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Behind the scenes with Diamond Miller at the WNBA draft

Behind the scenes with Diamond Miller at the WNBA draft

Diamond Miller spent a whirlwind day in New York on Monday that ended with her being the No. 2 selection in the WNBA draft. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

NEW YORK — Diamond Miller steps off an elevator on the third floor of the Sheraton Tribeca New York Hotel holding a giant sandwich in one hand and her phone in the other. She scurries down a hallway just after noon Monday, headed to the Style Suite. About seven hours later, Miller will be selected second in the WNBA draft, but she has already been up way earlier than usual as she tears into the sandwich that was nearly too big to hold.

Miller’s life will change forever in the evening, but at this point — as she sports a red Under Armour shirt, black shorts, white socks and sandals — she is en route to prepare for her third wardrobe change of a day that started at 7:15 a.m.

Draft day is the culmination of a lifetime of work and dreams coming true in a flurry of pomp and circumstance. It’s also an exhausting ordeal of being shuffled from place to place and trying to enjoy the moment while dealing with friends, family and media obligations.

“Who knew a ball — an orange ball — could do so much in someone’s life, especially my life?” Miller says as she let out a laugh. “Play sports — that is my recommendation.”

That early wake-up call at least comes with a simple outfit choice, the first of the day. Each prospect wears the familiar orange WNBA hoodie for a 9 a.m. tour at the Empire State Building to start a long day of photo ops. Hoodie, black leggings and sneakers suffice as Miller and the prospects join Commissioner Cathy Engelbert on the bottom floor as Indiana Fever guard Kelsey Mitchell flips the switch to turn the tower lights orange.

Miller walks through the door with her phone in hand — it rarely left her throughout the day — and hangs toward the back, smiling and chatting with Tennessee guard Jordan Horston, who would be selected No. 9 overall by the Seattle Storm. Miller is first to get a solo picture with the switch, a black-and-gold contraption with a silver handle, to the applause of the group as her deep, echoing giggle bounces off the walls.

Behind-the-scenes look into draft day with University of Maryland guard Diamond Miller. She was the second overall pick by the Minnesota Lynx. (Video: Joyce Koh/The Washington Post)

S. Carolina’s Aliyah Boston, Maryland’s Diamond Miller go 1-2 in WNBA draft

The tour winds to the 86th-floor observatory where Miller, phone ready for selfies, is the first to walk in the right direction as handlers have to corral the rest of the group, which had made a wrong turn. Stanford guard Haley Jones carries an old-school handheld video camera to record content — she admits it took an hour to figure it out the previous night.

After ogling the views as a self-proclaimed tourist — Miller had never been despite growing up in New Jersey — it’s back to the hotel for an hour of group media training at 11 a.m. Welcome to adulthood!

Miller emerges with that sandwich — and phone — in hand. This is glam time as she walks into the Style Suite arranged by her designer and agency, Sports International Group. This part of the day is run by Robin Harris, founder of Model Atelier, which has worked with several WNBA players, including Candace Parker and 2022 No. 1 pick Rhyne Howard, and specializes in collections for tall women. The hotel room-turned-salon is a one-stop beauty shop for Miller, Iowa State center Stephanie Soares (chosen No. 4 by the Washington Mystics and then traded to the Dallas Wings) and Connecticut guard Lou Lopez Sénéchal (No. 5 to the Wings).

A sign on the wall reads: “Welcome. We invite you to experience THE STYLE SUITE, exclusively for the vertically blessed.” The room is filled with flowers, motivational messages and hair and makeup products. One table holds shoes and accessories, and the wall behind where Miller sits features her mood board — an outline of the outfit she’ll wear that evening. It came together during two months of meetings, video teleconferences and group texts.

Makeup is first, and Miller multitasks, answering questions and filming content, navigating her phone and following directions from Harris’s team. SIG representatives Faith Suggs and Cessily Jones rush in and out of the room on a variety of tasks. Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame member Ticha Penicheiro, the 1998 No. 2 pick and now an agent for SIG, hangs out in the background. SIG founder and CEO Boris Lelchitski pops in for a moment to check on his latest budding star. The group surprises Miller with a black custom varsity jacket that features hints of the Maryland flag and is designed by John Thomas, a former USC baseball player turned women’s fashion designer.

Miller speaks in staccato sentences, taking pauses for lipstick or the precision needed for eyelashes. There’s time to reminisce, and she talks about her game-winning buzzer-beater against Notre Dame in December. She explains that she still feels like a college student with classes to finish but knows this is all a transition. The goal was to reflect that with her outfit — a salmon suit with hints of gold. The lining features her name and draft class on the inside. Under the suit is a salmon crop top, balancing the business-yet-youthful look. Miller doesn’t really like pink — yellow is her favorite color — but explains she got her nails painted salmon once and ended up loving how it looked.

University of Maryland guard Diamond Miller makes the game-winning shot Dec. 1, in an upset against Notre Dame. (Video: Joyce Koh/TWP)

“This all is going to pretty much stick with you throughout your career,” Harris says. “I want them to understand that this is important. What you wear is important … because it’s going to help build your brand, your personal brand.”

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With makeup finished, Miller moves to the hair station at about 1 p.m. Gone are her signature braids, replaced by straightened curls that spill well beyond her shoulders. She suddenly shouts after seeing on her phone that the league has altered its rules to allow teams to take chartered flights for the postseason, the Commissioner’s Cup and back-to-back games. That has been one of the biggest points of contention for WNBA players.

People continue to shuffle in and out of the room. The hallway is filled at points, including with contractors working in the hotel. Suggs jokes that the entire floor smells like burned hair and construction. None of it kills the vibe, and Miller heads for a bit of downtime with hair and makeup done, leaving the suite in a black Michael Jordan T-shirt.

Walking the orange carpet

Miller returns to the suite at about 3:30 p.m. for the final touches before heading to Spring Studios for the draft. The full suit goes on and is accessorized by a pair of necklaces and a bracelet that reflects every beam of light shining off several ring lights stationed around the room. Gold open-toed heels adorn her feet as she heads to the bus shuttling players to the WNBA’s version of the red carpet runway — the orange carpet. The 15 minutes on the orange carpet resemble a movie premiere with reporters hurling questions about what players are wearing and how the day feels. At one point, Miller excitedly talks about watching the reality television show “Love is Blind.”

Players head to the fifth floor around 5 p.m. to enjoy time with family, friends and a who’s-who of the basketball world. College coaches are well represented with Dawn Staley (South Carolina), Kim Mulkey (LSU) and Geno Auriemma (Connecticut). Miller has her immediate family, a lively bunch taking photos in a corner, and her boyfriend along with Maryland Coach Brenda Frese in the building. Food stations ring the area, and pictures are taken from every direction. She is thrilled to get a photo with “Jake from State Farm,” who is wearing a red suit for the event sponsored by the insurance company.

“It’s all a blessing,” sister Adreana Miller says. “These are moments we have to cherish, [that] we’re never going to get this back.”

As the 7 p.m. draft nears, Miller laughs that her parents need to hurry up and get seated in the main hall.

“She worked, she worked, she worked,” Miller’s dad, Lance, says with a smile. “We always taught her and trained her to have that chip on her shoulder. … She continually got better.”

The Indiana Fever goes on the clock at 7:08 p.m. and takes South Carolina center Aliyah Boston, as expected. Miller smiles at herself when flashed on the big screens in the room and dances when Lil Uzi Vert’s “Just Wanna Rock” plays after Boston’s interview. Every reputable mock draft had Miller going No. 2, and ESPN telegraphs it as a cameraman positions himself in front of her well before Engelbert heads to the stage to announce the pick. Soon after, she officially becomes a member of the Minnesota Lynx.

The final media duties include several more stops and a quick photo shoot for the league. The photographer shouts, “Someone’s been watching ‘America’s Top Model!’ ” as Miller gives the camera a smiling side-eye. Pride oozes in an elevator as she talks about Maryland teammate Abby Meyers being a surprise pick at No. 11.

The end is near, and Miller is eager to see about 65 friends and family members who gathered for a watch party at another hotel, including former teammates Faith Masonius, Shyanne Sellers, Lavender Biggs and the Terrapins assistant coaches. The night ends at the WSLAM after-party, the conclusion of a long day that won’t soon be forgotten.

“It’s like a birthday party and, after the birthday, it ends and you still go to work,” Miller says. “So, yeah, I’m enjoying this, but I know there’s work to be done.”

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