SEATTLE — Tears streamed down Tianna Hawkins’ face.
The forward out of Maryland spent nearly a week on ESPN’s campus in Connecticut as part of the WNBA’s predraft festivities, knowing she’d be among the 36 players selected. Yet she couldn’t withhold her emotions when she heard her name as the sixth overall pick to the Seattle Storm.
“It’s surreal,” Hawkins said. “It really didn’t hit me that I’m a real rookie until they called my name.”
Seattle also selected Iowa State forward Chelsea Poppens with its 18th overall pick and Georgia guard Jasmine James with its 30th pick. WNBA rosters are limited to 11 players, making it difficult for later-round picks to make the final cut.
In Hawkins, the Storm started to fill its holes inside. She’s a 6-foot-3 post who’s a strong rebounder and finisher around the rim. She finished her college career grabbing 1,086 rebounds and shot 57.4 percent from the field at Maryland.
In the WNBA, Hawkins will need to improve her perimeter game. She’s undersized, like Storm forward Camille Little, who developed a three-point shot to help Seattle spread defenses. Hawkins, who averaged 18 points as a senior, was 8 of 29 from beyond the arc as a senior, which won’t bode well as a pro — especially with the WNBA moving the three-point line back to 22 feet, 1 ¾ inches.
“She has such a nice, soft shot,” said Brian Agler, the Storm’s coach and general manager. “We know she’s going to be able to extend her range.”
Unlike past seasons, draft picks didn’t mention their excitement to play with All-Stars Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird. The Storm will play without those stars, who are out with injuries. The team is also without All-Stars in center Ann Wauters (personal) and guard Katie Smith, who signed a free-agent contract with New York. Reserve center Ewelina Kobryn is questionable to play due to her sister’s summer wedding, while guard Svetlana Abrosimova isn’t expected to be re-signed.
Agler signed point guard Temeka Johnson, guard Noelle Quinn and forward Nakia Sanford during free agency to add veteran experience to the depleted roster. The Storm will also have 2012 second-round pick Keisha Hampton, a former DePaul forward, who missed her rookie season after suffering a knee injury in college.
“We’re not quite finished, yet,” Agler said. “We need to find another point-guard option for us. Once we get that in place, we’re going to have a pretty complete balance on our roster and then we’ll just see how it plays out.”
After Monday’s draft, however, most dismissed Seattle’s chances at making a 10th consecutive playoff appearance and handed the Western Conference title to Phoenix. The Mercury drafted star Brittney Griner, a 6-feet-8 center, with the No. 1 overall pick and will return All-Stars Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor, who missed the 2012 season due to injuries.
“There are way too many good teams and way too many good players to just say ‘Give it (the championship) to Phoenix,’ “ Storm guard Tanisha Wright said. “They were always good offensively, and defensively weren’t as good. Now they’re going to be very solid defensively with Griner. But listen, after the first couple of games, people are going to figure out how to play Brittney and how to beat them.”
The draft was aired in prime time on the East Coast for the first time in the WNBA’s 17-year history. The moment was somber, however, after the events at the Boston Marathon.
“Despite heavy hearts, this is a special day for the WNBA,” third-year league president Laurel Richie said before transitioning to the team selections.
Training camp opens May 5 and the Storm season opener is May 26 at Los Angeles.