During her career at UConn, Tiffany Hayes watched three All-American teammates become WNBA first-round picks — Renee Montgomery, Tina Charles and Maya Moore.
Charles and Moore, first overall selections, each went on to be rookie of the year, Charles with Connecticut (2010) and Moore with Minnesota (2011).
That has left Hayes feeling prepared for what awaits her Monday when the 2012 WNBA draft is held. She is considered a late first-round pick.
“I think my transition is going to be a pretty good one, and playing [at UConn] is definitely going to help me out a lot. It’s taught me a lot, from learning from the players to learning from the coaches.”
Most WNBA scouts expect Hayes to go in the second half of the first round.
“I would say somewhere between the seventh and 12th pick,” Sun coach Mike Thibault said
If so, Hayes would become the 13th UConn player taken in the first round of the WNBA draft.
“The one thing that I always say about players from Connecticut, and also players from Tennessee, the rich tradition-type programs, is that they always kept their college coaches, staffs in high regard,” said Seattle coach Brian Agler, who has coached former UConn players Sue Bird, Swin Cash and Svetlana Abrosimova with the Storm. “The players speak highly of them; they tended to be a big part of their lives, even once they get in the pro level. I think that’s important in our evaluation, because they are very team oriented.
“And Tiffany definitely is like that. She’s had a great career there. I anticipate her going in the first round at some point. You know, she’s got some versatility and some length [5 feet 9]. But definitely her pedigree going to that program for four years, playing on the great teams that she has will help her. It’s a very competitive situation, and that’s what she comes from.”
The WNBA is aware of how Hayes’ career progressed; its multiple highs and lows. She finished her career in the Top 10 in games, points and assists in UConn history. But as well as she often played in the regular season, Hayes struggled in four Final Four appearances.
“I think for Tiffany, when you make that jump to the WNBA, the expectations of her as a player will change a little bit in terms of what she is asked to do or what they needed her to do, and I think that led to some of the inconsistencies,” Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said. “For her, I’m sure she’s better for it, all of the experiences that she had, and I think she’ll be able to take all of those things and figure out how to be impactful in our league.”
As Reeve said, its unlikely Hayes will be drafted by a team that needs her to be its go-to scorer. She is more likely to play 12 to 15 minutes, contributing in spots with her athleticism and shooting touch. In that way, her first three seasons at UConn, spent as a complementary player, will serve her well as a pro.
“I think a team that plays UConn’s style would be a good place for me,” Hayes joked. “But it’s how you look at it. I don’t think there will be a lot of intimidation going on [to make a team]. I just think you can learn a lot from the people around you, and for me, I would just be glad to be around people like that because you can learn from them.”
Former UConn All-American Rebecca Lobo, now an ESPN analyst, says Hayes will have no trouble fitting in.
“I think her experience being a complementary player is a good thing because that’s what she’s going to be is a complementary player,” Lobo said. “She has a lot of things you look for in a pro: she has good size and she can get to the free throw line. She can pass the ball. She can rebound the ball. She’s a high percentage field goal shooter and thee point shooter.
“You know, I think Tiffany is going to be a really good pro, and the one criticism that she might have gotten at Connecticut is sometimes in big games, she’s had some struggles, and in the Final Four she had some struggles. Well you know she’s not going to need to carry a team in the WNBA and not going to need to be called upon to hit the big shot at the end of the game. There will be other players to do that.”
In line with her low-key personality, Hayes said she has prepared for the draft by trying not to think much about it.
“I’ve just been keeping focused on finishing up the school year because I’m not done,” Hayes said. “I get to take this time to really focus on my classes and only my classes, because we don’t have practices to go to or tournaments to worry about.”
And Hayes said there’s nothing about the pace or style of the WNBA that worries her.
“If anything, it’s likely the physicality of the game,” Hayes said. “But, [UConn is] kind of used to it at that pace. It’s probably the same in the WNBA game, probably faster. But once you get there, you can adjust. So because I’m used to a fast pace, I’m going to go with physicality.”