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MSU's Jankoska goes ninth in WNBA Draft

Associated Press • Updated Apr 15, 2017 at 2:05 AM

Knowing her star player was almost certain to be a first-round draft pick, Michigan State women's basketball coach Suzy Merchant prodded Tori Jankoska to take a trip to New York City for the big night.

But that's not Jankoska's style.

Instead, the native of little old Freeland, just outside of Saginaw, wanted to watch the WNBA Draft on TV in her basement, surrounded by more than 40 family members and friends Thursday night.

"She didn't want any of that," Merchant said of the hoopla. "That's not who she is. She's so mild-mannered."

Still, Jankoska couldn't hold back the tears when, with the ninth overall pick, she was drafted by the Chicago Sky.

That gives Michigan State a second consecutive first-round selection. Aerial Powers went No. 5 to Dallas in 2016.

Chicago brass called Jankoska around the sixth pick, but just to say "good luck" and the like, not tipping off their plans to take her. Jankoska had been projected by most experts to be taken later in the opening round, which featured 12 picks.

"It was really cool, it was unexpected, and it was really exciting," Jankoska said over the phone late Thursday night. "A huge blessing."

Jankoska, 22, was the third Big Ten player taken in the first round, after Maryland's Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (Washington, No. 6) and Brionna Jones (Connecticut, No. 8).

The evening capped a heck of a four-year run for Jankoska, who set every major record at Michigan State, including becoming the all-time leading scorer (2,212 points) and the single-season record-holder (746 last season).

"Honestly, not as long as you think," Jankoska said, when asked how long she's been dreaming of this day. "I was thinking about Michigan State until the day I was done, which was a couple weeks ago. Since then, I've been working on my game, being in the gym.

"Today, once it was 7 o'clock, the nerves kind of came."

A 5-foot-8 guard, Jankoska was a four-time letterwinner and three-time captain at Freeland High School, where she scored 2,333 points. She was a Parade All-American, and a heck of a coup for Merchant.

In four seasons with the Spartans she played in three NCAA Tournaments, including this past season, as the Spartans rallied late in the season to earn a bid — thanks to Jankoska, who went from 15.1 points a game as a junior behind Powers, to 22.6.

Jankoska is Michigan State's all-time leader in 3-pointers made (320), and free throws made (478), and second in assists (489).

And now she gets to continue her career close to home, under the team's new head coach, Amber Stocks.

"I'm a family person and Chicago's one of the closest places to play, and a really cool city," said Jankoska, who also had interest from Minnesota, which picked last in the first round. "I'm just really excited.

"I was just so excited for the opportunity to hear my name."

Next year, for a second consecutive season, Michigan State — which was 21-12 and lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Arizona State — will have to make up for the loss of a star player.

Medical exemptions will help, as seniors Branndais Agee (10.0 points) and Taya Reimer (9.5 points) are getting an another year each. The Spartans also have landed one of the top recruits in the country, five-star forward Sidney Crooks from Wisconsin.

But those are discussions for another day. Thursday was about Jankoska, about whom Merchant couldn't stop gushing.

"She's just a small-town kid from Freeland that's as humble as can be," Merchant said. "They're not going to make millions of dollars, like the NBA. It's a different animal.

"But to see a kid's dream come true, that's what we're in this profession for."

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