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From Lincoln High to Lieberman Award, Andrea Riley readies for the WNBA

Andrea Riley
Andrea Riley

Andrea Riley smiled and expressed surprise at Oklahoma State University's NCAA tournament selection party when she was told that Marion Jones, the newest member of the Tulsa Shock, knew her name and her game. Her eyes sparkled just a bit brighter at the prospect of starting her WNBA career in a city just an hour away from her collegiate home away from home was mentioned. But that gleam is sure to be seen no matter where Riley lands in the draft less than a week away.

Analysts Rebecca Lobo and Carolyn Peck don’t know where the 5'5" point guard Riley will go in the draft order, predicting all the way from 7th to the Tulsa Shock down to early in the second round.

"Andrea Riley is one of the toughest players in the country, I think, to defend, because she’s got extreme range, and she can go off the dribble," said Peck during the WNBA pre-draft media teleconference. "She will have to go to a team that needs a scoring guard".

Lobo added, "She’ll be great in a system with a coach who uses a lot of screen-and-rolls because she’s so good coming off the screen-and-roll. She’s a small guard who can obviously score, who is going to have to change her game a little bit and be more of a distributor, but she has that in her arsenal".

Riley got more accolades from Los Angeles Sparks head coach Jennifer Gillom, who put her in some great company. "There are definitely some talented players out there at the guard position, for example, you have Epiphanny Prince, Monica Wright and Andrea Riley who I think are going to be very impactful players," Gillom said on Wednesday’s pre-draft conference call.

This is the game that the nation-at-large has seen: her scoring ability. And certainly these abilities should be seen and marveled at, especially considering Riley is the all-time point leader at Oklahoma State -- regardless of gender -- and the Big 12’s all-time point leader as well. Cowgirls head coach Kurt Budke reflected on Riley’s scoring accomplishment in December after clinching her place in history, saying "When we signed Andrea, I told her that she was going to leave this place the all-time leading scorer. We were 0-16 at the time. I told her, `If you take a chance on us, we'll build this around you. You will leave this school the all-time leading scorer.' And now it's come true."

Also the recipient of the recently announced 2010 Nancy Lieberman Award for the nation’s top point guard, Riley has come a long way since her days in a hot Texas gym with her father, Roosevelt. She has run the gamut of being considered a ball-hog, a sloppy and sometimes selfish player, to a selfless team leader in her collegiate career at Oklahoma State.

Many who are not particularly close followers to the OSU program remember her for her tussle in the 2008 NCAA tournament and the media coverage of her sitting out the Cowgirls first round game in this year’s dance. They don’t know about her now-humble attitude and gratitude for every day she has the ability to lace up her sneakers and play the game she loves. That humble attitude is not only evident in brief moments like the one where she expressed surprise about Jones' praise, but also in her focus on helping the team win as when she recalls a dish to forward Tegan Cunningham as the play of the game rather than her own shot. There's more to Riley than the volume shooter we all first see.

There is more to Riley’s basketball legacy than her short stature, inordinate number of shots taken and the points she puts on the board. As Lobo mentioned, the role of a distributor is one that she began to embrace during her career and she leaves Stillwater having dished out dimes on a school-record 707 occasions, crashed the glass 470 times and picked someone’s pocket for 288 opportunities for her team to add to the scoreboard. Nothing to sneeze at, especially when you couple that with her 2,835 points and an uncanny ability to get to the line at will. These skills that complement her scoring are what should make Riley achieve the impact that Gillom alluded to and allow Riley to thrive in a competitive league.

Riley is heading into the professional ranks with more than just her name and her family to represent. If all goes as expected on Thursday, she will be the first player in Oklahoma State history to be drafted into the WNBA and you can be sure her fellow teammates and fans who don the orange and black will be cheering for ‘Beep Beep’ to make her mark and prove that size doesn’t matter nearly as much as heart as she speeds right by.