Arella Guirantes’ draft day started with an alteration.
Originally, the Bellport native was going to be watching the WNBA Draft and learning her fate surrounded by a small group of family and friends at a restaurant in Brookhaven. But like much has in the COVID-19 world, plans changed. But Guirantes didn’t mind.
Instead, the guard watched from her childhood home with her immediate family. And it was there Guirantes learned she was picked by the Los Angeles Sparks with the 10th pick in the second round (No. 22 overall) Thursday night.
"What used to be a goal and a dream," Guirantes said, "is actually turning into reality."
Guirantes, a 5-11 guard out of Rutgers University, long dreamed of playing in the WNBA. She imagined attending the WNBA Draft, hearing her name called and turning to embrace her family before walking on stage and receiving her first professional jersey.
But because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s WNBA Draft was held virtually for the second straight year. She still shared those same hugs, only under the roof where she first learned the game of basketball.
"This is where it all started," Guirantes tolld Newsday a few hours before the draft. "Now to be stepping into the next part of my life and the next journey here is a major stepping stone. It adds some history to the house."
Guirantes, a two-time, first-team All-Big Ten selection, averaged 21.3 points, six rebounds and 5.2 assists this year to lead Rutgers to the NCAA Tournament. The Scarlet Knights lost, 69-66, to BYU in the opening round.
Guirantes was a six-year varsity player at Bellport High School. Rodney O’Neal, who coached Guirantes those six years, remembers asking school administrators what he needed to do to allow Guirantes to try out for varsity as a seventh-grader. He never had a middle school-aged player try out before. But once he saw Guirantes shoot, O’Neal knew Guirantes was worthy of a varsity uniform.
Her game continued to evolve from there, including averaging 34.8 points as Newsday’s Suffolk Player of the Year as a senior. The three-time Newsday All-Long Island selection averaged 33.6 points as a junior and 24.1 points as a sophomore.
"She’s performing surgery on the defenses every time she stepped on the floor," O’Neal said. "And you couldn’t touch her because she was a 90 percent free-throw shooter so if you fouled her, it was an automatic two points. She was going to score from anywhere on the floor."
Guirantes played a year at the IMG Academy in Florida, averaging 33 points, before spending one season at Texas Tech and transferring to Rutgers.
Guirantes remembers sitting at Liberty games imagining herself on a WNBA floor. She doesn’t have to just picture it anymore.
"It’s crazy, it’s a surreal moment," Guirantes said. "Just growing up and watching women’s basketball players and seeing how inspiring they were to me to keep going and continue to set high goals and go after them aggressively, now it’s all unfolding for me and it’s just a real surreal moment."
Guirantes believes her style of play transitions well to the professional game. She is able to control the pace on the floor, see angles and create space to make plays on the offensive side. She is also a tough defender.
"I think it’s going to be a fun transition for me because, in college, teams can really clog the floor," Guirantes said. "And then just playing with other pro players who are dedicated to working on their craft as much as you do is going to be fun and competitive at the same time, so I think my game is just going to continue to grow."
"She’s going to show up and show out," O’Neal said. "That’s just what she does."