Former Iowa State star Bridget Carleton was all smiles as she stepped into the Sukup Basketball Complex Wednesday night with fellow senior Meredith Burkhall by her side.
It wasn't difficult to understand why.
The Chatham, Ontario, Canada, native's WNBA dream got one step closer to becoming a reality as she became the 14th Cyclone in history to be picked in the WNBA Draft.
Carleton was selected with the 21st overall pick in the second round by the Connecticut Sun. She is the first Cyclone selected in the WNBA Draft since Nikki Moody was drafted in the third round of the 2015 Draft by the San Antonio Stars (now the Las Vegas Aces).
Carleton said she felt it was a great fit.
"I'm super excited, Connecticut is a great franchise," Carleton said. "They've been to Iowa State games, so I know them really well.
"I'm just really, really looking forward to it."
The entire Iowa State women's basketball team — along with coaches and other staff — was watching the draft when Carleton's name was called. Carleton said she was on the phone with her parents all night as well.
Carleton will be up against history in her WNBA pursuits, as the Cyclones have had few draft picks stick in the league. Alison Lacey, a 2010 first round pick, won a championship with the Seattle Storm the same year, but the Cyclones haven't had much to write home about in the professional ranks.
The Sun were a WNBA playoff team in the 2018 season, finishing with a regular-season record of 21-13 and earning the No. 4 seed. Their playoff run was short, however, with a loss in the second round ending their season. Leading the Sun is forward Chiney Ogwumike, a third-year star who averaged 14.4 points per game in 2018.
The coach of the Sun is former Indiana coach Curt Miller. Cyclones coach Bill Fennelly knows Miller well, and he was on the phone with the Sun coach when Carleton's name was announced.
"She got picked by the perfect team," Fennelly said. "It's not about first round, second round, it's about fit.
"There's karma involed here that No. 21 got picked No. 21, and she got picked by an organization that really liked her."
Carleton had a storied career with Iowa State, and her senior season cemented her legacy as one of Fennelly's best players.
Finishing her career just seven points short of record-holder Angie Welle with 2,142 points, Carleton averaged 21.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, four assists and 2.2 steals per game. Carleton won the Cheryl Miller Award for being the nation's top small forward and was named to the Naismith Starting Five, representative of the five best basketball players in women's college basketball for the 2018-19 season. Carleton set a season high for points in a single game against Texas Christian (TCU) on Feb. 13, scoring 34 in a 76-69 loss.
The credit for Carleton arriving at Iowa State in the first place goes to assistant coach Jodi Steyer, Fennelly said.
Fennelly added that Carleton's versatility is what translates best to the WNBA in her ability to play multiple positions and do "a little bit of everything."
Carleton was in agreement, although she admitted it wouldn't be an easy road to cement her place in the league.
"Obviously making the league in general is hard," Carleton said. "So to make that 12-man roster, you know, I'm going to have to be a great teammate no matter what my role is."
From our family to yours...Welcome! https://t.co/07UNkNEHJD— Connecticut Sun (@ConnecticutSun) April 11, 2019
Carleton's chance to prove herself to the Sun is just over a month away, as WNBA training camp kicks off at the end April and preseason games begin May 13. Maintaining a balance between rest and getting into peak game shape is going to be the focus, Carleton said.
For Iowa State, the time has come to adjust to life without one of its all-time greats as Carleton begins her professional career.
Fennelly said there was a finality to the night.
"You want it to end in a unique, special way, and in basketball this is as good as it gets," Fennelly said. "It's a little surreal, because when I hugged her, and we did this at Billy [Fennelly's] house, I hugged her and I said, 'This is it. You're somebody else's now.' It's like letting your kids go.
"It's hard, it's really really hard, but I've never been around a kid that's earned this more."