PHOENIX - The Phoenix Mercury defied long odds to win the No. 1 pick in Wednesday's WNBA draft, then decided a 30-year-old All-star forward would provide more immediate help than anyone available from the college ranks.
The Mercury acquired nine-year WNBA veteran Tangela Smith from Minnesota in exchange for guard Lindsey Harding, moments after Phoenix made the Duke star the No. 1 pick.
"It was a last-minute deal by Minnesota," Mercury general manager Ann Meyers Drysdale. "We had gone to them early and wanted this deal. They came back at the last hour and said 'OK, we'll go Smith for the No. 1' and we were able to work it out."
The Mercury won their last seven games a year ago to finish 18-16, barely missing the playoffs. But with only a 2.5 percent chance of taking the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery, Phoenix came away the winner.
That selection lost a great deal of value when Candace Parker of NCAA champion Tennessee and LSU's Sylvia Fowles decided to stay in school rather than turn pro. Myers Drysdale fielded numerous trade proposals but said the team was prepared to keep the pick until the late word from Minnesota.
Coach Paul Westhead said Smith is "a perfect fit" for his fast-paced style.
"She's 6-4, runs, shoots the ball well from the outside and inside," he said. "She has a great outside game for a big. She's an experienced veteran who really helps."
Smith has averaged 11.9 points and 5.1 rebounds in her WNBA career. She played the first seven seasons for Sacramento and the last two for Charlotte. She made the All-star team last year, averaging 13.1 points and 5.3 rebounds.
Minnesota made Smith the No. 2 overall pick in the dispersal draft after the Charlotte franchise folded following last season.
"In my opinion Tangela Smith is probably the best player to help our team be successful this year," Westhead said. "It made the decision not to select anyone easy. It wasn't even a five-second deliberation because we had already talked about this possibility.'"
If Phoenix had kept its pick, the selection would not have been Harding, Meyers Drysdale said, not with the Mercury's core of strong perimeter players - Diana Taurasi, Cappie Pondexter, Kelly Miller and Penny Taylor.
She wouldn't name who they would have chosen, but said she was a front-line player.
With their second-round pick, No. 18 overall, Phoenix chose 6-foot forward Tyresa Smith of Delaware, who averaged 19.8 points for the Blue Hens as a senior last season.
Phoenix selected three players in the third round, including local standout forward Emily Westerberg of Arizona State, the 37th choice overall. The team's other third-round picks were Oklahoma forward Leah Rush, the 28th selection overall, and guard Chrissy Givens of Middle Tennessee State, the 31st overall.