A svelte player appeared before Anne Donovan and the coach was pleased.
Desperately seeking reserve help in the post because of the departure of Suzy Batkovic and shin injuries to star Lauren Jackson, Donovan talked at length with center Tiffani Johnson's agent to see if the seventh-year veteran would fit with the Storm.
Donovan's questions concerned Johnson's work ethic and weight, which had ballooned to more than 240 pounds by 2004, dropping her from a consistent starter in 2002 to a sporadic role player. Johnson was ultimately cut in Houston's training camp last summer.
Johnson, 30, took being cut personally, at first, and likened it to "food being taken off your plate, you can't feed your family. I'm hungry."
But Johnson, a semi-vegetarian, didn't eat. Instead she ditched the junk food from her diet and entered a boot-camp style of play in Slovakia and Poland, where her teams practiced twice a day, even on game day.
The result is a trim 195-pound center ready to play basketball.
"It was great to see her get off the plane and it be true; not a great fable that we all bought into," Donovan said of Johnson's physique.
Storm @ Chicago, 5:30 p.m.
Johnson arrived Sunday and practiced with the Storm for the first time Monday. By Tuesday, she was still lost in Donovan's system, but the bruiser that pancaked Seattle as Houston won its fourth championship in 2000 was evident as Johnson rushed to get in the mix for rebounding scrums or took the ball to confidently shoot 15-footers.
"You can look at her body and see how much has changed," Storm guard Betty Lennox said. "She can be stronger and a little bit quicker than normal by the weight she's lost. She's a force on the block and she also has a midrange jumper. She's a good, talented player."
Johnson's addition is even more critical now because Janell Burse (shoulder) is dealing with an injury, along with Jackson. Donovan has six players who rotate inside and said she would like to keep 12 players on the roster. In reviewing the salary cap, which is at $700,000 this season, she said the team can't keep the all the veterans in camp.
Franchise original Simone Edwards (seventh season) is on the bubble.
"We've got the cap room to keep 12 with different scenarios," said Donovan, also director of player personnel. "I can't just keep these 12 because I've got salary issues. We're in great shape from a salary-cap standpoint and from an injury standpoint; that's why you want to keep 12. We just can't keep every veteran salary player out there."
Johnson is confident she's going to work to be the one that sticks around. And her ability as a back-to-the-basket post player with solid footwork and impressive shooting range moves her ahead of Edwards and free agent Lindsay Taylor.
And Donovan doesn't have to worry about Johnson's work ethic, according to the player.
"I'm a laid-back person. I'm nonchalant," she said. "I've tried, coaches have tried to change it, but it's me and it carries over to the court. People see that and think I'm not working hard or blah, blah, blah, but personally, I don't think it's a question of my work ethic.
"I think all players need to feel wanted. And if you don't get that all the time, it can affect you. If I feel like I've got a team behind me, my whole team, and my coaching staff too, I feel like the sky is the limit."
Burse aggravated the left labrum tear in her arm Monday and is listed as week to week. Burse will not travel with the team for its final exhibition games at Chicago on Friday and Minnesota on Saturday.
Donovan reiterated that Jackson will play in only one of the road exhibition games because of her shins.
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or email@example.com