Mar 10, 2019; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Bridget Carleton (21) dribbles past Texas Longhorns forward Olamide Aborowa (14) during the third quarter in the women’s Big 12 Conference Tournament at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Bridget Carleton began her day like any other.
She woke up, brushed her teeth, and headed off to class buffeted by chilly winds and a sense of wonder.
1. Kinesiology 462: Medical Aspects of Exercise.
2. Kinesiology 355: Biomechanics.
“It was normal,” said Carleton, who became Iowa State’s first WNBA draftee in five years Wednesday night when the Connecticut Sun selected her with the 21st overall pick. “I went to class. I worked out. I lifted. And then (teammate Meredith Burkhall) and I just hung out in the afternoon and got ready for this night. I tried to not think about it as much as I can. I knew it wasn’t in my control at that point anymore, so it was just a matter of enjoying it, having fun, spending time with my teammates.”
Carleton watched the WNBA Draft unfold at assistant coach Billy Fennelly’s house. She was surrounded by family and friends — all family, really — and FaceTimed with her parents back in Ontario for hours.
The 6-1 guard, who finished her Cyclone career as the program’s second all-time leading scorer, tried to fully follow her daily routine, but hearing one’s name called on the ESPN family of networks isn’t exactly an everyday occurrence.
“It was cool,” ISU head coach Bill Fennelly said. “The whole team and everyone in this building that’s impacted her life, we were all there. Family, friends. And we took a picture with everyone. We’re FaceTiming her parents at the same time. The thing I told her was, ‘You’ve earned this,’ and she got picked by the perfect team. Connecticut — it’s not about first round, second round, it’s about fit, and I think there’s karma involved here that number 21 got picked 21. And she got picked by an organization that really liked her. Coach (Curt) Miller … he’s been following her, has paid the most attention to her as any organization, so I think it’s a great fit and she’ll go out and compete like everyone else. The last thing I told her was, ‘It’s time to go to work. Now you’ve got a job.’”
And a challenge. It’s not remotely easy to crack one of the 12 WNBA team’s rosters. Overseas opportunities abound, but the best of the best play in the WNBA — where Carleton feels she belongs.
“Connecticut (is) a great program,” said Carleton, who averaged 19.2 points her senior season. “They have some coaches that have coached college basketball. They coached at Indiana. … They’ve been to Iowa State games, so I know them really well and I’m really excited. They were really good last year. They have really good coaches and I’m really excited to learn from them and play as hard as I can for that franchise.”
Carleton said an ancillary goal of playing in the 2020 Olympics for Team Canada coincides with the current task at hand. She feels well prepared for both challenges.
“I’ve played against professionals all summer,” Carleton said. “I’ve played against WNBA players. I’ve guarded them all summer. I’ve tried to score on them all summer. So I think just having that experience playing with older girls, playing with people who have been in the league for a number of years, that doesn’t hurt me at all.”
So Carleton’s “normal day” dovetailed into sky-high aspirations. It seems fitting. Fennelly sensed that she would become a transformational player early on, and she proved to be just that.
“The very first day of practice I went home and I told Deb (Fennelly), ‘I hate to jinx this, but she’s a mixture of Megan Taylor and Tracy Gahan,” Fennelly said. “And if that happens? We have something special. It turned out that way. Most of the credit for this, to be honest with you, is her parents, but (longtime assistant coach) Jodi Steyer, who is laying in a hospital bed at Mary Greeley Hospital because she had her knee replaced today — Coach Steyer’s the one who did this. She recruited her. She worked with her. She’s the one that got her to this point. … Yesterday — I mean, Jodi’s getting her knee replaced this morning by Dr. (Thomas) Greenwald at 5:30, she’s out there with Bridget putting her through a workout for 45 minutes and I don’t think that felt very good, but that’s what Coach Steyer does.”
It’s what Carleton does, too.
Her dogged devotion to the game has carried her to the cusp of greatness.
What happens next is up to her — and if she ever feels stuck, Fennelly is just a phone call (or text) away. And No. 21, who was drafted No. 21, won’t hesitate to reach out, or vice versa.
“Coach Fen will always be a part of my life,” Carleton said. “He’ll always be someone I can go to for answers, go to for questions. I think I’lll all ask him for advice and ask him what I need to get better on. I’m sure he’ll watch a lot of games and, you know, tell me things I need to get better on, so he’ll always be there for me whenever I need him.”