Willoughby

Virginia’s Jocelyn Willoughby (with ball) averaged 19.2 points as a senior, earning All-ACC honors. The New Jersey native is joining the New York Liberty.

It was quite an eventful Friday night for Virginia women’s basketball star Jocelyn Willoughby.

First, she was chosen by Phoenix in the first round of the WNBA Draft.

“It just means so much because I think you often work but don’t know when you’re going to see it pay off,” she said on a teleconference Friday night from her New Jersey home. “I’m thankful for the opportunity — definitely don’t take it lightly, knowing that there’s so many talented players that I’m competing against … for these spots.

“I’m just really, really grateful.”

After the draft concluded, she learned that Phoenix had traded her rights to the New York Liberty.

“It definitely was a shock, but also an exciting moment,” she said.

She attended Liberty games on school trips when she was a kid. The Liberty used to play at Madison Square Garden but are moving to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

“Being close to home, being that I’m from New Jersey, [going to the Liberty] is really exciting,” she said.

New York sent veteran Shatori Walker-Kimbrough to Phoenix, which had chosen Willoughby with the 10th overall pick.

So instead of joining a veteran Phoenix team, Willoughby joins a young squad that won just 10 games last season.

“It was an emotional night,” she said. “To be joining [New York as] … kind of like a local product, … it’s a dream come true in many ways.”

Willoughby said she knew before the draft that New York was interested in her.

The 6-foot forward will be one of four 2020 first-round draft picks on the Liberty roster, including Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu, who was the No. 1 overall pick. New York also took UConn’s Megan Walker with the ninth overall pick and Louisville’s Jazmine Jones with the 12th and final pick of the first round.

“Very talented players, so I think it’ll be a good opportunity,” Willoughby said. “To be on a young team is exciting.

“Sabrina’s had a very, very successful college career and is just a very talented player, so I’m excited to be able to play with her, grow alongside her but also learn from her.”

In ESPN’s final mock draft Thursday, Willoughby was projected to go to New York with the first pick of the second round.

Willoughby led the ACC in scoring as a senior this year, when she averaged 19.2 points. She said she feels ready for the WNBA.

“It’s always about continuing to work and being confident in my game, but always knowing there’s room to grow,” she said. “There’s going to a learning curve, I know that, but … ready to put in the work to do what’s necessary on the next level.”

The All-ACC first-team pick was the first of eight ACC players to be drafted Friday. Four of them are headed to the Liberty — Willoughby, Jones and second-round picks Kylee Shook of Louisville and Leaonna Odom of Duke.

“It’s nice to not have that ACC rivalry continue and to have them as teammates,” Willoughby said.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Willoughby and other first-round picks appeared on ESPN’s draft telecast from their homes.

Only members of Willoughby’s immediate family were at the house with her when she got picked.

“But I kind of organized at the last minute a Zoom call and just invited … coaches who taught me how to do my first layup to my college coaches and teammates,” she said.

Willoughby became the first Cavalier to be drafted since Monica Wright was chosen with the No. 2 overall pick in 2010.

Wright returned to UVa as an assistant coach last year.

“When Monica got back on staff, … the very first day she met me she was just like, ‘You’re going to be a draft pick. We need to start working on this,’ ” Willoughby said.

“I got to share the moment of being drafted with her tonight [on Zoom], and it was just so special.”

Mark Berman covers Virginia Tech men’s basketball and many other teams at the university. He also helps cover other colleges, including Radford, VMI, Roanoke, Washington and Lee and Ferrum.

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