Tanisha Wright has won over Storm fans with improved play
Storm guard Tanisha Wright has cut down on turnovers and proved she can run the team in Sue Bird's absence.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Storm @ L.A. Sparks, 2 p.m., ESPN2
LOS ANGELES — This couldn't have happened last season.
Storm fans wouldn't have logged onto message boards and asked point guard Sue Bird not to play because of nagging injuries. Seattle wouldn't have extended a six-game lead in the Western Conference to eight.
Storm fans wouldn't be enjoying the play of Tanisha Wright.
Tanisha Wright? Remember her? The player many fans wanted traded because of her propensity for turnovers, especially in playoff games?
Now fans in KeyArena's Section 115 join to raise letters spelling her name. Others in Section 128 bring homemade signs. And game operations have to keep New Kids on the Block's "The Right Stuff" on cue for all the plays Wright has been making lately.
Wright has averaged 9.3 points and 10.7 assists in Seattle's past three games, two of those with Bird out of the lineup. She is averaging 9.4 points and 4.8 assists for the season.
"The maturity level is a lot higher," Wright said of her improved play. "Fans, they cheer for who they like, whether it's the home team or not. But I see the growth in it. They appreciate the growth in me and the maturity in my game."
Storm coach Brian Agler has always considered Wright a good ballhandler, even if Wright needed to be convinced. She was drafted 12th overall in 2005 by former Storm coach Anne Donovan, who kept Wright at the shooting guard role she played at Penn State.
But Agler likes more versatility in his offense and thought having Wright become a combo guard who could play either spot would open more opportunities to exploit Bird's shooting ability. And when Bird is out of the lineup, as she has been with back spasms, Wright can run the offense.
Bird is expected to return to the Storm (14-2) against Los Angeles (4-11) on Saturday.
"She's not somebody that wants to play the point," Agler said of Wright. "How T has been playing in Sue's absence, it has given us a chance to stay competitive. She's really embraced that and done it for the team."
Playing beside Jess Strom at Penn State, Wright, a 5-foot-11 running back-type on the court, never needed to handle the ball outside of slashing inside for layups. Wright, a three-time Big Ten defensive player of the year, never had more than eight assists in a college game.
Wright's years at Penn State were probably her most enjoyable, before this season.
Wright led the Nittany Lions to two Big Ten titles but the program has attracted more attention for former coach Rene Portland's "no lesbians" policy that was documented in the 2009 film "Training Rules."
"My experience with Rene and the rest of the staff that was there was absolutely wonderful," Wright said of Portland, who was sued by former player Jennifer Harris in 2006. Harris had been kicked off the team because Portland believed she was a lesbian.
"The girl who's claiming whatever she's claiming," Wright continued, "she was not the only lesbian player — even though she claims to not be a lesbian — on the team."
Harris, who says she is not a lesbian, settled the case with Portland out of court.
Wright, 26, still makes return trips to Penn State. She's a native of Pennsylvania who is proud of her roots. She's even happier the modest beginnings have finally translated to the WNBA after six seasons.
It wasn't without the help of Bird. Wright learned from playing alongside Bird and worked on tips she had picked up from Bird when she played overseas during the WNBA's offseasons. Wright bonded with Bird when Bird made a brief trip to Israel in 2007 to get dual citizenship.
Wright was named Israeli League MVP in 2007-08 as she guided Raanana Hertzeliya to the Finals, averaging 21.3 points and a league-leading 6.2 assists and 3.2 steals. The competition wasn't flooded with WNBA stars as it is in Russia, where Bird and Lauren Jackson play, but Wright didn't need that level of play at the time.
Overseas, she relaxed off the court, baking dishes like carrot cake and cornbread, and eased into being the primary leader on the court — overcoming language barriers and ball-handling insecurities.
"You establish yourself a little bit, if you're doing it year in and year out," said Wright, who will play her third season in Israel this offseason, signing with Ramla in June. "You have that type of confidence to put it in your hands and go from there."
The newfound confidence helped Wright guide Poland's Lotos Gdynia to its 11th league championship in May, playing with former WNBA point guard Erin Phillips. And who knows where it could take the Storm this summer.
"T has been doing a great job, but Sue pushes the ball more," said Storm reserve Svetlana Abrosimova, who runs the offense at times for Seattle, and for her Russian national team. "Tanisha likes to slow it down. That's her rhythm and somehow she finds those passes, too."
It also helps Wright to have a target like Jackson, the Storm star who averages 21.4 points.
"I'm not a big numbers person," Wright said of trading her turnovers for assists this season. "Brian brought it up, but in all honesty, it's just a part of the game to me. Once the game is over and I'm home relaxing, that's what I'm about."
And now, fans can relax, too.
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or email@example.com
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