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WNBA drafts two of St. John’s players

TimesLedger Newspapers

Nadirah McKenith and Shenneika Smith added another piece of history to their St. John’s careers.

The women’s basketball stars became the program’s first players selected in the WNBA Draft April 16. The Washington Mystics took McKenith, a 5-foot-7 point guard, in the second round. Smith, a 6-foot-1 wing was drafted in the third round by the New York Liberty.

The duo was the driving force behind the most successful period in program history. They helped lead St. John’s to four straight NCAA tournament appearances, its first Sweet Sixteen and a win that snapped UConn’s 99-game home winning streak.

“It means a lot to be the first two people to ever get drafted,” McKenith said. “I think that’s going to put a radar on the St. John’s basketball program. A lot more people will look at them now.”

She is coming off her best season in a Red Storm uniform. McKenith, the school’s all-time leader in assists, averaged 13.2 points, 5.5 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game as St. John’s overcame injuries to go 18-13. The versatility she showed only helped her draft stock she said. Smith averaged 16.7 points and 6.8 rebounds. Both were All-Big East first team selections.

“I was able to watch these two young ladies grow up before my eyes,” St. John’s Coach Joe Tartamella said. “It just shows how special St. John’s is and what our players can be capable of as part of our program.”

Hearing their names called was an emotional moment for both as they watched with their families. They are happy to be close to home, especially Smith. She has a chance to play for her dream team and first-year Coach and former Detroit Pistons Bill Laimbeer when training camp opens May 6.

“I’m a local kid,” said Smith, from Brooklyn. “My friends and family can come out. [My dream] came true and it’s a blessing. I’m ready to play already.”

Both Smith and McKenith were pushed early in their careers by special basketball mentors who are not alive to see them reach the goal of the WNBA that they told them was possible. McKenith spoke of Coach Raheem Hooper, who died in 2006. He gave her the first taste of organized ball with the Next Level travel team. Smith lost former St. Michael Academy and Exodus travel team Coach Apache Paschall in 2012.

“Of course, I didn’t believe him back then,” Smith said going to the WNBA. “Now I was just happy to give him something to smile down on.”

The two hope to be looking across at each other on opposing benches when the season begins. McKenith said she is excited about the possibility and it just shows that their hard work has paid off.

“It’s going to be fun. We both fulfilled a dream we wanted ever since we were little,” McKenith said.

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