Six years later, Class of 2009 draftees shine in WNBA Finals

Indiana's Briann January, one of four members of the 2009 WNBA draft class playing in the Finals, is averaging 18 PPG in the championship series. Jordan Johnson/NBAE/Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana guard Briann January threw her head back and let out an exultant "Yes!!!!" when it was mentioned. Then she high-fived teammates Marissa Coleman and Shavonte Zellous.

On this particular topic, she would have done the same even with someone on the "enemy" side, Minnesota's Renee Montgomery. And with six other players dispersed throughout the WNBA.

What do they have in common? All were selected in the first round of the 2009 draft, and that group of seniors has proved to be one of the more successful classes in the league. There were 13 first-round picks in 2009, and 10 of them were still active in the 2015 WNBA season. Including the aforementioned quartet that is playing in these WNBA Finals between Indiana and Minnesota.

"Can I talk about this, please?" January said, laughing. "When our draft was happening, there were people saying, 'This might be the worst draft ever.' But you look across the board and we have several people playing pivotal roles on their teams.

"We have a nice group, and we all recognize that we came in together. I love to see the rest of them being so successful, because we went through the grind together. We grew up together, battled together, and now to be at the top level together is kind of awesome."

"There were people saying, 'This might be the worst draft ever.' But you look across the board and we have several people playing pivotal roles on their teams. ... Now to be at the top level together is kind of awesome." Indiana's Briann January on the 2009 WNBA draft class

Whether the 2009 class was actually ever considered as bad as January remembers is debatable, but ... certainly, the '09ers were overshadowed by the group of seniors/draftees that came the year before, including top two picks Candace Parker and Sylvia Fowles.

Admittedly, the draft is an inexact science. And with just 12 teams now in the WNBA (there were 13 in 2009), it's often difficult for more than a handful of players from any class to remain in the league for any length of time.

Yet here, in the order that they were selected, are the '09ers who played this WNBA season (current team in parentheses): No. 1 Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta), No. 2 Coleman (Indiana), No. 3 Kristi Toliver (Los Angeles), No. 4 Montgomery (Minnesota), No. 5 DeWanna Bonner (Phoenix), No. 6 January (Indiana), No. 7 Courtney Paris (Tulsa), No. 8 Kia Vaughn (Washington), No. 9 Quanitra Hollingsworth (Seattle), No. 11 Zellous (Indiana).

McCoughtry, Bonner and January have played their entire WNBA careers with the team that drafted them. Montgomery is now back with Minnesota, which drafted her, but she also played with Connecticut and Seattle, and then returned to the Lynx via trade.

Players such as Coleman and Toliver, who were Maryland teammates picked by Washington and Chicago, respectively, needed a better fit than they had with the franchise that originally drafted them.

"It's always a case of getting in the right situation, but you've got to credit the players," Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said of the 2009 draftees who are still around. "Some of them took a little bit of time, so you have to credit them for continuing to work on their games overseas, getting in the right places, and then producing."

Zellous is the player whom Reeve recalls the most about as a draftee. Reeve was then an assistant coach in Detroit, which picked the Pittsburgh guard.

"We thought we would have to trade up for her, so we were thrilled to get her [at No. 11]," Reeve said. "We knew she was a good player. No, she wasn't Angel McCoughtry, but she was what we call the upper middle-tier player.

"That's a key spot. Because there's only going to be so many real franchise players. You have to take advantage of that middle tier and their ability to grow."

Zellous made the move with the Shock to Oklahoma from Detroit for the 2010 WNBA season, but then-Tulsa coach/general manager Nolan Richardson drastically underestimated her value. He traded Zellous to Indiana for a draft pick (Italee Lucas) who subsequently didn't make it in the WNBA.

Zellous was a starter for the Fever's 2012 WNBA championship team, averaging 10.6 points that year in the postseason. This year, she averaged 8.4 points in the regular season coming off the bench and is at 7.0 in the postseason.

"It was a good class, and to see so many of us excel and still be in the league is really great," Zellous said. "I think some of us were underestimated."

Coleman played for Washington and Los Angeles before coming in a trade to Indiana. She started just one year in her combined five seasons with the Mystics and Sparks, but has been a starter both seasons for the Fever. This year, she averaged a career-best 10.4 points in the regular season and is at 11.5 in the playoffs.

"The league may not have started out great for some of us, but look at the longevity we've had," Coleman said. "Some people, like Courtney Paris, were out of the league for a couple of years, but they came back. And Courtney led the league in rebounding this year.

"I think it shows the perseverance of our class. Playing against each other in AAU and college, I think we knew it was going to be good. But following that group with Candace Parker, and Sylvia Fowles and [Candice] Wiggins, I think they still had the hype. So maybe we were under the radar for that reason."

That 2008 class still has nine of its first-round selections and one second-round pick playing in the WNBA this season. But the 2010 class, by contrast, has just four first-round draftees who played this season, while another was injured but is expected back for 2016.

Some other interesting draft-class numbers from recent years: The 2012 class has six first-rounders and one second-round pick who were on WNBA teams this year -- but also four third-round picks. And one of those is Lynetta Kizer, who was originally selected No. 29 overall in 2012 by Tulsa, but like others, has found a home in Indiana.

The 2011 draft class, led by No. 1 pick Maya Moore of Minnesota, had eight first-round picks playing this year, and four from the second round.

So the 2009 class stacks up very well, and Lynx guard Montgomery points out another element to that. Even competing with all those good seniors who've now become pros, Montgomery's UConn team -- on which she was a senior and Moore was a sophomore -- went undefeated in winning the 2009 NCAA title.

Montgomery said that the Huskies are sometimes short-changed by those who believed that they just didn't have any competition. But she thinks the performance of several of her fellow '09 seniors proves that there really was a lot of talent in the college game that year.

"I think the draft class shows that depth," Montgomery said. "I won just one title at UConn, and I was so excited to do it. There were some very good players then. We played against each other and with each other, and have grown a mutual respect for one another."