On a day marked by tragedy, St. John's University had much to celebrate.
For starters, their men's basketball program was honored at last night's MBWA Haggerty Awards dinner, with JaKarr Sampson being recognized as the MBWA Rookie of the Year while D'Angelo Harrison landed a spot on the all-Met first team. However, just as it has gone for the past decade in Queens, the St. John's women have once again broken through and made history; as not only did freshman guard Aliyyah Handford win the all-Met Rookie of the Year award, but her senior teammates Nadirah McKenith and Shenneika Smith capped off their legendary four-year careers by becoming the first players in Red Storm history to be selected in the WNBA Draft.
"I have had the opportunity to not only watch these two play as young players in high school, but also be someone who was able to recruit them over time and then to become their head coach as well," said St. John's coach Joe Tartamella. "It is something special to me, and I really have a lot of pride that I was able to watch these two young ladies grow up before my eyes. It just shows how special St. John's is and what our players can be capable of as part of our program." Former St. John's coach Kim Barnes Arico, who guided McKenith and Smith through their first three seasons before taking over this past year at Michigan, tweeted her congratulations as well shortly after the two were selected.
McKenith, who was also recognized last night as the MBWA's women's Player of the Year, was the first of the duo to be drafted, as she was selected 17th overall by the Washington Mystics; who used their second-round pick on the point guard from Newark who ended her tenure in red and white as St. John's all-time assist leader, and came within one rebound of a triple-double in what turned out to be her final collegiate game, an opening-round loss to Dayton in the NCAA Tournament. McKenith closed the book on her St. John's career with 1,293 points, and averaged 13.2 points and 5.5 assists per game in her senior season.
Shenneika Smith stays in New York after being selected 25th overall by Liberty in last night's WNBA Draft. (Photo courtesy of the Associated Press)
While McKenith may be taking her talents to the nation's capital, her backcourt partner will have the benefit of staying home, as Shenneika Smith was selected eight spots later, going 25th overall to the New York Liberty. Smith, who will forever be remembered in Johnnies history for her game-winning three in February of 2012 to upset Connecticut and end the Huskies' 99-game winning streak at Gampel Pavilion, leaves St. John's as the program's fourth-leading scorer, amassing 1,727 points, with her 16.7 point per game average ranking fifth in the Big East. The Brooklyn native was also St. John's leading rebounder this past season, with an average of 6.8 caroms per game.
"Tonight speaks volumes of where our program is headed," Tartamella said upon hearing of McKenith and Smith being drafted. "That is something that we have always been trying to build toward as a program over the last few years, and this just shows what our players are capable of. We are really proud of the fact that we got not just one, but two, players in the same draft."