Elissa Cunane’s nickname of “Big Smile” was tested Monday night as she sat nervously in the green room of the WNBA Draft waiting for her name to finally be called.
It took until the middle of the second round, long after she was projected, for the NC State star to finally be selected.
The 6-foot-5 center was taken by the Seattle Storm with the 17th overall pick. She was one of two Wolfpack players to be selected in the three-round draft, joining forward Kayla Jones, who went five picks later to the Minnesota Lynx.
Cunane, repping her school in a bright red suit, insisted that she came into the draft with no preconceived expectations. But if she did feel any tension as the picks continued to click off and she dropped out of the first round, it was eased by the encouragement of her college coach Wes Moore.
“Coach Moore told me that when I was going to college, some coaches that wanted me didn’t get me, some coaches that didn’t offer me regretted that later,” she said during a post-draft video conference. “So he said I’m going to go wherever I go and make whoever didn’t pick me jealous.”
If there’s an upside to Cunane’s later-than-expected selection, it’s that she was the first player taken by Seattle, which didn’t have a pick in the opening round.
And yet, making the roster is anything but guaranteed.
The Storm finished 21-11 and made the WNBA playoffs last season with a star-studded roster that includes all-time great Sue Bird, 2018 league MVP Breanna Stewart and first-team All-WNBA selection Jewell Lloyd.
The team also has two veteran centers in Mercedes Russell and former first-round pick Ezi Magbegor.
“I know the WNBA is a very tough league to get into with the roster spots, so I was just looking forward to hearing my name called, which I did, and I’m excited to go to Seattle,” Cunane said. “Growing up having a dream of being in the league, I think you kind of notice that there’s only 144 (spots). I think knowing that going into tonight, I was just prepared for that.”
Cunane finished her career with the Wolfpack as one of the most decorated players in program history, earning consensus All-Americans honors in each of her final two seasons while leading State to three straight ACC Tournament championships and the 2022 regular season crown.
She averaged 14.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game while shooting 54% from the floor in 125 college games, ranking sixth in school history in points (1,855), fifth in rebounds (986) and seventh in double-doubles (34).
Cunane said that the biggest asset she brings to her new team is her versatility, “being able to shoot the 3, playing inside, but also my level-headedness in big moments and big games, being able to perform at high levels against great people and being a team player.”
Because of her experience with the Wolfpack, she believes she will fit right in with a franchise that has won four WNBA championships, including two of the past four in 2018 and 2020.
“I’m used to championships, as well, from the ACC,” she said “I think just going up there and learning from people that have gone all the way in the WNBA and (know) what it takes to make it throughout the playoffs, just the skill they have and the knowledge they have, I think I can bring some more skill to that team and just be able to expand it.”