- Associated Press - Thursday, April 9, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) - Jewell Loyd is heading to the WNBA.

Notre Dame’s junior guard declared herself eligible for the WNBA draft on Wednesday, a night after the Irish lost in the national championship game to UConn 63-53.

Loyd could be the top pick by Seattle in the April 16 draft and had until Wednesday night to declare. She has up until five days before the draft to return to Notre Dame if she changes her mind.

“I am incredibly grateful for my experience at Notre Dame and the support I have received from Coach (Muffet) McGraw, our staff, my teammates and the entire ND community,” Loyd said in a statement to The Associated Press. “I have grown as a woman and as a basketball player and I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to be a part of such an inspiring community.”

She finished second in the AP Player of the Year voting behind UConn’s Breanna Stewart and averaged 20 points a game this season. She scored 772 points this season, leaving her four behind the school record set for one year.

The WNBA has strict rules about who may leave school early for the draft. Loyd is eligible because she will turn 22 during the calendar year of the draft.

“We appreciate all that Jewell has done for our program and the University of Notre Dame during her time here,” Fighting Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “We understand this was not an easy decision. We wish her nothing but happiness and success at the next level.

“Our focus remains the same as it was moments after Tuesday night’s national championship game ended,” McGraw added. “We plan on building on this year’s success, including our fifth straight Final Four, fourth national championship game appearance in five years and fourth conference title in a row, with an outstanding incoming freshman class ranked among the top three in the nation.

“The future is so bright for our program and we couldn’t be more excited to get started with our preparations for the 2015-16 season.”

Loyd’s choice to turn pro came two days after Minnesota sophomore Amanda Zahui B. also decided to leave school early.

“The draft certainly got more interesting over the last couple of days,” said Seattle Storm President Alisha Valavanis, who also has the third pick in the draft. “We’ll continue to analyze the best possible way to maximize our picks.”

They aren’t the first female players to leave school early to turn pro. Candace Parker left Tennessee after her junior year and was the No. 1 pick in the draft in 2008. Kelsey Bone also left Texas A&M; after her junior year in 2013 and was taken fifth by the New York Liberty.

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