seed in the Western Conference playoffs but eventually succumbed to the 2004 WNBA champion Seattle Storm.
Mann may have the chance to play alongside former teammate and 2004 UCSB Assistant Coach April McDivitt. McDivitt, who graduated at UCSB in 2004 after transferring to Santa Barbara from the University of Tennessee, recently signed a free-agent contract with Minnesota and will try to make the Lynx’s 12-man roster next month.
“I don’t think the transition of going back to teammates will be difficult at all,” Mann said. “The transition to a player-coach relationship was a little bit rocky at first, but we got over it. I respect her so much on and off the floor.”
Mann will join a band of former Gaucho standouts to enter in the WNBA right out of college that includes 2004 selection Lindsay Taylor (Phoenix Mercury), 2002 pick Kayte Christensen (Phoenix Mercury), 2000 selections Erin Buescher (Minnesota Lynx) and Stacy Clinesmith (Sacramento Monarchs).
“[UCSB has] had so many people come out and go straight to the league, and I think we could potentially have a lot more athletes [in the league], but it’s hard to get recognition,” Mann said. “[As a West Coast school], we just don’t get a lot of publicity.”
Although she will play with Minnesota this summer, Mann will return after the season’s end to wrap up her academic career at UCSB. Mann is aiming to graduate after Winter Quarter 2006.