Lynx pick up Duke G Tricia Liston in first round
MINNEAPOLIS — Two sharpshooters, and a pair of Asias in the post.
All four joined up with the WNBA’s defending champions Monday night. And all four will get their shot at becoming part of the mix when training camp opens Sunday, April 27.
"We would anticipate a very interesting competition," Lynx executive vice president Roger Griffith said following the 2014 WNBA Draft.
A new collective bargaining agreement that added a 12th roster spot and the offseason departure of at least two players means Minnesota picks Tricia Liston, Asya Bussie, Christina Foggie and Asia Taylor all have a preseason camp invite extended their direction. The Lynx return their top seven players from last year’s title run, so any positions up for grabs will be of the reserve, specific-role variety.
Which works just fine for these four.
"There aren’t enough roster spots for them to go around," Griffith said, "and they each kind of have their advantage or disadvantage with where they’re coming from and their different skill levels."
With the final pick in the 2014 WNBA Draft’s first round, the Lynx drafted Duke 3-point specialist Tricia Liston 12th overall, making her the second consecutive Blue Devil selected to round out the first round. Liston shot 48.3 percent from 3-point range entering the NCAA tournament and was one of just two players to connect on more than 50 percent of her field goals and shoot 45 percent from 3 and 85 percent from the foul stripe last season.
With her and backcourt mate Chelsea Gray leading the way, second-seeded Duke reached the NCAA women’s tournament Sweet 16 and finished the year 28-6.
While Liston is a long shot to make the roster as a two-guard this upcoming season, she may be able to stick around after the team’s training camp in May. Forwards Amber Harris and Rachel Jarry likely won’t be back with the team this summer, and Liston is tall — 6-foot-1 — and strong enough to earn some small forward minutes.
She played point guard, shooting guard and small forward last season due to teammates’ injuries, but Griffith says her most natural spot is on the wing.
"We tend to want people who can play more than one position, especially in our reserves," Griffith said. "Where is the best position for her defensively is probably her biggest challenge."
It’ll be surreal when she gets to Minnesota and starts trying to find out, Liston said.
"It’s what every little girl dreams of, being able to practice and play against some of those players who have already made a name for themselves," Liston said. "I think it’s gonna be really cool, the challenge of coming to practice every day and having to work against the best people in the league."
Minnesota is set at shooting guard, with Seimone Augustus and Monica Wright signing multiyear extensions in the past calendar year. Coach Cheryl Reeve can’t hate the idea of having another 3-point threat to bring off the bench, though. En route to their second league title in the past three seasons, the Lynx shot 33.3 percent from distance to rank second in the WNBA.
They shot a league-best 48.8 percent from the field last year.
"It’s awesome," Liston said when asked about being picked up by the defending champions. "It’s amazing. I’m gonna be playing against the best competition, obviously, and I think that’s what most excites me, is being surrounded by the best players in the country."
While the Lynx ran roughshod over the rest of the league, Liston finished up one of the best careers in Blue Devil history. The Chicago native will graduate as Duke’s all-time leader in career 3-point field goal percentage and made 3s.
She credits her father Brian Liston, who played at Loyola (Chicago) from 1978-82, for teaching her how to shoot. In 2010, she earned Illinois Miss Basketball accolades and finished her high school career with 2,713 points.
"As a kid, I always had the right form and never did the two-hand push," said Liston, a former prep teammate of current Lynx forward Devereaux Peters at Fenwick High School. "I think from the beginning, I had the mechanics, and then it was just a matter of putting in the time and putting in the practice."
Said Griffith: "When you look at her 3-point shooting percentages, it’s hard to fault her mechanics. You look at a little bit higher ball release might be nice, but you also want to be careful about messing with something that’s working with her, so that’s what the coaches can study once they have her actually here and decide what they want to do, if anything."
The Lynx were awfully high on North Carolina State center Markeisha Gatling and Notre Dame forward Natalie Achonwa coming into the draft. But Indiana picked up Achonwa with the ninth overall pick, and Chicago selected Gatling one draft position later.
So Minnesota went big with its second pick, drafting 6-foot-4 West Virginia center Bussie — whose first name is pronounced "Asia," like the continent — in the second round, 15th overall. The Baltimore, Md. native returned from an ACL injury to average 12.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and two blocks per game while leading the Mountaineers to the Big 12’s regular season championship this past season.
She’ll have 2012 draft pick Damiris Dantas and 2013 selection Waltiea Rolle — both post players — to contend with at camp. The Lynx re-signed starting center Janel McCarville this offseason but are looking for depth behind her, especially with Harris’ expected departure.
Taylor will join the interior position battle, too.
"You haven’t seen people before, you don’t know who’s gonna win that contest," Griffith said. "So when you don’t know who’s gonna win that contest, it’s nice to have a lot of people pushing each other and let them decide who’s best amongst them."
Bussie’s specialty is defense. Her senior-year block numbers ranked third in the Big 12 during West Virginia’s first campaign in the league.
"They’re big on defense, and I’m big on defense," Bussie said of her new club. "That’s one of my strengths. You can never go wrong with playing defense, so I’m definitely gonna play that and expand my offensive game."
Minnesota grabbed another prolific long-range threat with its other second-round pick. The Lynx drafted Vanderbilt guard Foggie 24th overall after growing enamored with her ability to knock down long-range shots.
Foggie, a 5-9 Voorhees, N.J. native, will leave Nashville as the Commodores’ all-time leader in career 3-pointers made. She led the Southeastern Conference in scoring twice, including her senior season when she had 19 points per game and shot 45.6 percent from the field (39 percent from 3).
Minnesota made Taylor 2014’s "Miss Irrelevant" with the draft’s final pick. The 6-1 Louisville forward, originally from Columbus, Ohio, sat out last season with a hip injury but came back to lead the Cardinals in rebounding (7.2 per game) and rank second in scoring (10.4 points per game).
Follow Phil Ervin on Twitter