First round pick Nia Coffey ready to grind in San Antonio

Nia Coffey looks to pass during San Antonio's first preseason game against Dallas. Photo courtesy of San Antonio Stars/NBAE/Getty Images.
Nia Coffey looks to pass during San Antonio’s first preseason game against Dallas. Photo courtesy of San Antonio Stars/NBAE/Getty Images.

When the Stars selected Nia Coffey with the fifth pick in this year’s WNBA draft, it only took a short while for the former Northwestern Wildcat to realize the magnitude of what she had accomplished.

She had become only the second female from the school to be drafted since Amy Jaeschke in 2011.

In fact, she was the highest selection of any graduate in Northwestern history.

But it was only after she arrived in San Antonio a few days later for training camp that Coffey would finally be able to embrace her longtime dream of becoming a WNBA player.

There had never been a doubt as to whether Coffey could succeed on the collegiate level – her tireless work ethic on offense and defensive swagger made sure of that. The underappreciated Coffey graduated as the Wildcats’ career leader in rebounds and free throws made and second in points and blocks.

Her team concluded their season prematurely with a loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament back in early March, so Coffey has used the idle time wisely to begin grooming herself for her WNBA debut.

Stars general manager Ruth Riley and first year head coach Vickie Johnson didn’t shy away from Coffey on draft night, despite her lack of national exposure at a mid-major school.

“Nia has such an incredible skill set and has yet to completely tap into her potential,” Riley said. “We believe she fits in to what we are trying build here in San Antonio over the next few years. We were very fortunate and excited that she was still available for us (at the fifth pick).”

Now Coffey, a St. Paul, Minnesota native, is bringing her not-to-be-slept on defensive toughness and blossoming offensive tools to a young and up-and-coming Stars roster that will most likely feature three of the league’s most exciting shooting guards in Moriah Jefferson, Kayla McBride and fellow rookie Kelsey Plum, the Stars first selection in the WNBA draft a few weeks ago.

While Plum has generated most of the media attention during a week that has moved at breakneck speed for the pair, Coffey has also begun to carve her niche in the early stages of camp, especially on defense, which is music to their ears of the defensive-minded Johnson.

“The way Nia defends is very unique for somebody right out of college,” Johnson said. “How much she plays will be based on how well she develops and is able to transition from the college game to this level.”

Coffey knows that when the Stars open the regular schedule in New York on May. 13, it will signal the next step in her basketball career.

“Everything has been pretty straightforward during practice but once the game starts I will know that I’m not in college anymore,” Coffey said. “I am just going to do what coach Johnson asks me to do and try to help the team be successful.”

Six-year veteran Alex Montgomery has been impressed with Coffey’s defensive play in the early going and believes she possesses the tools to become a great professional player.

“Nia has really surprised me with how hard she works,” Montgomery said. “She is extremely aggressive and is not afraid to do what needs to be done on the defensive end. She has been an absolute monster so far.”

Coffey laments the fact that she entered the WNBA a year a season too late to test her mettle opposite former Indiana Fever forward and USA four-time Olympian Tamika Catchings – who retired in September – after a 16-year career.

But if she is able to find her way onto Johnson’s 12-man roster as expected, she would be just as ecstatic to square off with Fever forward Candice Dupree – another player who’s game she respects.

Although she understands that a spot on a WNBA roster for an unproven rookie isn’t guaranteed, the soft-spoken Coffey has stormed into town ready to prove herself in a city where jerseys hang proudly from the rafters at the AT&T Center lauding past players for their hard work and anonymity.

“I had heard so many positive things about the city of San Antonio, the coaching staff here and everything has been true so I am overjoyed to be here,” Coffey said.