Carlie Wagner will not have to travel far in her attempt to make it in the WNBA.
And she couldn’t be happier.
Wagner, who just finished her career at the University of Minnesota ranking third on the Gophers’ all-time scoring list, was taken by the Lynx with the last pick in the third round, No. 36 overall.
It was a big-time exclamation point for the end of the WNBA draft in which Lynx General Manager and coach Cheryl Reeve also traded with Las Vegas for Gonzaga forward Jill Barta.
“Just being a Minnesota girl, growing up here, choosing to stay home through college, to be able to stay home professionally is a dream come true,” Wagner said.
It was a long day for Wagner, who celebrated — rather ruefully — the news of Lynx star Lindsay Whalen being hired by the Gophers team she was leaving. She watched the draft with fans at the Lynx draft party at Target Center. When she found out she was coming to the Lynx?
“It’s an amazing opportunity to play with people who have won multiple championships,” said Wagner, who will be practicing with Whalen when camp starts later this month. “They’re elite. Best of the best. To be able to learn from them, have them as mentors? Incredible.”
Still, it will be a challenge for Wagner to crack the roster of the WNBA defending champion Lynx. In an attempt to beef up her bench after a defection and a couple of retirements, Reeve had already sent her first-round pick (12th overall) to Phoenix for veteran guard Danielle Robinson weeks ago. More recently, Reeve signed veteran guard Tanisha Wright. And then there is Alexis Jones, last year’s first-round pick, a player Reeve expects to take another step this season.
But Reeve, a Gophers season-ticket holder, watched Wagner’s career. And she appreciated what she saw.
“Carlie can score,” Reeve said. “She has a knack to put the ball in the hole. She has grown from her freshman to her senior year. I told her when I spent some time with her, probably my favorite part is she’s so coachable.”
Reeve likes the way Wagner handles an upset coach, how she handles difficult times in games.
Now she will try to handle a very big challenge. “Recognize how difficult the task will be,” Reeve said. “But don’t focus on trying to make the team. You want to focus on what’s being asked of you that day, that drill. Breaking it down in smaller pieces makes it more manageable.”
A native of New Richland, Wagner graduated from New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva High School in 2014 with back-to-back Class 2A titles and a total of 3,957 points, second in career scoring in Minnesota girls’ basketball.
With the Gophers, she made it to two NCAA tournaments, as a freshman and a senior, finishing her career with 2,215 points. She was also second in career three-pointers made (307), three-pointers attempted (880), field-goal attempts (2,109) and games with 10 or more points (114). She started 118 consecutive games to end her college career, the third-longest streak in school history.
She was named to three all-Big Ten Conference teams and was a first-team pick as a senior.
It was the final move on a night that, considering the Lynx didn’t have a first-round pick, was rather busy. Reeve and the Lynx had to wait until midway through the second round before getting into action. They took South Korean center Ji-Su Park with the 17th pick and Mercer guard Kahlia Lawrence with the 24th.
And then Reeve promptly traded them both to Las Vegas in exchange for Gonzaga post player Barta and Vegas’ second-round draft pick next year.
The 6-3 Barta had been taken by Las Vegas with the 32nd overall pick. She brings a skill set relatively unique on the Lynx roster.
“She has the ability to stretch the floor, she’s more perimeter-oriented,’’ Reeve said. “She played inside out, but her success would come from stretching the defense.’’
The Lynx also will take a closer look at Wagner.
“I know coming into camp it will be very competitive,’’ Wagner said. “I know I’ll have to work hard, outwork other people if I’m going to make a roster.’’
Kent Youngblood is a sports writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and can be reached at [email protected]