Fenwick High School girls basketball coach Dave Power was at the River Forest residence of former star Tricia Liston on April 14 when he got to witness local history being made.
The Listons and some guests were watching the WNBA draft on television and erupted in cheers when Liston’s Duke teammate, Chelsea Gray, was chosen by the Connecticut Sun with the 11th pick of the first round.
But that was nothing compared with what came next as Liston was taken with the 12th pick by the three-time defending champion Minnesota Lynx.
“The TV goes blank, her phone is firing up and she’s like ‘I think I got drafted,'” Power recalled. “The whole family was so ecstatic. I’m really jacked up about this.”
Power has reason to be. Liston is the second Fenwick player to be selected in the first round of the WNBA draft in the last three years, joining Devereaux Peters, who was the third overall pick out of Notre Dame in 2012.
Ironically, Peters also plays for the Lynx, so the two will be reunited seven years after leading the Friars to the 2007 state championship. Liston expected to be drafted but not as high as she was.
“I didn’t expect to go first round because I didn’t get invited to the draft,” Liston said. “When my name got called I was shocked.
“I was just so overwhelmed and shocked and excited all at once. It was like a dream come true. I’m glad I got to be home when I found out.”
It was just the latest step on a long journey that has seen the hard-working and humble Liston leave an unforgettable mark on the high school and college scene.
She graduated from Fenwick in 2010 as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 2,713 points, which ranks 16th in state history. As a freshman, she helped the Friars win the last large-school state title in the two-class system and as a senior led them to third place in the state, for which she was named Ms. Basketball.
Liston said her WNBA dream didn’t seem realistic until last summer, when she helped the U.S. national team to victory in the World University Games. But Power saw the potential far sooner.
The summer before Liston’s freshman year, Power took the Friars to a junior national tournament in Washington, D.C. Fenwick was the only high school team in a field of elite AAU squads, yet made the semifinals.
“She was popping in threes and taking it to the hole against all that Division I talent,” Power said. “She proved she could navigate it then and she didn’t back down.
“So, yes, I could see [the potential] because she he had both the attitude you need and she had the height, she had the athletic ability and the main thing she has is the skill. There are a lot of athletic players who can maybe run faster or jump higher but they don’t have the skill.”
The 6-foot-1-inch Liston was just as effective during her four-year career at Duke, where she scored 1,664 career points, eighth best in school history, and established herself as one of the best three-point shooters in the nation. As senior, she led the Blue Devils in scoring with 17.2 points per game and shot an amazing 48 percent from beyond the arc. She holds Duke records for three-pointers in a season (87) and career (252) as well as career three-point percentage (.459).
In addition, Liston shot .856 from the free-throw line in her college career, including an ACC record .931 as a junior. Mostly a shooting guard or small forward, she played point guard the last eight games of this season after injuries took out Duke’s starting guards and led the 28-7 Blue Devils to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, where they lost to DePaul.
“She’s one of the best college shooters ever,” Power said. “What sets her apart is her efficiency. Other players take twice as many shots to make as many threes as she does. At Duke she was third or fourth in shot attempts but was the leading scorer.”
Liston said that playing at Fenwick set the groundwork for that success.
“I think it was huge,” Liston said. “Coach Power has been one of the greatest coaches I’ve had and Fenwick has really prepared me.
“Duke is like a bigger Fenwick. The academics are great, the athletics are great and our sports teams have a great reputation.”
The Liston family has a long tradition at Fenwick. Her father, Brian, was a tremendous shooter for the Friars in the days before the three-point line and played college ball at Loyola from 1978-82. But he never played professionally, making him the target of some good-natured needling from his youngest daughter.
“There was a lot of that in high school,” Liston said. “He had the record for most points in a game at Fenwick and when I got that I gave him some crap about it. I think [this] is another thing I can throw at him.”
The WNBA will undoubtedly throw new challenges at Liston, which is why she never stops training and trying to improve all aspects of her game.
“I think my freshman year at Fenwick is comparable to my first year in the WNBA,” Liston said. “Just adjusting to playing with a bunch of great players who are more experienced than me and coming into a situation of playing with a great team.”
The Lynx are loaded with star players like Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus, but playing with Peters, who averaged 4.1 points and 4.6 rebounds last season, will provide a comfort factor for Liston, who still will have to earn a spot on the team at training camp, which began April 27.
“I haven’t been able to talk to Devereaux much because she’s playing in Russia, but I talked to one of the assistant coaches and she said, ‘we drafted you first for a reason,'” Liston said. “I just have to do what I can do and I should be fine.”
Power said the success of Liston and Peters is a great example to younger players.
“They’re winners in every way,” Power said. “They gave up their fun summers. Instead of being on the beach in California or somewhere for six weeks, they were sweating bullets in gyms, many of them not air-conditioned, through their entire high school career. Look where it’s gotten them.”
The WNBA season begins May 16 and the Lynx will play the Chicago Sky at 2:30 p.m. May 26 at Allstate Arena. Liston said she hopes a large contingent of local fans will be there to see her pro debut in Chicago, a game she is looking forward to.
“It’s awesome because growing up I always wanted to go far with basketball and that was my dream,” Liston said. “Now that I’m at the top it’s an amazing feeling.”
Power predicts Liston will be an asset to the Lynx on and off the court.
“I think in the WNBA she is so marketable,” Power said. “She’s a gorgeous girl, great smile and personality and she’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. I can’t say enough about her.”
The Midtown Athletic Club Athlete Feature, The Midtown Athletic Club Athlete of the Week and weekly sports calendar/scoreboard are sponsored by Midtown Athletic Club in Oak Park.