One of the most impressive aspects of South Carolina's run to the NCAA women's basketball national championship two weeks ago is not just the players who won the game for the Gamecocks, it's the player who didn't.
South Carolina was without arguably its best player.
And guess what? The Chicago Sky just drafted her.
With the second overall pick in Thursday's WNBA draft, new Sky general manager and head coach Amber Stocks selected South Carolina center Alaina Coates. Stocks also picked up Tori Jankoska from Michigan State with the No. 9 overall pick, Chantel Osahor from Washington with the No. 21 pick and Makayla Epps from Kentucky with the No. 33 pick.
Sadly, the 6-foot-4 Coates was unable to play during the entire NCAA tournament. She also missed the entire Southeastern Conference tournament.
In mid-February, she suffered an ankle injury against Missouri that ended her season, and college career.
"Coming into this draft, it was about getting the best players and the best talent," Stocks said. "We chose players that had the mental toughness to transition from college to the WNBA. Together, these strong women will enhance our roster and build on our existing depth with size and versatility."
I wish I could have watched Coates closely during the NCAA tournament to know exactly what kind of player the Sky is getting. It's a shame she didn't play a second during the postseason. But statistical and anecdotal evidence says that she is pretty good.
Coates will leave South Carolina as the school's all-time leading rebounder, as well as the SEC's all-time leading rebounder. She is also the all-time leader in double-doubles for South Carolina as well as the SEC. And she is the school's all-time leader in career field goal percentage.
Before her injury, Coates was averaging a double-double (12.9 points and 10.7 rebounds) and was super efficient from the field. She hit on 67 percent of her field goal attempts.
The awards racked up for Coates, a four-time all-SEC pick and a two-time all-defensive player. She was also an Associated Press honorable mention selection the last two seasons.
Coates made an impact right away at South Carolina, even as a freshman. She averaged 12.1 points per game off the bench and was eventually named the SEC's co-sixth player of the year as well as freshman of the year.
"It's really exciting," Coates told reporters, when asked about the draft night experience. "My heart was pumping really fast. I was hoping to hear my name called. I'm happy to have my family and friends here with me, so it's quite a memory."
The Sky was able to pick so high in the draft because it acquired the pick as part of the deal that sent former Sky star Elena Delle Donne to the Washington Mystics.
Unfortunately, it's too soon to tell if the deal will be a good one for the Sky, which also got Kahleah Copper and Stefanie Dolson from the Mystics. Coates is still in recovery mode, and used a scooter at the draft show in New York.
"I don't want to come out and try to rush it," Coates said. "Whenever it's time for me to get back out there, I'm going to take it slow doing the basics, and just take it from there."
Stay tuned Sky fans. The aftermath of the Delle Donne trade looks pretty good on paper, but will take some time to sort itself out as a true thumbs-up … or otherwise.
Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw