Monday is a day that Penn State’s Maggie Lucas has been waiting for a long time.
Teammate Ariel Edwards hopes to join the party, too.
Both Lady Lions are projected to be among the selections as the 2014 WNBA Draft kicks off at 8 p.m. from the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.
The opening round of the draft will be televised on ESPN2, while the second and third rounds move to ESPNU.
Lucas is expected to be the first Lady Lion to go and could become the highest Penn State draft pick of all-time. Tanisha Wright, still playing with Seattle, holds that distinction as the 12th overall pick of the Storm in 2005. Lucas’ former teammate Alex Bentley, who went on to be named the WNBA’s All-Rookie Team, was the opening pick of the second round and 13th overall last season by the Atlanta Dream.
In mock drafts, Lucas has been projected as high as No. 4 and as low as No. 22. Most have Lucas going among the Top 12 picks in the first round.
Whoever takes Lucas will get one of the best pure shooters in the country. The two-time Big Ten Player of the Year finished her college career with 2,510 points, second all-time at Penn State and fourth overall in the Big Ten. She is first in the Big Ten and 11th in NCAA history with 365 3-pointers and first in the Big Ten and seventh in the NCAA with a 90.7 career percentage from the foul line.
They’ll also get someone who works tirelessly at improving her game. Lucas, who averaged 19 points per game for her collegiate career, is a gym rat who spends countless hours outside of practice improving her game.
“For me, if you take a week off from basketball, it’s just not the same,” the 5-foot-10 guard said. “You’ve got to have that feel for the ball.”
Penn State assistant coach Fred Chmiel said Lucas’ ability to add to her game puts her in a special class of player.
“They’re rare and they’re usually WNBA Draft picks,” Chmiel said. “She’s got the best work ethic that I’ve ever dealt with. There’s kids that want to learn and there’s kids that want to learn and can execute. That’s the difference between her and everybody else.”
Lucas hopes Chmiel, her position coach, is right.
“That’s been my dream my whole life to continuing playing professionally,” Lucas said.
Edwards stepped into the spotlight this season, her first as a starter for the Lady Lions.
She averaged 15.7 points per game and was named a first team All-Big Ten selection. She was Penn State’s only consistent scoring option behind Lucas.
“She’s just really elevated her play and you can see it in the confidence in which she attacks the basket and shoots the ball,” Lady Lion coach Coquese Washington said of Edwards.
What makes Edwards attractive to WNBA clubs is her versatility. At 6-foot-3 and with excellent speed, Edwards can play guard and forward positions.
“She’s the most versatile player on our team,” Bentley said of Edwards during the 2013 season. “She can do it all.”
“She’s probably the most underrated player in the Big Ten and has been that way since she’s been here,” Northwestern coach Joe McKeown said this past season.
Edwards is being projected as a third-round pick.
“I really feel like I might have a chance at that,” Edward said late last season of playing professionally. “It’s really exciting. … Definitely after I finish here, playing basketball is something I want to do whether it’s in the WNBA or overseas.”
Two other Lady Lions seniors are eligible for the draft.
Point guard Dara Taylor, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, has an outside shot at being drafted. Taylor averaged a career-high 11.7 points and had 154 assists and 87 steals this season for the Lady Lions (24-8), who advanced to the Sweet 16 before falling to Stanford, which advanced to the Final Four.
Talia East, a 6-foot-3 center, was an honorable mention All-Big Ten player and averaged career highs with 8.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.
A total of 14 Penn State players have been drafted since 1997, including Bentley and Nikki Green in 2013. Kelly Mazzante (2007 and 2009) and Wright (2010) have won WNBA titles.
Any undrafted player may be invited to preseason camp as a free agent.
Stanford’s Chiney Ogwumike, who had 29 points and 15 rebounds in an 82-57 win over Penn State, is the overwhelming favorite to be selected with the No. 1 pick by Connecticut.
Follow Walt Moody on Twitter @wmoodycdt