How Raleigh's Azura Stevens changed the WNBA draft with her early entry

Connecticut's Azura Stevens, center, reacts during the Huskies' game against Notre Dame on Dec. 3. Stevens will play her former team, Duke, in the Sweet 16 on Saturday.
Connecticut's Azura Stevens, center, reacts during the Huskies' game against Notre Dame on Dec. 3. Stevens will play her former team, Duke, in the Sweet 16 on Saturday. AP

Azurá Stevens didn’t need any feedback from the WNBA this spring.

Even though the college basketball player had a year of eligibility remaining at Connecticut, Stevens knew she was ready for the pros.

“The biggest thing was my heart just led me to it,” said Stevens, who's from Raleigh, played at Cary High and began her college career at Duke in 2014. “This has been a long-term goal and dream of mine.”

As it turns out, the WNBA is more than ready to welcome the versatile, 6-6 Stevens.

“The conversation around the first round of the draft has changed dramatically with Azurá Stevens declaring for the WNBA,” ESPN women’s basketball analyst LaChina Robinson said.

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The WNBA draft begins at 7 p.m. Thursday night. It doesn’t appear it will take long for Stevens to be picked.

Las Vegas has the first pick and is widely expected to choose South Carolina’s A’ja Wilson.

Indiana has the No. 2 pick and Stevens’ early entry into the draft has impacted its decision.

“My expectation, until Azurá Stevens entered the draft, they would for sure go with (Ohio State guard) Kelsey Mitchell,” ESPN’s Rebecca Lobo said. “But now with Stevens in the draft, I wouldn't be surprised if they went with Stevens.”

After Indiana, Chicago has back-to-back picks at No. 3 and No. 4. Pre-draft chatter has Stevens likely not being available when Seattle picks at No. 5.

“I do think that Azura’s presence provokes movement on all of our draft boards, especially those of us up top,” Chicago general manager and head coach Amber Socks said. “For us specifically at Chicago, yes she is a player that is going to garner attention. We are going to spend some time evaluating her and see if she is the right decision.”

Stevens said she sought no outside input from WNBA scouts or coaches before declaring for the draft. She’s set to graduate from UConn next month with a degree in general arts with a psychology concentration, so the time was right to turn professional regardless of where she’s drafted.

That said, the positive feedback she’s received since declaring has been good to hear.

“It’s definitely reassuring because I didn’t really know what was going to happen once I decided that this is what I was going to be doing,” Stevens said. “I think to hear that is reassuring but at the same time it is a lot of up in the air. It’s that factor of not really knowing exactly what it is going to be.”

Stevens played one season at UConn after transferring from Duke. In 35 games, starting eight, Stevens averaged 14.9 points per game for the Huskies. She made 67 percent of her 2-point shot, fourth best among all Division I players.

Her combination of size and versatility, and the different ways she was used at Duke and UConn, make her an attractive prospect.

“She’s a quality player,” Indiana Fever general manager and coach Pokey Chatman said. “She has the length. She’ll need to continue to get stronger. We know her face up game from her time at Duke. She was asked to play a little bit around the basket more at Connecticut. She’s a nice package.”

Both Duke and UConn allowed Stevens to play with and become friends with other professional players. She remains close friends with former Duke all-American center Elizabeth Williams of the Atlanta Dream.

The last two years at UConn, including the year she sat out under NCAA transfer rules, Stevens has gotten to know WNBA and former UConn players Sue Bird and Maya Moore, among others.

Two of her UConn teammates from this season, Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams, are also projected as top 10 picks on Thursday night.

WNBA draft

When: Thursday, first round 7 p.m., second and third rounds 8 p.m.

TV: First round ESPN2, second and third rounds ESPNU