Candice Wiggins named Player of the Year

What a week it was for Candice Wiggins. Already the biggest women’s basketball star to come out of San Diego in many years and already known as one of the best women’s players in the college game, Wiggins topped all that last week with a string of events hardly imaginable.

The former La Jolla Country Day star was awarded the Wade Trophy Player of the Year on April 5, followed that up by taking her Stanford team to the women’s NCAA championship game April 8, and the next day was selected by the Minnesota Lynx as the third pick in the WNBA draft.

The former Torreys star has made quite a name for herself, and the pride in her accomplishments can be felt on the La Jolla campus.

“During her time at La Jolla Country Day, Candice was a scholar as well as an athlete,” Country Day assistant head of school for academics Sarah Bakheit said in a statement. “Intellectually curious and genuinely interested, she was loved and respected by peers and teachers alike. Despite her demanding athletic commitments, which often took her away from campus, Candice’s work ethic, kindness, and leadership were exemplary. La Jolla Country Day is extremely proud of Candice, and we wish her well in all her future endeavors.”

Wiggins’ week began when she found out April 5 that she was named the Wade Trophy Player of the Year, given to the nation’s top women’s basketball player. She earned the award for a season in which she averaged 20.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game and helped Stanford to a 35-4 record. Wiggins was also named to the All-America team, becoming just the seventh player in history to be selected to the team four times.

Two days later, she scored 25 points in an 82-73 win over Connecticut to put the Cardinals in their first championship game since 1992. On April 8, Stanford lost the title game to star Candace Parker and Tennessee, 64-48, and while the result was a disappointing one for the Cardinals, for Wiggins, it didn’t diminish the greatness of their season. The Cardinals hadn’t advanced to the Final Four since the 1997 season.

“I don’t think it maybe has set in yet,” Wiggins told reporters after the championship game loss. “But I just know that I told the guys in the locker room that I couldn’t be any prouder of them. I wouldn’t want to be on any other team in the country - any other team. And it happens that we ended our season with a loss, and that hurts, because we wanted it. And this team is a special team, and just beautiful people. And I’ve been so honored just to be on this team.

“So I think it maybe hasn’t quite hit me yet. But I think we should celebrate our season. I think to win the way we did, we did it right, and I’m so proud of this group.”

Wiggins had little time to let the end of her college career sink in, because on the morning of April 8 - the day after the championship game - she was selected in the WNBA draft.

A day later, she was at the Target Center in Minneapolis, holding up a new Lynx jersey with her name on the back and fielding questions from the local media.

“I am very excited to be wearing Minnesota gear,” Wiggins told reporters. “I dreamed of this moment growing up.”

“We’re thrilled to be able to add a player like Candice Wiggins to our roster,” Lynx coach Don Zierden said in a team-issued statement. “She is coming off of one of the best NCAA tournament performances in recent memory and she was the Wade Trophy Player of the Year. She is one of the greatest players in Stanford’s history, and we feel that she will fit in well with Seimone Augustus, Lindsey Harding, Noelle Quinn, Nicole Ohlde and the rest of our players. We are excited to see what she can do on the court to help the Lynx become a playoff contender in 2008 and beyond.”

The Lynx open their season May 18. They come to Southern California for the first of two road games against the Los Angeles Sparks at the Staples Center on July 3.

Before she plays her first game as a professional, though, Wiggins will have plenty to keep her busy. A member of the U.S. national team, she was in Chicago for practices from April 13-15, and then will travel to Beijing for a six-nation Olympic test event from April 19-26. She’ll then return to Minneapolis for training camp.