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Tuesday, April 4, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Storm seeks inside help in draft

Seattle Times staff reporter

The exact date is blurry.

All that former Storm forward Alicia Thompson remembers is that the team was boarding a bus in the Midwest last summer and her system shut down. She couldn't play anymore.

It wasn't showing in the stats. Thompson, know as "Chelle," played in 30 games and averaged 11 minutes for the Storm. But by season's end, she knew she had to retire, and she did, in September.

"My knees were hurting and I just didn't want to be there," said Thompson, the reserve who helped Seattle win its 2004 championship. "I thought about it and went back and forth. I thought I might just be tired, but as the season progressed it just got harder and harder."

Her absence has left the Storm in a scramble.

Instead of entering the draft Wednesday with the anticipated need of filling a void at backup point guard after the expansion Chicago Sky swiped Italian Francesca Zara from the Storm's roster in November, the Storm is desperately seeking reserve inside players.

Storm draft prospects


Five players who might be available when the Storm makes the 11th pick in the first round of the WNBA draft Wednesday. The order is most likely to be available to least.

La'Tangela Atkinson, 6-2, SF, North Carolina Storm could use her defensive energy, and she shot 55.3 percent from the field for the Tar Heels this season.

Ann Strother, 6-3, SF, Connecticut More comfortable in a reserve role, which works for the Storm's needs, but her confidence is hindering her talent development.

Candice Dupree, 6-2, PF, Temple Probably won't drop this far, but you can bet the Storm would grab this project if available to fill in depth inside.

Sherill Baker, 5-8, SG, Georgia Has great energy and defensive skills in addition to scoring, just not the height and position the Storm is looking for.

Tye'sha Fluker, 6-5, C, Tennessee Definitely a project and the Storm isn't impressed with the center prospects this draft, but her size and raw skills are hard to pass up.

Jayda Evans

Storm coach Anne Donovan said neither Russian forward Natalia Vodopyanova nor Australian center Suzy Batkovic will return to the team next season. Both griped about playing time and have national-team commitments.

Team original Simone Edwards, a 6-foot-4 center, is expected to retire, and Brazilian forward Iziane Castro Marques is under contract, but hasn't decided to return. She might train instead for the world championships that will be played in Brazil in September. Not including recent free-agent pickups, that leaves the Storm with two returning inside players, All-Star forward Lauren Jackson, who has yet to re-sign, and center Janell Burse.

Donovan, who also serves as director of player personnel, did sign veteran Wendy Palmer-Daniel to a multiyear contract this offseason. Palmer-Daniel, 31, is a 6-2 forward who averaged 9.6 points and 5.6 rebounds for San Antonio last summer, but none of the Storm's other free-agent signees played in the WNBA last season.

"Wendy is a great addition to our team," guard Sue Bird said from draft headquarters in Boston. "But I think we're going to miss Chelle a lot, because of the spark she brought. Hopefully we can get that with the 11th pick. It's not low, but it's low enough where you just want to take the best available player."

The Storm had its most successful draft since the Lin Dunn era when it selected Tanisha Wright with the 12th pick last year. Wright blossomed to replace guard Betty Lennox (wrist injury) in the starting lineup, averaging 8.5 points in the final six regular-season games. Wright's ability to swing between the point- and shooting-guard positions has Donovan less concerned about finding an immediate backup for Bird, who averages 34.3 minutes.

The draft isn't full of impressive inside players. Most of the best players are considered "tweeners," missing height or skill to make an impact at one position. Like last season, Donovan believes her 25th (second round) and 39th (third round) overall picks will have a difficult time making the roster. But she said there are 15 quality players in the draft, meaning the Storm should find a quality player who can bring defense and energy to the team.

Because Donovan has been busy coaching the U.S. national team, Storm assistant coaches Jessie Kenlaw and Heidi VanDerveer have handled the bulk of the scouting. Some names batted between the staff are North Carolina forward La'Tangela Atkinson, who could be a youthful version of Thompson, and Connecticut forward Ann Strother. The team liked UCLA point guard Nikki Blue and Connecticut forward Barbra Turner, but both have questionable size to make the jump to the WNBA.

"The core is really complete," VanDerveer said of the Storm's top six players. "It's kind of like who do you see fitting into that mix the best, and the good thing is there will be somebody there at 11 that will be able to help us."

Notes

• Bird's 30-foot billboard above NikeTown is gone for good. Her agent said he was surprised the image featuring the Olympian in a posed dribbling shot lasted this long. Fans voted for Bird to replace Sonics star Gary Payton in 2003 when the latter was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. But unlike Payton and Ken Griffey Jr., whose billboards lasted for years at the downtown store, Nike's intention was to display Bird only until another promotion rolled around.

• Bird will serve as honorary chair of the Puget Sound Race for the Cure on June 17 at Qwest Field. The event benefits the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or jevans@seattletimes.com

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