Vickie Johnson and Ruth Riley had countless times in their basketball careers when they had the ball in their hands, knowing they needed to make a big play.
But now as the San Antonio Stars' coach and general manager, respectively, they have a different kind of big play to make. The Stars have the No. 1 overall pick in Thursday's WNBA draft (ESPN2/WatchESPN, 7 p.m. ET), and various ways they can use it.
The Stars also have the No. 5 pick, while their fellow Texas team, Dallas, has three selections in the first round, at Nos. 3, 4 and 10.
"San Antonio and Dallas control the draft," said Washington coach Mike Thibault, who has the No. 6 pick. "I have no idea who's going to be available for us at 6, because I don't know if anybody can predict this draft."
Being in the driver's seat would be really great -- if it were next year. The 2018 draft looks loaded, especially with post players, a position that is lacking this year. The 2017 draft is heavy at guard, but that isn't the position where the Stars -- who had a league-worst 7-27 record last season -- have the greatest need.
San Antonio could benefit a lot from a high-impact post player. If this were last year (Breanna Stewart) or next year (A'ja Wilson), then the Stars would have fantastic choices. The best post in this draft is South Carolina's 6-foot-4 Alaina Coates, who suffered an ankle injury in February and missed the NCAA tournament won by the Gamecocks. How soon Coates, who appeared in South Carolina's victory parade Sunday, will be able to play is unknown; the WNBA's regular season begins May 13.
While there are definitely things to like about Coates' game -- size, rebounding and an ability to defend -- there are also question marks about her health and a somewhat limited offensive skill set.
So is Washington guard Kelsey Plum, who became the leading scorer in NCAA women's basketball history this past season, the clear No. 1 choice? It seems like it.
With Dan Hughes in charge, San Antonio chose a guard with its first pick in four of the last six drafts. Of those selections, only Moriah Jefferson (No. 2 in 2016) and Kayla McBride (No. 3 in 2014) remain on the roster. They were San Antonio's leading scorers last year, but McBride played only the first half the season (17 games) because she suffered a right-foot fracture on July 2.
And the Stars' offense suffered without her. San Antonio averaged by far the fewest points per game in the WNBA last season (72.0) and had the worst offensive rating (93.2) and net rating (minus-10.5). So why not seek an offensive boost by adding Plum? The Wooden Award and Wade Trophy winner averaged 31.7 PPG this past season, shooting 52.9 percent from the field, 42.8 percent from behind the arc and 88.7 percent from the free throw line.
Still, in talking to those in and around the WNBA, while most see Plum as the No. 1 pick, it's actually not unanimous. And if she is taken first, will she stay in San Antonio? The Stars could select Plum and then trade her, or trade the top pick before the draft. With next year's draft looking so loaded, might San Antonio try to obtain another first-round selection for 2018?
Riley and Johnson have been preparing for this for a long time. But it's not the easiest position to be in for a GM/coach duo in the first draft where they're in charge. Understandably, they're playing it very close to the vest publicly.
In a pre-draft teleconference, Johnson said only, "Our options are open. It's very important that we pick the right players, because those players are our future."
Riley played in the WNBA from 2001 to 2013, spending the majority of her career in Detroit and San Antonio. She became the Stars' general manager last season, giving her time to learn things from the veteran Hughes, who was both coach and GM for a lot of his career.
Johnson played in the WNBA from its inaugural season, 1997, to 2009, spending nine seasons in New York and four in San Antonio. Then she was an assistant coach in San Antonio from 2011 to '16.
Now Johnson takes over the top spot on the sideline from the retired Hughes, as San Antonio seeks a turnaround that will be difficult to achieve this season regardless of how the draft goes. San Antonio is a combined 15-53 the last two years and hasn't had a winning record since 2012.
The Stars made the playoffs with a 16-18 mark in 2014, Becky Hammon's last season. But they haven't won a playoff game since 2011 and haven't won a playoff series since 2008, when they advanced to the WNBA Finals.
For three seasons, Riley and Johnson were teammates with the Stars, including that 2008 season that marks the organization's pinnacle. Now they are teammates running the Stars. And even as early as it is in their tenures, Thursday will be a big day for them.