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Marie Gulich was nervous, and honestly had no idea where she would go in Thursday night’s WNBA draft.

And her now former Oregon State teammates weren’t much help as they gathered to see where Gulich would end up.

Each time her name popped up on the bottom of the screen, speculating where she might go, they started “freaking out,” as Gulich put it.

Less than an hour after the first pick was announced, Gulich heard her name called and she could finally start planning the next chapter of her basketball career.

Gulich was selected with the 12th and final pick of the first round by the Phoenix Mercury. She will report to camp on April 29.

“I did not expect that to be honest,” Gulich said of being a first-round pick. “I was thinking after the first round, just because so much has happened during this draft and so many players had declared for the draft that weren’t supposed to and stuff happened. I’m really excited.”

For a moment, her teammates thought she had been drafted one pick earlier by the Los Angeles Sparks. However, the name called was Maria Vadeeva.

Had the Sparks taken Gulich, she would have been reunited with friend and former Beavers teammate Sydney Wiese, who was drafted last year with the 11th overall pick.

“We were freaking out,” Gulich said. “Everyone was like 'oh my God' and I was like 'guys, that’s not my name.' … It would have been great to be teammates again and to be there with her but I’m super excited to go to Phoenix."

While she won’t be teammates with Wiese, she will likely get plenty of support from Wiese’s parents, who live in the Phoenix area.

Gulich is the fourth Beaver to be selected in the WNBA draft in the last three seasons. Before Wiese last year, Jamie Weisner was taken with the 17th overall pick (fifth pick, second round) in the 2016 draft by the Connecticut Sun with Ruth Hamblin going the next pick to the Dallas Wings.

OSU’s other WNBA draft pick was Felicia Ragland, who went to the Seattle Storm with the 28th pick in 2011.

Mercury General Manager Jim Pitman said the organization had its eye on Gulich for some time, but the last two or three months of the season “just kind of validated what we had kind of formulated in our minds that she was someone that we should be really interested in as we look at the latter part of the first round, and we were very fortunate that she was there when we picked at 12th."

Gulich averaged 17.5 points per game this past season to lead the Beavers, and added 9.2 rebounds per game and blocked 95 shots (2.8 per game).

She had 16 double-doubles in 34 games and finished the season shooting 65.2 percent (251 for 385) from the field, third best in Division I.

“That’s not easy to do with nobody guarding you, let alone being hung on in some of these games,” Pitman said of the shooting percentage.

In the NCAA tournament, Gulich averaged 21.7 points and 9.7 rebounds in helping lead the Beavers to the Elite Eight.

Pitman said the Mercury love how hard Gulich plays and runs the floor on offense and defense. He believes she can continue to extend her perimeter game past 15-to-17 feet.

“I think I have a lot, a lot, a lot still to learn,” Gulich said. “I think there’s a lot of potential left for me. I think I’m playing now like 75 percent of my potential. I think I can learn so much more and I can develop my game so much more.”

Before the draft, Gulich talked about wanting to work on making better decisions, her shot and her ball handling in the post.

She knows she will have to prove herself from the start and will get a chance to learn from 6-9 center Brittney Griner, who averaged 21.9 points and 7.6 rebounds per game in her fifth WNBA season last year.

“I could never have imagined that I would be able to play on a team with her and learn from her,” Gulich said. “I’m super excited for this and it will definitely be a challenge and I just can’t wait.”

The Mercury went 18-16 last season and were the No. 5 seed in the eight-team playoffs.

Phoenix defeated the Connecticut Sun in a one-game playoff, then was swept 3-0 by the Sparks.

Pitman said the Mercury don’t need Gulich to step into a key role right away because they are a veteran team.

“We can let her develop and be ready as her career progresses,” he said. “We have high expectations long term but not something we necessarily need to see on Day 1. We know that we’re going to see effort and hustle right from the beginning and that’s what we’re excited for.”

While the WNBA is her immediate focus, regardless of what happens, Gulich wants to keep playing as long as possible.

“I would love to play in Europe and maybe Euro League or Euro Cup and be able to compete with the best,” Gulich said. “That would be awesome.

“I don’t know where it will take me. I’m literally taking this step by step. So whatever happens, I’m very excited it happens.”

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Sports editor of the Albany Democrat-Herald and Corvallis Gazette-Times

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