KNOXVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 08: Texas Longhorns guard Sug Sutton (1) takes a shot over Tennessee Lady Vols guard Jazmine Massengill (13) and center Kasiyahna Kushkituah (11) during a college basketball game between the Tennessee Lady Vols and Texas Longhorns on December 8, 2019, at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, TN. (Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The 2020 WNBA draft brought both a sense of closure and uncertainty to its 36 draftees. After having their final college seasons cut short, the draft officially brought their amateur careers to a close. And yet because it’s still unclear when or if the upcoming WNBA season will begin, these draftees’ dreams have been put on pause as they wait to suit up with the pros. Below, we spoke with six WNBA rookies about their draft day experience and how they’re handling the present situation.

Your NCAA senior season was cut short. How did you handle that emotionally? 

“It broke my heart because the year before that I broke my hand and I missed the tournament then too. I was so excited for this year. When I found out that we weren’t going to finish our tournament, it shut me down for a while. I thought that I needed the tournament to really push my name up in the draft. I was devastated, for sure.” – Kamiah Smalls, JMU, drafted 28th overall to Indiana Fever 

“I was pretty hurt about it. We didn’t even get to play in our Big 12 tournament. We worked so hard our senior year and in past years to get to that point, and then to not get to finish the season was pretty heartbreaking. I didn’t handle it too well. But then I had to realize that our health is more important than anything, so it’s an understandable situation.” – Sug Sutton, Texas, drafted 36th overall to Washington Mystics

“Our ACC championship happened before the cancelations, and we lost to NC State. We were so close to being the first in Florida State History to win an ACC Championship. It was a tough loss, but it helped me add a bit of fuel to my fire. I was excited for the NCAA Tournament and unfortunately it ended up that no teams got an opportunity to play in it. I still have that feeling where I want to just go hard and get excited and get back out on the court.” – Kiah Gillespie, FSU, drafted 32nd overall to Chicago Sky

“There were a lot of emotions. Our team was poised to make it into the tournament, and it would have been my first experience playing there. On the one hand, you understand there’s a pandemic going on, but on the other hand, it’s your senior year. Everything builds up to that season, and there was no just closure with the way it ended, which made it really sad. Unfortunately with college, you don’t get to retire when you want. You only have four years and then you’re done.” – Haley Gorecki, Duke, drafted 31st overall to Seattle Storm

HALEY GORECKI (ICON SPORTSWIRE/GETTY IMAGES)

“We were supposed to play Texas in the Big 12 tournament. At first, there was a decision to continue with the tournament without an audience, so we were preparing for that. Then they just canceled it all together and that was it. We were in Kansas and had family members flying in to see us play so everyone had to cancel their flights and hotel reservations. It was kind of crazy and disappointing, but at the same time, it was a little relieving to know that it wasn’t just us. This was worldwide. So it is what it is. This is happening all around the world, and health is way more important than entertainment and sport.” – Tynice Martin, WVU, drafted 34th overall to LA Sparks

“We played in the Pac-12 tournament before any cancellations and ended up losing to Stanford. Losing in general always sucks. Not being able to go on to play against Oregon in the championship was tough, and I think that if we would’ve known that that was going to be our last game together, we would have maybe approached it a little differently and left it all out there. But it is what it is.” – Japreece Dean, UCLA, drafted 30th overall to Chicago Sky

What were your expectations entering the draft?

“None. I was just praying that I got drafted, just because of how the season went. I know I didn’t perform how I had wanted to. So I was questioning if I would even be drafted. Ahead of the draft, a lot of people doubted that my name would be called.” – Japreece Dean

“I was up and down with my expectations for the draft. because I didn’t have a really good senior season like I did my junior year. I struggled with an injury my senior season. I didn’t really know if I would get drafted or not. So I just left it in God’s hands, and luckily I got drafted.” – Sug Sutton

“Honestly, none. I wasn’t expecting my name to come up on ESPN. I wasn’t expecting the WNBA or anyone to owe me anything from a season cut short. I was just hoping that somebody saw the fight and will in me. Just because I played at a mid-major college, doesn’t mean I can’t hang with the big dogs. It wasn’t about the expectations for me. It was more about seeing who believed in me.” – Kamiah Smalls

KAMIAH SMALLS (ICON SPORTSWIRE/GETTY IMAGES)

“Honestly, I felt like I should have been drafted second round at the latest, but I ended up going late third round, which is still a dream come true, but I was definitely confused about my draft level. Anyway, I’m just excited that I got the experience. A lot of players didn’t get drafted, so I’m grateful.” – Tynice Martin

“Prior to the draft I had received a lot of phone calls from coaches in the WNBA expressing their interest so that made me feel a lot better. I felt like I was being looked at as a real prospect, but I was definitely nervous because of the limited spots on rosters.” – Haley Gorecki

Draft day. You hear you name called. What is that moment like? 

“All me and my family did was scream because we were so excited. It felt like we had just hit the lottery. I wasn’t expecting it, so my reaction, my enthusiasm and my excitement were just through the roof! It had me thinking: Smalls, you did it, you brought your dreams to life. You might be helping another little girl right now feel like it’s possible to go big when you might be seen as small.” – Kamiah Smalls

“Oh, it was unreal. Just to see your name come across the screen after not knowing when it’ll happen. It was very nerve-wracking but it was exciting to have everybody around me be super happy and excited. I think that was the best part about it all, just how genuinely happy everybody was for me.” – Kiah Gillespie

KIAH GILLESPIE (ICON SPORTSWIRE/GETTY IMAGES)

“I just couldn’t believe it. When my name came across the screen, I just jumped up and started running around and screaming. It took me a few days for it all to sink in.” – Sug Sutton

“When it got to the third round, my heart was beating and my toes were curled. They got to number 30 and my name wasn’t called yet. My heart started sinking into my chest. When I finally saw my name, I literally took a deep breath and was able to relax. Right after I was selected, my phone started blowing up with messages and calls.” – Tynice Martin

“As picks were being announced, it was very nerve-wracking because from talking to coaches, I wasn’t projected to go in the third round, it was always early in the second. Then I finally saw my name come across the TV and I just thought, thank God.” – Haley Gorecki

How are you prepping physically and mentally given the uncertainty surrounding the start of the season? 

“Chicago has two point guards on the roster already. I’ve already connected with Courtney Vandersloot, one of our guards, just to get to know her and to pick her brain. I am trying to learn as much as possible and soak in as much as I can. I think it gives me an advantage to already be attempting to figure out the Chicago system and playing style. Physically, I am trying to stay in shape and weight lift at least three times a week. And then mentally, I’m just staying confident. I have to go into this as humble as possible, but I’m also here for a reason.” – Japreece Dean

JAPREECE DEAN (ICON SPORTSWIRE/GETTY IMAGES)

My mentality is still the same. I’ve been working hard my whole life. This pandemic isn’t going to slow me down. It’s not going to stop me. You find ways to stay in shape and to make sure you’re just up to par when it’s time. I’m going into this thing with an open mind. I’m a people’s person. I think my teammates are going to love me. I think I’m going to love them. I think my coaching staff is going to love me and I’m just going to give them my all.” – Kamiah Smalls

“I’m super competitive, so I am just ready to get to work. Playing for Seattle is an amazing opportunity for me to learn from some of the best players. Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart, and so many other legends are on the team. Once I get to training camp, I plan to just be a sponge, taking in everything I see, hear and learn. Physically I have been working with my trainer over zoom. I also try to get ball handling in and I do a lot of lifting, core and band work just to stay strong.” – Haley Gorecki 

“I’m just keeping myself ready. I’m staying in shape. I run miles every day and I do yoga. And my eating habits have gotten a lot better now that I’m transitioning to my professional career. And then on the mental side, I’ll watch a lot of basketball and film. I’ve been talking to Ariel Atkins. We overlapped at Texas and are now teammates again. I try to pick her brain because we are really close and she is an incredible player.” – Sug Sutton

“I am just trying to stay in shape. I know that I’ll be a rookie all over again. I am mentally preparing for that and trying to scout out the team to see what exactly they need. It’s all business now, and understanding that is the hardest part. Coming from college, especially at WVU where our team was very family-oriented, I have to eliminate that mindset and stick to strictly business. Now I will be playing against and with the big dogs. And they want your spot. This is the same talk that I had with myself freshman year, but like I said, money is on the line now, so it’s a lot more competitive, it’s a lot more cutthroat and I have to understand that going in.” – Tynice Martin

TYNICE MARTIN (ICON SPORTSWIRE/GETTY IMAGES)

“I won’t really know where I stand until I am able to play with my new teammates and test it all out. But I still have the opportunity to stay in the best possible shape I can and to try everything I can to be at the level my coaches and teammates will need me to be at. In a sense, it’s all about staying ready so you don’t have to get ready when the time comes.” – Kiah Gillespie