Eric Beiersdorfer / Lantern photographer
After a brilliant career at Ohio State, the only four-time Big Ten Player of the Year is leaving Columbus for the west coast to play professionally.
Jantel Lavender was drafted fifth overall by the Los Angeles Sparks in Monday’s WNBA draft.
Lavender said hearing her name called on Monday afternoon was “amazing” and that she’s looking forward to her new opportunities.
“L.A. is a great city,” Lavender told The Lantern on the phone Monday evening, “and I’m looking forward to playing with the great players that are there.”
The Sparks seem just as eager to have Lavender.
“I think everyone was really pleased with our pick today, from the owners to the front office to our fans,” Sparks coach Jennifer Gillom said. “I was surprised to see Jantel still available at No. 5; grateful, but surprised.”
Lavender’s former coach was not as surprised.
“I thought she was going to end up in L.A.,” said OSU coach Jim Foster, who was at the draft. “I talked to the L.A. people late last week and I think they that had zeroed in and targeted her.
“They have a need for front-court players, so it’s a great opportunity for her.”
Gillom said Lavender fills a void for the Sparks, which won only 13 of its 34 games last season.
“We got something we lacked last year, as far as a rebounder, inside presence and somebody who will do the dirty work,” Gillom said. “I think Jantel will be a great, great addition.”
Lavender said she is excited to live in L.A.
“Everyone in the city tells me how great L.A. is and I’ll have a blast out there,” Lavender said. “I’m looking forward to being in a new city and starting a new life.”
Lavender leaves OSU as its all-time leader in points, with 2,818, as well as the all-time leading rebounder in Big Ten history, with 1,422.
She said she wants the OSU community to remember her as a “legend” who “had a great career.”
“I want to be known as someone who made a difference,” Lavender said.
Foster said he’ll miss the nightly production he knew he could get from Lavender.
“It’s was an easy 20 (points) and 10 (rebounds),” Foster said. “For one player to put those kind of numbers up on a consistent basis just speaks volumes.”
In L.A., Lavender will join Candace Parker, 2008 WNBA MVP and former All-American during her collegiate career at Tennessee.
Lavender and the Sparks begin the preseason next month before opening up the regular season June 2, when they travel to Minnesota to take on the Lynx and their newest star, former Connecticut standout Maya Moore, who was taken first overall in Monday’s draft.