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Smith, McKenith happy to play close to home

Creighton guard Carli Tritz, left, walks off the

Creighton guard Carli Tritz, left, walks off the court past St. John's guards Nadirah McKenith (5) and Shenneika Smith (35) after St. John's defeated Creighton 69-67 in an NCAA tournament first-round women's college basketball game. (March 18, 2012) (Credit: AP )

Now that their legacy at St. John’s is secure, it’s time for the next step.

St. John’s seniors Nadirah McKenith and Shenneika Smith made history on Monday becoming the first players in program history to be drafted into the WNBA.

McKenith was the 17th pick by the Mystics, while Smith was selected with the 25th pick by the Liberty.

For Smith, being selected by her hometown team was extremely gratifying. Few players get to play their high school, college and professional basketball at home.

When asked what surprised her the most, Smith said getting selected by the Liberty. “I was shocked that I get to stay home,” said the 6-1 guard. “It doesn’t get any better than this. I’m blessed.”

Smith played high school basketball at St. Michael Academy in Manhattan.

“All the hard work paid off,” said Smith, who led the Red Storm in scoring (16.7) and rebounds (6.8).

McKenith said she “finally accomplished her dream” by getting drafted. The 5-7 guard won’t be playing as close to home as Smith, but Washington D.C. isn’t exactly on the other side of the world.

“My family will try to get to as many home games as possible,” said the New Jersey native, who averaged 13.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.5 assists.

Both players said they were grateful to be able to make their mark at St. John’s. They became the first players in program history to play in four straight NCAA Tournaments. The two went a combined 4-4 in tournament play.

“It was great to get the program back on the map,” said McKenith.

St. John’s went 18-13, advancing to the tournament for the fourth straight season, and fell in the first round to No. 7 Dayton. The Red Storm made program history in 2012, advancing to the Sweet 16 for the first time.

“We worked hard to help the program build," said Smith. "No can take anything away from this university.”

“[The draft] speaks volumes of where our program is headed and our ability for our program to have players that will have the opportunity to get drafted into the pros,” said Red Storm coach Joe Tartamella. “That is something that we have always been trying to build toward as a program over the last few years and this just shows what our players are capable of and we are really proud of the fact that we got not just one, but two players go in the same draft.”