Usually when a pro basketball team goes out on a limb with the top draft pick, the limb is freakishly long and still trying to achieve harmony with its trunk. In 1998, for example, the NBA's Clippers took raw 7-footer Michael Olowokandi and the WNBA's Utah Starzz picked 7'2" Malgorzata Dydek. Projects, like branches, are supposed to scrape the sky.
So when the Cleveland Rockers used the WNBA's top selection on Ann Wauters of Belgium, a green 19-year-old with average height (6' 4") for a center, even her agent, Rolando Groignet, scratched his head. "In my wildest dreams," he says, "I hoped for her to make the top five." Wauters says when she heard her name called, she was more excited about being chosen at all than about being chosen No. 1: "I was like, Yeah, yeah, I'm in the league!"
The four-round draft was light on post players, which explains why an unprecedented 13 foreigners were picked, including five in the first round. Wauters, uncommonly mobile and versatile, has averaged 12.7 points and 6.8 rebounds in two professional seasons with France's USV Olympic and was considered the best European prospect. "I like to play with my back to the basket," Wauters says. "I can run the floor. I like to defend. I like to, how do you say, block shots."
Each of the league's previous three top picks made an impact in her first season—Houston's Tina Thompson was named first-team All- WNBA in 1997; Dydek led the league in blocked shots in '98; and Washington's Chamique Holdsclaw was Rookie of the Year in '99—but first-year Cleveland coach Dan Hughes doesn't expect as much out of Wauters: "I hope people will allow her to play a little bit and not have an expectation level that's too dramatic."