With so much in flux this year, one thing stayed constant: senior forward Natalie Kucowski dominated the game of basketball. And now, in addition to her numerous accolades, records, and countless double-doubles this past year, Kucowski has been drafted to the Seattle Storm WNBA team.
“As it got further and further into the draft with less spots available it began getting tense in the room,” Kucowski recalled. “I was at home for the draft with my parents, my brother and sister, and my aunt. Then my name was called and it was a blur.”
The WNBA draft occurred on Thursday, April 15, consisting of 12 teams picking over the course of three rounds. Kucowski was taken as the 11th pick in the third round by the Seattle Storm, 35th overall.
“I was staring at the screen, but I felt like I could not read my name on the screen,” she added. “My name popped up and everyone started screaming and I just started screaming. It happened so fast and it took me a second to realize what was going on, but then every emotion hit.”
Unlike other Lafayette athletes who have gone on to play professional sports, Kucowski knew she was destined for the pros since she arrived on campus as a freshman. Many professional athletes do not realize their professional potential until reaching college, but playing at the next level was something Kucowski always had on her mind.
“The thought that I wanted to play professionally was always there because basketball is such a big part of my life,” she said. “As long as the opportunity was there, I wanted to play.”
“Basketball means so much to me and is something I’ve put so much time into I couldn’t just stop playing after my collegiate career ended,” Kucowski added. “I’ve always felt like I needed to keep playing because it is what I love to do.”
Prior to getting drafted by the Storm, Kucowski considered playing overseas, which has a large market for women’s basketball. Many WNBA players play overseas in the offseason, which means Kucowski would have been facing WNBA competition, giving her time to prepare for the stiff competition in America.
“Between sophomore and junior year I realized going overseas was definitely an option because women’s basketball is popular in Europe and I knew there were going to be opportunities there,” Kucowski said. “The WNBA was always the ultimate goal but I did not know how realistic it is because it is such a competitive league to get into.”
It’s no surprise Kucowski was set on playing professionally, as her collegiate résumé is as impressive as they come. Kucowski had no trouble adjusting to the collegiate level, averaging a double-double as a freshman and leading the team in minutes played. Her freshman averages of 10.9 points and 10.3 rebounds per game were the lowest averages of her career as she managed to improve in both categories year after year while perfecting other aspects of her game.
This past season, Kucowski averaged a double-double with 17.8 points and 13.3 rebounds while shooting 44 percent from three on nearly three attempts per game. Her laundry list of accolades would not fit in a single article, but her most notable accomplishment is her status as the all-time leader in rebounds in the Patriot League, a record she secured this past year.
This year was like no other for the WNBA draft process because the NCAA gave athletes an extra year of eligibility. In order to sign with an agent prior to the draft, an athlete had to forgo their extra year of eligibility. This means even if they were not drafted, an athlete could not take advantage of the extra year of eligibility.
“Towards the end of my senior season, agents began reaching out to me and my coaches [were] asking whether or not I was interested in playing professionally and if I would like representation,” Kucowski said. “It then became a process of calling them, hearing about their services, and finally choosing an agent to sign with. I let my agent do his job and work his connections and get me the best opportunity possible.”
Outside of basketball, the most drastic change for Kucowski is the change in lifestyle she’s experiencing. Kucowski originally hails from Philadelphia, but is currently in Seattle for the team’s training camp, which she will participate in after a quarantine period. Even in isolation, Kucowski has recognized the difference in the West Coast lifestyle.
“It’s exciting to be a part of the Storm, they are a championship team and I am excited to learn and take in all the information I can while learning from the best of the best,” Kucowski said. “Seattle itself is a change of pace from the East Coast. I grew up in Philadelphia so everything operates at a much slower pace. The landscape and weather is really beautiful so I’ve been taking advantage of both of those while in quarantine. The work-life balance appears to be much better in Seattle, which I appreciate.”
As Kucowski’s time on College Hill comes to a close, she looks back fondly at Lafayette and the bonds she’s formed in Easton.
“As an individual, building core relationships and having a good support system was key,” she reflected. “People have continued to check up on me and see how I’m doing. I’ve been talking to my friends and family pretty much everyday. It’s not always about what I’m doing, it’s just as much about what they’re up to. We just support and celebrate each other.”
Most importantly, Lafayette challenged Kucowski to grow as a player, she said. Her role will certainly change as a professional, but she said she feels up to the task given the skillset she developed during her time in college.
“From a basketball standpoint, Lafayette and the Patriot League has helped me grow into the player I am,” she said. “I mean that in the sense that there are multiple ways I can make an impact on a team. I understand my role is going to change at the next level from what it was at Lafayette, but I know that I can accept a new role and I will put the team first in whatever my role needs to be.”
Kucowski is currently in quarantine in Seattle and is waiting for team workouts to begin next week. She is finishing up two classes, including a capstone course, before all of her attention will be focused on the Seattle Storm.