By Boyd Hayes | @KernelHayes
Los Angeles is approximately 2,085 miles from Louisville. Four years ago, the distance between former UK Hoops star A’dia Mathies and the WNBA seemed just as big.
“When I first came here, I never would’ve imagined that I’d be top in this, top in that, and even getting drafted,” Mathies said. “It means a lot. It’s very humbling to see somebody like me actually get that accomplished and do the things that I’ve done here.”
What Mathies has done at UK is help fuel a four-year rise to national prominence with her skills on the court, twice being named the SEC Player of the Year and becoming only the fifth player in UK basketball history, men’s and women’s, to score more than 2,000 career points.
Those four years of hard work paid off when the Los Angeles Sparks selected Mathies with the 10th overall pick in the WNBA Draft on Monday, making her the highest draft pick of any UK Hoops player in the history of the program, above Victoria Dunlap (11th overall in the 2011 draft) and Shantia Owens (53rd overall in the 2000 draft).
“I’m just excited to get picked to LA. It’s a fine organization,” Mathies said. “For pretty much everybody, when you think about the WNBA, you think about the LA Sparks.”
From her grandmother’s home, Mathies and her family witnessed the selection.
“A couple family members, they were very excited,” Mathies said. “My mom started jumping around. I haven’t seen her jump around that much in a while. I know she was excited.”
Despite the distance between LA and Louisville, Mathies’ family will be there to welcome her on the West Coast.
“My brother lives in LA, so to go be with him — I miss him,” Mathies said. “I’ve got him and his wife, and his wife’s sister, so I’ll know a couple people. And he knows basketball.”
Mathies has publicly cited her brother’s basketball knowledge time and again, and she is looking forward to having his support in LA.
“He gives me pointers all the time, especially when I was playing at UK,” Mathies said. “He just points out things I need to work on, and I think that’s going to help me a lot. He’s going to support me, so I know there’s someone I can trust, and I think it’s going to be really beneficial to have him there.”
From biological family to basketball family, Mathies is also receiving support from a cast of people at UK, especially Ukari Figgs, the assistant athletics director for women’s basketball, who played five years in the WNBA, including three with LA.
“Coach Figgs was telling me how you can have a long career in the WNBA,” Mathies said. “She said if you make open shots, whether they’re twos or threes, and your free-throws, and you handle the ball, then you should have a long career in the WNBA.”
Mathies’ professional career will start under the guidance of 2012 WNBA Coach of the Year, Carol Ross. Prior to working in the WNBA, Ross coached for 16 seasons in the NCAA, 12 of them at Florida, where she worked with UK head coach Matthew Mitchell and recruited UK assistant coach Danielle Santos.
“It’s great to see how connected the UK family is with the LA Sparks,” Mathies said. “Maybe that has something to do with my opportunity going there.”
Those connections help bridge the gap between Kentucky and California, yesterday and tomorrow for Mathies. A few years ago, she was watching the WNBA on TV, dreaming of her future. Now that future is coming to fruition and the next generation of young women in Kentucky will have a chance to see Mathies playing professionally on television.
“That’s crazy. It kind of makes me nervous,” Mathies said. “I feel like I’ve got to do everything right if people are going to look up to me, but I’m ready to take on that new challenge. I need to better myself, and I think the WNBA helps with that.”
With the WNBA in front of her and a long journey through college behind her, what’s going on for Mathies here and now?
“I’m really just keeping on top of my school work and making sure I graduate, which I am on May 5. Right after that I’m going in head first,” Mathies said. “I’m going straight to LA and training camp. Just trying to make that team and wear an LA Sparks jersey.”
She may have the chance to don that jersey and complete her journey to the WNBA when the Sparks begin their preseason on Sunday, May 12, against the Seattle Storm. Tip will be at 1 p.m.