Nia Coffey ended her four-year basketball career at Northwestern with her name all over the program’s list of records:
She scored 2,287 points, second all-time.
She is the all-time leader in rebounds (1,183), free throws made (496) and attempted (753). She is the fifth woman in Big Ten Conference history to finish with 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.
And so what did she do pretty much the minute her senior season ended?
She went to work.
“I’m working on being more aggressive from the wing, really focusing on my midrange game and being able to just stretch any defense,” she said. “A lot of ballhandling, of course.”
In Thursday’s WNBA draft, Coffey figures to go in the top 10 — many have her moving across town to play for the Chicago Sky with the ninth pick. She will become the first Northwestern basketball player, man or woman, to be a first-round pick.
And she’s working to be more.
Must be in the blood. Her father, Richard, was a star at the University of Minnesota, ultimately getting a cup of coffee with the Timberwolves. Brother Amir helped lead the Gophers men to the NCAA tournament last month. Nia, the former Hopkins High School star, is a near-lock to become the second Minnesotan to go in the WNBA’s first round in two years; former Gophers star Rachel Banham went fourth overall last year to Connecticut.
“It was my brother and sister who actually got me into basketball,” Coffey said. Her sister, Sydney, played at Marist. “And having my dad having had so much experience really helped me. He’s just been my lifelong coach, so I really appreciate my family for that.”
Nia will be the second member of the family to play pro ball. The 6-1 power forward is a prolific scorer and a tenacious rebounder. Earlier this week, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve praised Coffey, knowing full well the Lynx had little chance to get her with the 12th pick.
“Everybody sees her upside,” Reeve said. “Just the athleticism.”
Indeed, ESPN analyst LaChina Robinson, in a pre-draft conference call, said Coffey could be one of the biggest surprises in the draft this year.
“She has tremendous upside,” Robinson said. “She is the player that could make the biggest jump from college to what she will eventually be as a pro. She’s only scratched the surface of her potential. Her size, her length, she can drive it, she can shoot it, pull up off a pick-and-roll. She has a great knack for rebounding. The pace of the game will be something that keeps her from being effective right away.”
Coffey will have to get her game to the point where she can play the small forward position, too. And that has been her pre-draft focus. She has worked on increasing her range, worked on her dribble.
“I’m trying to work on anything that will help improve my game,” she said.