Syracuse’s 3 best players have a shot in the WNBA Draft
Lucy Naland | Presentation Director
UPDATED: April 11, 2017 at 1:40 a.m.
Alexis Peterson, Brittney Sykes and Briana Day were three key pieces for a Syracuse team that made the program’s first-ever Final Four run in 2016. The trio helped lead SU to new heights and set the bar higher for the program.
In the WNBA’s 20-year history, only three Syracuse players have been drafted. Beth Record went in 2001, Kayla Alexander in 2013 and Brianna Butler in last year’s draft. There’s a chance that SU has three players taken in this year’s draft alone on Thursday.
“I think we’ve proven over the last few years,” SU head coach Quentin Hillsman said, “that we have high level players, that are All-American types players and that are WNBA and professional players.”
Ahead of the draft, here is how the SU players stack up and how each one is approaching the future.
The individual accolades accrued at Syracuse are impressive for all three players. They each rank inside the Top 10 in games played and have imprinted their name in the record books.
Peterson is second in points scored (1,978) and first in assists (590) in Orange history, and was named the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year this season. Sykes is third in points scored (1,846), fifth in steals (266) and eighth in rebounding (810). This past year, along with Peterson, Sykes was named to the All-ACC first team. Day is the all-time leading rebounder (1,124) and third in blocked shots (236).
Ally Moreo | Photo Editor
Most mock drafts have Peterson as SU’s first off the board. A recent Bleacher Report mock had her going with the second-to-last pick in the first round (11th overall), while one at Newsday recently had her going as high as second overall.
“I would be surprised if it goes to the second round,” Carla Norris, Peterson’s aunt and basketball mentor, said. “We hope she goes in the first.”
Sykes has been projected at both ends of the second round. Bleacher Report slotted her at the last pick of the first round, but more mocks have her just outside those top 12 spots.
Day is the wild card for Syracuse. There is a mock draft that has her being taken in the third round. But while it seems almost a forgone conclusion that Peterson and Sykes will be at some point be drafted, it’s unclear if Day will hear her name called. WNBA or not, she wants to continue playing basketball.
“Whether it’s here or overseas,” Day said, “just taking every opportunity that comes my way.”
The skill sets
Peterson is a dependable point guard who can score from anywhere and, as one of the ACC’s top threats, her strengths are well known. She keyed the Orange’s run to the Final Four last year.
“She’s one of the most mature players that I’ve ever come into contact with,” basketball analyst LaChina Robinson said. “There’s just not many things on the basketball court that she can’t do.”
Sykes’s most valuable asset is her versatility. She decided to come back to SU at the end of last season and knew she needed to add one more asset to have a more complete game in the pros.
“Definitely my 3-point shot,” Sykes said on what her biggest improvement was. “… It was kind of fun hearing that I was a shooter during the season.”
Sykes had 40 3-pointers coming into this season and hit 57 this year alone, shooting at a 39-percent clip.
Day utilized her 6-foot-4 frame in Syracuse’s 2-3 zone and, like many SU players, it remains to be seen what she can do on an individual assignment. Her rebounding numbers were fairly consistent from her sophomore through senior year, when she averaged roughly the same number of minutes.
Her offensive game was what grew the most this year, averaging career highs in points (12.9) and field goal percentage (54.6). But it’s unclear whether the one-year improvement will translate.
“The question for her would be on the offensive end,” Robinson said. “… How does her offensive skill set develop.”
Jacob Greenfeld | Asst. Photo Editor
All three players expressed anxiety and excitement for the draft. Leading up to it, they’ve each filled their time differently.
Peterson has been working out on her own. She was in Phoenix during the week of the men’s Final Four, competing in the 3-point contest, and in Dallas during the women’s Final Four, getting honored as one of the coaches All-Americans. Day has spent most of her time working out and ensuring classes are taken care of before she leaves.
Sykes has gone home to visit her family and work out with her childhood trainer a few times since the season ended. When she’s at SU, she works out with assistant coach Tammi Reiss, who runs drills. She’s also talked with current WNBA players she grew up with, like former UConn standouts Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson.
All of the players said that while they try and avoid mock drafts, they have looked once or twice. Sykes has had trouble avoiding them because they keep flooding her phone constantly.
“My mom just thinks that she’s just this informant for the WNBA,” Sykes said last Thursday, laughing. “She just sends me so many links … I promise you she sent me three mock drafts yesterday.”
For the first time in their careers, Peterson, Sykes and Day will be getting paid to play basketball. With that comes the responsibility of handling the money, and the luxury of getting to spend the first paycheck.
All three stressed that they weren’t sure if there was anything they really wanted to splurge on. Peterson said she’d save the first check she got. Sykes said she’d probably do the same, or maybe just give it to her mom. “I’m pretty frugal with my money,” Sykes said.
Day said she’d maybe treat herself to a nice dinner. Something at a nice restaurant, like a steak or lobster. And it’s something she won’t feel bad about ordering, like she has in the past.
After last year’s Final Four run, Peterson and Day went down to Miami, where the two went to a restaurant but were a bit taken aback by the South Beach prices. They split an appetizer and each got an entree.
Day ordered surf and turf without looking at the menu. When the bill came out, the total was $155. Day’s main course was $85 alone. Peterson remembers her being disgusted with herself for ordering something that pricy.
“I stayed simple,” Peterson said, laughing. “I got chicken alfredo. Something that I know. And I saw the price.”
Jacob Greenfeld | Asst. Photo Editor
The success of Syracuse over the last few years has raised the stock of the program. ESPN.com has Syracuse with the eighth-best recruiting class in the country this year. Two seasons ago, the Orange had never made it out of the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament.
The WNBA is a relatively untapped market for the SU brand. Alexander is the only active player, averaging nearly 20 minutes off the bench for the San Antonio Stars.
Peterson, Sykes and Day know that by the end of Thursday night, their collegiate accomplishments won’t mean anything. But they’re ready to carry themselves, and SU, at the professional levels.
“It’s just a matter of how much you want it,” Peterson said. “And how much you want to work for it.”
CLARIFICATION: In a previous version of this post, the ways in which Alexis Peterson spent her time leading up to the WNBA draft were unclear.
Published on April 10, 2017 at 11:08 pm