When Kionna Jeter saw projected first-round picks Dana Evans and Didi Richards slip into the second round of Thursday night’s WNBA draft, the former Towson shooting guard began to worry that the slides might force her out of the draft.
“I was more anxious,” Jeter recalled Friday afternoon. “I know a lot of people dropped in the draft. It kind of got tight there for a second. But [I was] just waiting it out and praying that I get that.”
The 5-foot-8 Jeter’s faith was rewarded when the Las Vegas Aces selected her in the third round with the 36th and final pick of the draft. In doing so, Jeter — who helped the Tigers capture their first Colonial Athletic Association tournament championship and make their first appearance in the NCAA postseason in 2019 — became the first player in program history to be chosen in the WNBA draft.
Towson coach Diane Richardson admitted that waiting patiently for a team to give Jeter a chance was nerve-wracking for her, too.
“I knew which teams were the last to pick,” she said. “So [No.] 35 came, and I was like, ‘Come on now, come on.’ And the 36th pick came through and had her name on it, and it was just awesome to see.”
Less than 24 hours after the WNBA draft, Jeter, who is planning to fly to Las Vegas to join the Aces this weekend, characterized her emotions as “everywhere.”
“I still have yet to cry,” she said. “I don’t think I can even cry. Just excited and blessed to be in this position. I did something I’ve been working toward for all of my life, and it’s finally a dream come true.”
The Aces’ selection of Jeter was applauded by many, including former opposing coaches Natasha Adair of Delaware and Karen Barefoot of UNC Wilmington and some current college basketball players.
Christy Winters-Scott, an analyst for the WNBA’s Washington Mystics and the NBA’s Washington Wizards, learned about Jeter when she was a member of the broadcast crew that covered the Tigers’ 112-78 loss at Maryland on Dec. 3.
“In that game, she was unbelievable during a stretch of the game, hitting consecutive, contested shots,” Winters-Scott said. “Her ability to create her own offensive opportunities will serve her well in the WNBA. Defensively, she makes wise decisions on and off of the ball. She possesses the rapid-fire anticipation skills, and that will surely translate to the professional level.”
Jeter’s journey is a testament to perseverance as she overcame several near-death experiences while growing up in Spartanburg, South Carolina, She was born six months premature, weighing only about three pounds. She was hit at the age of 2 by a car, suffering a broken arm and a leg and a high hernia that led to the removal of her belly button.
And on Feb. 3, 2018, while taking a break from her season at Gulf Coast State College in Panama City, Florida, to attend her uncle Quincy’s funeral, Jeter was struck by two stray bullets during a drive-by shooting while sitting in the driver’s seat with her sister behind her. One bullet fractured her left shoulder blade and the other narrowly missed her spine and her heart.
“It’s just a blessing,” she said of her path. “I’ve trusted myself, I trusted Coach Rich and the staff at Towson, and I followed God’s plan the whole way. no matter what I’ve gone through, I’ve always overcame and told myself, ‘Whatever you go through, you’ve got to overcome,’ because God has blessed me with the strength and the tools to survive. It’s survival of the fittest. I’ve always thought that way about the goals I want to accomplish.”
Richardson said Jeter never wavered in her desire to make it to the WNBA.
“When we first recruited her and she committed to Towson, she said she wanted to be a pro player in the league, and I said, ‘You can do that,’” Richardson said. “Knowing her work ethic and knowing the skill sets we have as a staff to push her to those goals, I knew it would happen. I told her grandmother, ‘OK, that’s my goal, and that’s what we’re going to get done.’ And Kionna did her part, and here she is – drafted.”
Asked if making that pledge to Jeter’s grandmother added pressure, Richardson replied, “Yeah, but I like pressure.”
Jeter, who is known as “Melo” for a haircut that drew comparisons to former Towson Catholic star and current Portland Trails Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony, is the second straight player from the CAA to be selected in the WNBA draft. James Madison’s Kamiah Smalls, a 5-10 shooting guard and the conference’s Player of the Year in 2019-20, was taken 28th overall by the Indiana Fever.
Smalls’ former coach, Sean O’Regan, said he had talked to two WNBA teams about Jeter.
“They’ve doubled back with me, ‘What do you think of Jeter?’ and I think she is [a WNBA talent], absolutely,” O’Regan said after watching Jeter drop 31 points — including six three-pointers — in Towson’s 83-74 win against the Dukes on Feb. 10. “The fact that she’s developed her three like that, her sophomore year, you could kind of play off of her a little bit. She was 6-for-13 from three today. … That’s an evolution in your game. To me, I think she’s an absolute WNBA player, and I would tell anybody that. She’s athletic, she plays defense, she’s smart, she shoots the three now, she goes off the dribble. There’s nothing bad I could say about her.”
Jeter wrapped up her three-year career with the Tigers as the fastest player to reach the 1,000-point mark, finishing with 1,582 points to rank third in school history and trailing only Shanae Baker-Brice (1,806 points from 2006-10) and Tanisha McTiller (1,605 points from 2010-14). She also ranks third all-time in three-pointers (186) and fourth in steals (237) and is the first Towson player to be placed on three consecutive All-CAA first teams.
Jeter finished her redshirt senior year ranked 10th among her NCAA Division I peers in scoring at 23.0 points per game and 51st in steals at 2.5 per game. She was the first CAA player to score a minimum of 30 points in three straight games since two-time WNBA Most Valuable Player Elena Delle Donne in 2012-13 when she starred at Delaware.
Las Vegas is scheduled to open its season against the Seattle Storm on May 15. The Aces released a photo of Jeter wearing the No. 21 jersey she wore with the Tigers, and Jeter can’t wait to wear it.
“It’s going to be surreal,” she said. “I know that when I first came to Towson and we had our names on the backs of our jerseys, it was like, ‘Is my name really on the back of this jersey?’ It was kind of a moment then because I never had my name on the back of my jersey before. So in that moment in time, it was like, ‘Oh man, I really made it this far.’”