Since Monday, Amanda Zahui B. had been experiencing life as a top WNBA prospect, hobnobbing with the league’s VIPs and being treated like one herself. But the enormity of it all did not hit the former Gophers star until Thursday, when the Tulsa Shock made her the second overall pick in the WNBA draft.
The 6-5 center was considered a potential No. 1 pick, but Notre Dame guard Jewell Loyd — a close friend — was chosen first overall by Seattle. That did not diminish the thrill Zahui felt when her name was called. She had wanted to become a professional basketball player since taking up the sport a dozen years ago in her native Sweden, and after two seasons with the Gophers, she stepped onto the stage at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., and into her dream career.
Zahui attended the draft with family members, friends and former Gophers coach Pam Borton, who recruited her. She became the second-highest WNBA draft pick produced by the Gophers. Janel McCarville was the No. 1 pick in 2005.
In another happy twist Thursday, Zahui learned she could make her WNBA debut in Minnesota. The Shock opens the season against the Lynx at Target Center on June 5.
“To be the number two pick is a blessing,” Zahui said. “This is something you dream about. I’m so happy.
“It’s been an amazing few days. I’m just really excited to get going.”
Analysts had predicted that Zahui or Loyd, both first-team All-Americas, would be the top pick. Loyd just completed her junior season with the Irish. The two underclassmen were eligible for the draft because they will turn 22 years old this year.
Zahui blossomed this season into one of the country’s premier post players, averaging a team-high 18.8 points, 12.9 rebounds and 4.1 blocked shots. The only player in Gophers history to be named a first-team All-America by the Associated Press, Zahui was the media’s choice as Big Ten player of the year and was a finalist for several national player of the year awards.
She holds Gophers records for most blocks in a career (240) and in a season (135), and her 426 rebounds this season are a Gophers and Big Ten record. Zahui finished her career with 1,135 points.
LaChina Robinson, an analyst for ESPN’s telecasts of the WNBA, called Zahui a “game-changer.” Robinson praised Zahui’s soft hands, her work ethic and her physical play, as well as her ability to shoot from the outside.
Zahui worked hard to gain strength and stamina during her college career and said she plans to continue, knowing she will need to be stronger to handle the more physically demanding post play in the WNBA.
After helping the Gophers return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009, Zahui will join a Tulsa team that went 12-22 last season and is 41-129 in five seasons since moving from Detroit. She said she is excited to join a roster rich with young talent — and looking forward to June 5, when she hopes to play her first game as a pro in her adopted home state.
“I love the fans in Minnesota,” she said. “Minnesota will always be my first home in America. I’m starting a new chapter in my life, and I couldn’t feel more blessed.”