Portrait of a top draft pick.
Leaving the Greensboro Coliseum on March 10, Dan Padover had seen enough.
Weeks earlier, on a Sunday, the general manager of the Las Vegas Aces was watching college games on television with the team’s head coach, Bill Laimbeer. Holding the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft, Padover, Laimbeer and the Aces’ brass were scouring the college games, in search of the best fit. On that day, Muffet McGraw’s Notre Dame Fighting Irish were playing. Laimbeer leaned over to Padover, pointed out the player wearing No. 5 and said, “We got to keep an eye on this kid. She’s got something there that could really go to the next level in the W.”
That kid was Jackie Young.
Padover wasn’t sold right away. He booked a trip to Greensboro, North Carolina for the ACC Tournament. As it turned out, Young put on one of her best on-court performances over the course of three days in Greensboro, posting per-game averages of 19.3 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and a steal while shooting 55.8 percent from the floor. Notre Dame captured the ACC crown, Young was named tournament MVP and Padover had his top pick locked in.
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He called Laimbeer and said, “There’s something there with this kid that we’ve got to think about.”
There wasn’t much pondering to do Wednesday night. With a giddy A’Ja Wilson sitting close by, Padover called the pick in, making Jackson the top overall selection in the 2019 WNBA Draft.
“We’re taking Jackie Young, Notre Dame.”
Young is just the third player in WNBA history to be drafted No. 1 overall after just three years of college ball, joining Jewell Lloyd and Candace Parker. She’s also the third Notre Dame player the Aces have added, joining Kayla McBride and Lindsay Allen.
Wearing a sleek royal blue dress Wednesday night in New York, Young was beyond excited talking to the media about going to the Aces.
“It means the world to me. You always dream of being the first pick,” Young told reporters. “I can’t wait to get out to Las Vegas.”
While Laimbeer and Padover have long been in love with Young’s game, it wasn’t always a lock that she would go No. 1 overall.
As a junior, they weren’t sure if Young was going to leave college a year early. Padover told High Post Hoops that the Aces tried to not focus on that, since Young had until the day after the NCAA Championship game – which was two days before the draft – to make her decision. The Aces just did their homework. If Young was there, she’d be the pick. If not, the Aces had other players in mind.
“(Young) has been in our conversation all along. We didn’t nail it down until the day after she came out, because it was all just speculation,” Padover said. “We had done our homework on everybody, including the potential juniors. We pretty much knew she was our pick.”
The decision one wasn’t an easy one for Young. She had just lost the national championship to Baylor by one point. If she chose to return for her fourth year, she’d without a doubt be the star of the team, as the rest of the Notre Dame starting five were seniors.
Did Young want to chase a second collegiate championship, and redemption, or did she want to chase her goal of being a professional basketball player?
After talking with her family, her teammates, McGraw and a few others, Young came to her decision to enter the pros a year early.
“This is what we’ve all dreamed of since we were little kids,” Young said. “There were a lot of different factors. The biggest thing was just trying to help my family out. That was honestly the biggest thing.”
Had Young chosen to stay at Notre Dame, the top of the draft would’ve looked different, based on the Aces’ selection. Asia Durr of Louisville and Teaira McCowan of Mississippi State were high on the Aces’ wish list too.
“I think you saw who went at No. 2 and No. 3, and they were right at the top of our board as well,” Padover said.
But Padover believed that Young was more of a perfect fit for the Aces than either of those two players.
A 6-foot guard from Princeton, Indiana, Young turned her self into one of the most efficient players in college basketball this pas season, shooting 45.2 percent from three-point range, 52.8 percent from the floor and 78.5 percent from the charity stripe. She also had an assist-turnover ratio mark of +2.63, which ranked in the top 30 of all players this season.
Young is a triple-double threat, averaging 14.7 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists per-game this year. She can control the game from the perimeter, defend at a high level, score inside and out, and bang with posts in the paint for rebounds.
She also brings an extreme amount of toughness to the game that can’t be identified by looking at a stat sheet.
“Jackie provides a physical presence on both ends of the court that we really could use,” Padover said. “She’s a consummate teammate who always looked out for people at Notre Dame. She does all the little things that winning teams need, as you can she as she fills out a stat sheet. Quietly, on the next level, I think she can turn into a really good offensive threat. She’ll be tough to guard.”
With the addition of Young, the Aces now have four very talented guards to play around the 6-foot-4 Wilson. McBride scored 18.2 points per-game last season and shot 39 percent from three-point range, while Kelsey Plum averaged 9.5 points and 4.1 assists per-game while making 43 percent of her shots from behind the arc, and Moriah Jefferson has been an elite playmaker when healthy since getting selected with the number two pick in 2016.
While the x’s and o’s will ultimately be up to Laimbeer, Padover sees a future where all three guards are on the court together.
“It gives us a lot of flexibility and (Young) also gives us a physical guard that can go against some bigger three’s if we need to,” Padover said. “She’s going to be a tough match-ups for defenses, because I think she can over-power some smaller guards, and she’s quicker than some of the three’s.”
The Aces didn’t have any other picks in the draft and Padover says he likes the roster heading into the season. Still, they’ll invite a few undrafted free agents to camp and the phone could ring at anytime with an interesting offer from another team.
In their first year in Las Vegas, the Aces were just one win shy of making the playoffs in 2018. A core of Wilson, Plum, McBride, Jefferson and Young looks like the makings of a post-season squad, on paper anyways.
“I think more than anything it’s all about all of our young players growing up. It’s a big internal growth year,” Padover said. “I can say that our goal is to be a playoff team this year.”
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