MOHEGAN INDIAN RES. - Two weeks after her career with the UConn women‚Äôs basketball team came to a close, Saniya Chong joined her family at their Ossining, New York, home to watch the 2017 WNBA Draft.
‚ÄúMy thought process was, ‚ÄėOh, wow. OK. There‚Äôs another pick. We‚Äôre into the second round. Now we‚Äôre into the third round ...‚Äô‚ÄĚ Chong said on Saturday. ‚ÄúI was just happy and honored to have my name called. Being able to be here and get this chance is amazing.‚ÄĚ
Chong was the second pick of the third round, No. 26 overall, by the Dallas Wings. As it would turn out, her new home court - the College Park Center in Arlington, Texas - is about a half-hour drive from the American Airlines Center in Dallas where she played her final college game.
But for Chong, it‚Äôs an entirely different world.
The 23-year-old beat the odds and proved many people wrong this spring by making the Wings‚Äô roster. She has played in 28 of Dallas‚Äô 29 games - the only miss was the Aug. 6 contest against the Los Angeles Sparks when she was in concussion protocol - and is averaging 3.1 points, 1.0 rebounds, and 1.1 assists in 12.2 minutes off the bench.
In her return to Connecticut on Saturday, she had a steal in four minutes of a 96-88 loss to the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs interesting how much smarter and more physical and athletic the women are,‚ÄĚ Chong said. ‚ÄúYou come into this league and there are women who have been here for years and they really know the game. They‚Äôve learned it and they‚Äôve experienced it. So when I‚Äôm out there, it‚Äôs not just about being athletic or being talented, it‚Äôs about being smart and poised.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs been a challenge. I‚Äôm a rookie so I‚Äôm learning all new things. But I‚Äôve been having a lot of fun. The girls I‚Äôm playing with are super and the coaches are great. They‚Äôve made the adjustment easier.‚ÄĚ
With Dallas coach Fred Williams committed to a youth movement, all five of the Wings‚Äô choices in the draft - including three first-round picks - made the roster. Among the players she beat out were Dallas‚Äô captain last year Erin Phillips and three-year veteran Tiffany Bias.
But there were no guarantees going in.
‚ÄúYou go to training camp and it‚Äôs not like college where you‚Äôre on scholarship and they want you and they keep you. It helped having other girls here that were going through the same things that I was going through. So coming to a WNBA camp I had to work hard every second, be there early and be there late, show how much I want to be there, prove to them I deserve it. One day you can be there and the next day you can be gone.
‚ÄúPlaying at UConn prepared me well. It was like coming into UConn my freshman year and all the older girls taught me so much, so many values.‚ÄĚ
She had quality teachers. Of the nine scholarship players on the Huskies her freshman year when they went 40-0, eight are playing in the WNBA. The other seven besides Chong were first-round draft picks.
The Huskies‚Äô winning streak was at 111 when they took on Mississippi State in the NCAA Final Four semifinals at the American Airlines Center on March 31. Tied at 64 with 26.6 seconds remaining in overtime, the Huskies had a chance to hold for the last shot but Chong drove to the basket and lost the ball out of bounds to give the Bulldogs possession with 12.8 seconds to go. Morgan William then hit a pull-up jump shot at the buzzer to end the winning streak, UConn‚Äôs championship reign, and Chong‚Äôs college career.
How many times has she replayed the last 30 seconds in her mind since?
‚ÄúNever,‚ÄĚ Chong said. ‚ÄúNever. It‚Äôs in the past. I‚Äôm on to bigger and better things.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs hard because it does hurt your heart. But life goes on. My job now is I have to show this team who I am and what I can do.‚ÄĚ