Pacific’s first WNBA draft choice optimistic for future
Valerie Higgins’ cell phone vibrated with a good-news text: she would make history as University of the Pacific’s first player selected in the WNBA Draft.
“I was watching the draft (April 15) with my parents at our home in Los Angeles when my agent Eric Wiesel texted. He said, ‘Make sure you are watching at the start of the third round,’ ” Higgins said. “A short time later, my name and picture came up on the screen and it was like, ‘Hey, that’s me!’ ”
Higgins ’21 was the first player selected in the third round (the 25th overall pick) by the New York Liberty. She is in New York City for training camp—and grateful her Pacific experience helped lead to the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
“It was a great moment for her and for the program,” Pacific Coach Bradley Davis said. “I didn’t get weepy until Val wrote on Twitter saying ‘We did it.’ That said something about how she cares about the people around her.”
Higgins made an indelible imprint on the Pacific women's basketball program. She finished in the top 10 in school history in five key career statistical categories: second in steals (278), fourth in free throw percentage (78.3%), sixth in points (1,375), seventh in rebounds (744) and ninth in blocked shots (75)—all in three years after transferring from University of Southern California. She averaged 16.5 points a game this season.
Her calling card, however, is defense. At 6-foot-1, Higgins can defend guards or forwards—and she does so tenaciously. Higgins was twice selected West Coast Conference defensive player of the year.
“She is a versatile, all-around player, but defense could be what helps her make a WNBA roster,” Davis said.
Higgins was drafted by a team that struggled last season. The Liberty finished with a 2-20 record and is trying to rebuild under Coach Walt Hopkins.
“Before the draft, New York was one of a couple of teams that asked for film and contacted Coach Davis, so I knew there was a chance I could go there,” Higgins said. “I was anywhere from 34th to 36th in mock draft projections. So I feel very good to have been drafted higher. I am enjoying New York so far, even as an L.A. girl.”
Higgins persevered during her college career, sitting out one year after her transfer due to NCAA rules and battling through the pandemic with her teammates.
“Many people could not figure out why I left USC for Pacific, but Coach Davis has perfected the family atmosphere. I wanted to be around people who care about one another,” Higgins said. “The year I sat out, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. She’s now in remission. Everyone at Pacific was so caring during that difficult time.”
Higgins’ leadership helped her team battle through the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I told my teammates that we would play hard and have fun,” she said. “I think that approach helped us get through it.”
Due to the pandemic, Higgins could have taken advantage of a new NCAA rule and played one more season at Pacific. But she is ready to give pro basketball a shot.
All five members of the immediate Higgins family either have been or will be college athletes. Her father Keith and mother Sherry played basketball for California State University, Northridge. Her older sister J’Nai was a volleyball setter for Bethune-Cookman and younger brother Keith Jr. has committed to play basketball at Lehigh.
Higgins graduates in May and plans to be a special education teacher after her basketball career.
“We attend a church in Los Angeles and there was this boy with special needs named Ethan who would come sit next to me during services,” Higgins said. “We formed a bond when he was young. I also helped volunteer for Special Olympics. I knew early on that my calling was to be a special education teacher.”