Azura Stevens' playing career with the University of Connecticut women's basketball team is one and done.
Stevens, a 6-foot-6 forward from Raleigh, North Carolina, will give up her final year of college eligibility and enter the 2018 WNBA Draft, according to a source familiar with the decision and confirmed by UConn Monday afternoon. Stevens has the option to leave as she is 22 years old, and her original college class is graduating in May.
The WNBA Draft will be held April 12 at Nike Headquarters in New York City.
"I'd like to thank the coaches, my teammates and the fans at the University of Connecticut for helping me grow and supporting me as a player," Stevens said in a statement. "I will miss this program and all that it has been to me. It's been a lifelong dream for me to play in the WNBA, and I'm excited for this opportunity God has presented me with."
UConn coach Geno Auriemma could not be reached for comment but said in a statement: "We wish Azurá nothing but the best and we're going to be there to support her in any way we can. Z and her family have given this a lot of thought and feel this is the right time to pursue this."
Stevens played her first two seasons at Duke under coach Joanne P. McCallie, but transferred to UConn in 2016 after being a two-time all-Atlantic Coast Conference performer with the Blue Devils. She sat out the 2016-17 campaign due to NCAA transfer rules.
As a redshirt junior for the Huskies (36-1), she averaged 14.7 points on 60.6 percent shooting from the floor, 7.4 rebounds, and 2.1 blocked shots. She was named the American Athletic Conference Newcomer of the Year and the Sixth Man Award winner, while also being chosen to the all-league second team. She also reached the 1,000-point plateau for her college career.
In five NCAA Tournament games she averaged 14.2 points and 6.6 rebounds with a double-double in UConn's first-round win over Saint Francis of Pennsylvania. In Fridaynight's overtime loss to Notre Dame, she had 19 points, eight rebounds, and three blocked shots in 28 minutes.
"Azura can get a lot of things done on the court that most players can't, and then she does things on the court that I can't explain," Auriemma said Friday night. "So for her first year playing for us, I thought she was amazing all year long. She's come a long, long way. This game will help her an awful lot because she's never been in this environment before. This is her first time."
And as it turns out, it's also her last at UConn.
"It's really hard to win a championship," Stevens said Friday night. "It kind of sucks that one game kind of defines a season, but we have to find a way to get us to that last game and push through next year."
Stevens' departure along with the graduation of two-time All-American senior forward Gabby Williams leaves an opening for returning forwards Kyla Irwin and Batouly Camara along with incoming freshman Olivia Nelson-Ododa to earn playing time. Irwin has seen limited action in her two seasons at UConn, while Camara -- who transferred in from Kentucky around the same time as Stevens -- was slowed by a knee injury this season and never regained form. Nelson-Ododa is considered one of the top five recruits and arguably the top high school post player in the country.
Williams and senior guard Kia Nurse have been projected to be first-round selections in the Draft. The Las Vegas Aces, formerly the San Antonio Stars, hold the first pick with national Player of the Year A'ja Wilson of South Carolina favored to be their choice. The Indiana Fever have the No. 2 selection with the Chicago Sky holding the third and fourth picks. Rounding out the first round are the Seattle Storm, Dallas Wings, Washington Mystics, the Fever's second selection, Connecticut Sun, New York Liberty, Los Angeles Sparks, and Phoenix Mercury.
Two years ago, Morgan Tuck gave up her final year of college eligibility to enter the WNBA Draft after the Huskies had won their fourth straight national championship. Tuck, who was given a medical redshirt after playing just eight games as a sophomore due to knee injuries, went to the Connecticut Sun as the third overall pick behind UConn teammates and classmates Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson.
UConn junior Napheesa Collier is also eligible to enter the 2018 Draft as she turns 22 in September. But the All-American forward, who averaged 16.1 points and 7.4 rebounds in 37 games and was selected to the all-Final Four team Sunday night, said at last year's Final Four in Dallas that she would stay at UConn for four years and her family confirmed Monday that she will return for her senior season and get her bachelor's degree.
Crystal Dangerfield had her eyes on the McDonald's All-America Game last Wednesday night, but her focus was on one high school star and her future UConn teammate, Christyn Williams.
"I watched a lot of Christyn Williams," Dangerfield said with a smile. "She did great. She did a fantastic job and had a fantastic high school career."
Williams, a 5-foot-11 guard from Little Rock, Arkansas, recorded a double-double of 22 points and 12 rebounds and was named the game's Most Valuable Player in leading the West past the East 82-79 at Phillips Arena in Atlanta.
Fellow UConn recruit Nelson-Ododa, a 6-foot-4 forward/center from Winder, Georgia, had eight points and eight rebounds for the East.
"Christyn will be another scorer, another guard, another competitior for us," UConn freshman Megan Walker said. "Olivia will give us length and rebounding, which we'll need. I think the attributes they'll both bring will be really good for our team."
Dangerfield and Walker were teammates of Williams on the 2017 United States U-19 national team that won the silver medal at the FIBA World Cup. Williams was the youngest player on the squad.
"We're getting a ball player," Dangerfield said. "Christyn's very effective coming down the floor. And she said it best Wednesday night, she wanted to go out there and let the game come to her. She doesn't force things. She also said that she has to work on her ball defense and that's right because that's where it starts for our team.
"I was talking to CD (associate head coach Chris Dailey) the other day. Olivia runs the floor hard. She has a motor that's different than most high school kids. Now that I know what a motor is supposed to look like, she has a good one."
Williams, the consensus high school Player of the Year, was the first UConn recruit to be named MVP since Ann Strother shared the honor in the inaugural girls game at Madison Square Garden in 2002.
She and Nelson-Ododa will join fellow McDonald's All-Americans Walker, Mikayla Coombs, Dangerfield, Katie Lou Samuelson and Collier in Storrs this summer.
"I hope that they enjoyed their experience at the McDonald's Game," Samuelson said. "I hope they watch what we do as a team and how we play together. As far as basketball and how we play, you don't really understand it until you get here. It's so different once you actually start to experience it. As long as they have the mindset that it's going to be tough ... If they commit to it, though, they can do it."
"When they watch us, I want them to notice our work ethic and the level that we play at," Collier added. "They need to know coming in here that it's not going to be easy. But if they're willing to do the work, it will be worth it."