WNBA Draft: H-Town set to shine with Collier, Richards, Mulkey

WNBA Draft: H-Town set to shine with Collier, Richards, Mulkey (Copyright (c) 2021 VYPE - All rights reserved)

HOUSTON – Nancy Mulkey walking into the Cypress Woods High School gym is something that Virginia Flores vividly remembers.

The 14-year-old freshman towering at 6-foot-5 stood out.

But just being tall doesn't automatically mean you are good at playing basketball. Flores waited to pass judgment until she saw her shoot.

Then she did.

"As soon as I saw her shoot, I was blown away," Flores, who coached at Cy Woods until 2017, said. "Here's a kid who's got finesse, has poise, and is graceful at the age of 14. She was either 6-5 or 6-6 at that time. That for me stood out."

Flores remembers a lot not only about the players that she personally coached at Cy Woods but also the ones that she has coached against.

The now-Associate Athletic Director for Cy-Fair ISD remembers DiDi Richard's fierceness at Cy Ranch. She recollects the pure dominance of Charli Collier at her alma mater Barbers Hill.

On Thursday, Flores will get to add another memory to the bank for these three players – watching them being picked in the 2021 WNBA Draft.

"It's been really cool to see a lot more excitement for the women's game," Flores said. "I think it's important for younger girls and younger athletes to see the opportunity. They are able to see themselves in these young women's shoes who are about to go to the WNBA."

Collier, who went on to star at the University of Texas, has been the headliner of this draft class ever since she formally declared.

The Barbers Hill product is projected in every mock draft to be the No. 1 overall pick by the Dallas Wings come Thursday night.

"Yes, it was ridiculous," Flores said with a chuckle about if she thought Collier would be a No. 1 overall pick one day after facing her. "She's just a competitor. It's amazing to see someone play the way she does at her size and she dominated. Then when she went on to UT playing under Karen Aston and now Vic Schaefer, she's gotten stronger, increase her physicality and she's embraced it."

The next Houston kid on the draft board is Richards, who is projected to go No. 21 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks.

The former Cypress Ranch star helped lead the Mustangs to the Class 6A State Championship game in 2017 and then went on to Baylor where she helped lead them to the 2019 National Championship.

"I've never seen anybody with a touch like that from the outside and the inside," Flores said of Richards. "A 6-1 player that played with the finesse that she played with and then to go on to college and continue to thrive."

The final Houston-area product is Mulkey, projected to go No. 35 to the Seattle Storm.

But what is crazy about Mulkey is when she first walked into Cypress Woods High School, basketball was not at the forefront of her mind.

"Nancy had a desire to play volleyball," Flores said. "She wanted to meet the volleyball coach and I don't know if basketball was on the horizon at the time. I think she had played it."

Mulkey ended up going with basketball and the move paid off.

The 2015 Class 6A State Champion after Cypress Woods went to Oklahoma her freshman season before transferring to Rice where she helped lead them to the NCAA Tournament and winning the 2021 NIT Championship.

"She's a competitor. Some people have this drive to want to be better and I do believe that is true about Nancy, but she also wants to do it for others," Flores said. "She wants to do that for her teammates and for her coaches. I think that's so evident at Rice where she did nothing but blossom and thrive in that environment."

So, flip back to the 2015-2016 season in Houston in women's basketball.

Mulkey was a senior, Richards a junior, and Collier a sophomore were all dominating the scene in the Houston area, which for Flores was fun, especially when Cy Woods and Cypress Ranch faced off.

"I think my kids were always geared up to beat Ranch because it was a rival and what also upped the ante was when you have a player like DiDi on that team," Flores said. "It makes other people want to play better.

"You had to bring your 'A' game every night."

If Richards and Mulkey are drafted on Thursday night into the WNBA, they will join a pretty elite class of former Cy-Fair ISD athletes to get drafted including the Ogwumike sisters, who all were taken into the WNBA. Then, of course in the NBA, Cy Lakes alum De'Aaron Fox is starring for the Sacramento Kings.

"I think it speaks to the level of commitment that our coaches put into our athletes," Flores said. "I think it also speaks to the volume that our community trusts us with their athletes."

Over the past few weeks, Flores has been busy.

In March, Flores traveled to the Alamodome to watch Texas-signees Rori Harmon and Kyndall Hunter lead Cypress Creek to play for the Class 6A State Championship.

Then in April, Flores was back inside the dome to watch former player Cate Reese take the opening tip of the 2021 National Championship game for Arizona.

To go from watching future college, to current college players and then to watch former players get drafted, Flores takes it all in.

"It's really validating and it's cool because the foundations that you laid here within your district or your own program are things they continue to build on as they leave," Flores said. "It's what we all want is to see them thrive at the next level whether that is in basketball, academically, or in their professional lives."

Projected WNBA Draft Picks
Charli Collier (Barbers Hill HS / University of Texas) – No. 1 Dallas Wings (Class of 2018)
Natasha Mack (Lufkin HS/Oklahoma State) – No. 10 Los Angeles Sparks
DiDi Richards (Cypress Ranch HS/Baylor) – No. 21 Los Angeles Sparks (Class of 2017)
Nancy Mulkey (Cypress Woods HS/Rice) – No. 35 Seattle Storm (Class of 2016)

Other Texas Stars
Kiana Williams (Wagner HS/Stanford) – No. 9 Minnesota Lynx
Ciera Johnson (Duncanville HS/Texas A&M) – No. 24 Indiana Fever