Excitement mounts as start of draft nears

BRISTOL, Conn. -- With a little less than four hours to go until this group of accomplished athletes changes its status from amateur to professional, a conference room at ESPN headquarters was filled with what Sydney Colson, the dynamic guard from Texas A&M who is still basking in the glow of an NCAA title, described as "nervous excitement."

Many of the 15 players who have gathered at ESPN headquarters for today's WNBA draft nodded at that or expressed similar feelings.

But then there's always got to be one, right?

"Surprisingly, I'm really, really calm," Connecticut star Maya Moore said.

Stanford's Kayla Pedersen patted her on the back and smiled. The other players laughed.

If there's anyone in the room today for whom suspense is not really an issue, it's Moore.

If there's anyone in the room today who has to be pretty darn sure she's ready for what comes next, it's Moore.

Her future as the No. 1 pick in the 2011 WNBA draft has practically been etched in stone since the moment she first took the court for the Huskies as a freshman.

But what if you are, say, North Carolina's Jessica Breland, whose future was filled with nothing but uncertainty when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in June 2009.

"Two years ago, I was home getting poison pumped into my body for hours at a time," Breland said of her cancer treatments.

Breland, who has been in remission since November 2009, skipped the 2009-10 season to recover, returning to the court for the Tar Heels for her senior season.

Coming off a stellar and inspiring final season in which she averaged 12.5 points and 7.0 rebounds a game, Breland said she feels "blessed.

"Last year was tough getting back to where I was," Breland said. "To me, it's not about what team I end up with, it's that I'm able to play on the next level. That's a blessing considering where I was two years ago."

Frankly, it might be tough for some of these players to remember what they were doing only a few days ago. Colson and teammate Danielle Adams are in Bristol, just six days after winning the national title.

Pedersen said she has already moved out of the place she was living near campus, having finished up her classes on The Farm. She flew back with her team after their Final Four loss to the Aggies then left again a couple of days later.

"I don't live in California anymore," Pedersen said.

Gonzaga's Courtney Vandersloot isn't done with school. She still has a couple of classes left before she graduates at the end of the semester, and when the draft is done she needs to return to Spokane to begin catching up.

Meanwhile, 19-year-old Australian sensation Elizabeth Cambage, who is telling everyone to call her "Liz," said she has waited years and years for this day.

"It felt like such a weight was finally off my shoulders when I woke up this morning," Cambage said.

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