UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- She played her final college game at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. Her new home court is the College Park Center in Arlington, Texas, about a half-hour drive if the traffic cooperates.
But to Saniya Chong, it's an entirely different world.
The former University of Connecticut guard beat the odds as a third-round draft pick and proved many people wrong this spring by making the WNBA's Dallas Wings' roster. She has played in 28 of the Wings' 29 games -- the only miss was the Aug. 6 contest against the Los Angeles Sparks as she was in concussion protocol -- and is averaging 3.1 points, 1.1 assists and one rebound in 12.2 minutes off the bench. In her return to Connecticut Saturday, she had a steal in four minutes of a 96-88 loss to the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena.
"It's interesting how much smarter and more physical and athletic the women are," Chong said. "You come into this league and there are women who have been here for years and they really know the game. They've learned it and they've experienced it. So when I'm out there, it's not just about being athletic or being talented, it's about being smart and poised.
"It's been a challenge. I'm a rookie so I'm learning all new things. But I've been having a lot of fun. The girls I'm playing with are super and the coaches are great. They've made the adjustment easier."
With Dallas coach Fred Williams committed to a youth movement, all five of the Wings' choices in the 2017 Draft -- including three first-round picks -- made the roster. Chong was selected at No. 26 overall. Among the players she beat out were Dallas' captain last year Erin Phillips and three-year veteran Tiffany Bias.
She watch the draft on television with her family at their Ossining, New York, home.
"My thought process was, 'Oh, wow. OK. There's another pick. We're into the second round. Now we're into the third round ...' " Chong said. "I was just happy and honored to have my name called. Being able to be here and get this chance is amazing. This whole experience has been tremendous."
But there were no guarantees.
As it would turn out, three players chosen after Chong -- Alexis Prince in Phoenix, Lanay Montgomery in Seattle, and Makayla Epps in Chicago -- also made their team's 12-player roster.
"You go to training camp and it's not like college where you're on scholarship and they want you and they keep you. It helped having other girls here that were going through the same things that I was going through. So coming to a WNBA camp I had to work hard every second, be there early and be there late, show how much I want to be there, prove to them I deserve it. One day you can be there and the next day you can be gone.
"Playing at UConn prepared me well. It was like coming into UConn my freshman year and all the older girls taught me so much, so many values."
She had quality teachers. Of the nine scholarship players on the Huskies her freshman year when they went 40-0, eight are playing in the WNBA. The other seven besides Chong were first-round draft picks.
Whether Chong would get the opportunity to play at the highest level was in doubt for a long time. Her first three years at UConn, though they all ended with the national championship, were filled with ups and downs.
But as a senior she found consistency and confidence. She was an all-American Athletic Conference third-team pick as she averaged 8.3 points, 3.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists. She was named to the NCAA Bridgeport Regional all-tournament team. Her league-leading assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.33 (140 assists, 42 turnovers) was a UConn single-season record. The Huskies' 152 wins in her career at UConn is a NCAA record for victories in a four-year span.
The Huskies' winning streak was at 111 when they took on Mississippi State in the NCAA Final Four semifinals at the American Airlines Center on March 31. UConn fell into a 16-point hole but rallied and the game went to overtime. Two free throws by Katie Lou Samuelson -- following a Flagrant 1 foul on Mississippi State's Dominique Dillingham -- tied it at 64 with 26.6 seconds remaining.
The Huskies had the chance to hold for the last shot but Chong drove to the basket and lost the ball out of bounds to give the Bulldogs possession with 12.8 seconds to go.
Morgan William, who had 41 points in the Bulldogs' overtime win over Baylor in the regional final, then hit a pull-up jump shot at the buzzer to end the winning streak, UConn's championship reign, and Chong's college career.
How many times has she replayed the last 30 seconds in her mind since?
"Never," Chong said. "Never. It's in the past. I'm on to bigger and better things.
"It's hard because it does hurt your heart. But life goes on. My job now is I have to show this team who I am and what I can do."
She said that she's a better player now than the one that walked off the court in Dallas. She also has added some tattoos. She had one on the inside of her left wrist that reads "1985-2006" to signify the life span of her brother, Andrew, from her high school days. She has since added the dates of her family's birthdays on her right wrist and another on her lower right arm she says means "God is greater than the highs and lows." She has signed to play in Israel during the WNBA offseason.
With five games left in the regular season, Chong is focused on helping the Wings advance to the postseason after a one-year absence.
Dallas (13-16) is seventh in the league playoff race -- the top eight qualify -- with Chicago (11-16) and Seattle (11-16) tied for eighth one game back. The Wings have lost the season series and tiebreaker to the Storm, and a game in Chicago against the Sky on Aug. 30 will determine that tiebreaker.
Atlanta visits Dallas on Saturday and then the Wings return to Mohegan Sun Arena on Aug. 23.
"We need to get defensive stops and rebounds and I think we'll be in good shape," Chong said.
Chong's professional career has started to take shape but she knows she can never let down if she wants to stay where she is.
Right now, she's in a good place.
Nurse, Canada Grab Gold
All-American Samuelson had a Twitter message for UConn teammate Kia Nurse on Sunday prior to Nurse taking the floor for Team Canada against host Argentina in the FIBA AmeriCup 2017 final in Buenos Aires: "Get that gold and then get your butt to Italy!!" The Huskies started their tour of Italy this weekend and were set to play an exhibition against Netherlands' national team Monday afternoon in Rome. They'll soon have company.
The senior guard scored 12 points and her basket with 1:27 remaining proved decisive as Canada topped Argentina 68-65.
In six tournament games, Nurse averaged 10.5 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 1.3 assists. But the Hamilton, Ontario native shot just 28.1 percent from the floor including 21.9 percent from 3-point land. Her best shooting game was Sunday's 4-for-11 effort. But she made her last one and that's the one that mattered.
Canada (6-0) trailed Argentina 34-27 at halftime but former Oregon State center Ruth Hamblin sparked a 24-4 third-quarter run to put the Canadians in front. The lead was 12 with 8:48 left. But Argentina (5-1), with a partisan crowd behind it, rallied and a 3-pointer by Andrea Boquette capped a 15-2 spurt that gave it a 65-64 edge with 2:29 to go. Two possessions later, Nurse got into the lane and scored to put Canada back in front. Argentina had three chances to regain the lead but couldn't and a free throw by Nirra Fields made it 67-65 with 0:07 remaining. Melisa Gretter's 3-point try from 30 feet for the win was off the mark.
Fields, who played at UCLA, was the tourney's MVP after averaging 14.5 points and 5.3 rebounds.
Puerto Rico (4-2) won the bronze medal and earned its first berth in the FIBA world championships as it defeated Brazil 75-68 Sunday. Guard Ashley Perez, from Manchester, Connecticut, had seven points for the winners.
With Canada, Argentina, and Puerto Rico qualifying for the 2018 FIBA World Cup, only two openings remain in the 16-team field for the event to be held Sept. 22-30, 2018, in Spain. The United States, which will be seeking its third straight gold medal, wrapped up its spot by winning gold at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.