Storm remakes roster in bid for third WNBA title
The Storm will be without star Lauren Jackson until after the Olympics. In the meantime, Camille Little and newcomers Tina Thompson and Ann Wauters will hold down the inside.
Seattle Times staff reporter
A folding chair sat in front of Lauren Jackson's locker for an exhibition game Sunday at KeyArena. Storm teammates constantly gestured to the space as they spoke of the season, but the chair might as well have been a sign that read, "Gone fishing."
Jackson won't join the Storm until August, after the Olympics. And while much of the focus as the Storm starts its 13th season will be on what it doesn't have, the team is getting goose bumps about who is on the roster.
Coach and general manager Brian Agler remade the team that won a championship in 2010, bringing in veteran post players Tina Thompson and Ann Wauters to join Camille Little this season. He acquired youth in No. 2 overall draft pick Shekinna Stricklen, second-year forward Victoria Dunlap and Alysha Clark, who was drafted in 2010 but hasn't played in the WNBA. He retained backcourt mainstays Sue Bird, Tanisha Wright and Katie Smith and center Ewelina Kobryn.
The goal is to stay competitive until the leaguewide Olympic break in July, then regroup in August with Jackson after she competes for gold with her Australian team.
"It'll get us battle-tested, I'll tell you that much," Wright said of Seattle's schedule to open the 2012 season. "We'll see what we're made of straight from the beginning."
Training camp opened and a familiar voice shouted, "Storm on three!"
It was Little captaining a team of new faces. It's a WNBA norm to wait for key players to arrive, sharing them with overseas teams so they can make a living from basketball. So it was Little's responsibility to set the tone early, as she did in 2010.
Little has enjoyed watching the team take shape.
"That's the part that you look forward to, to seeing how everything will work together," Little said. "Being here with Tina is really great. I can see that her and I will play well together. I mean, you've got these great players around you, it's hard to go wrong. We just need time. Chemistry is something that you can't just pick up. It has to come naturally."
In addition to Jackson, the Storm is without All-Star Swin Cash and key reserves Le'coe Willingham and Ashley Robinson. Those players were traded in an effort to get younger. The changes brought five new faces to the team after two seasons of having a core of eight constants.
One challenge is building relationships in the locker room. While the majority of the veteran players know each other's games through international competition or playing together on Olympic teams, there was a true sisterhood between Willingham, Cash, Robinson, Little and Wright.
"This is the business that we're in, nothing lasts forever," Wright said. "I would be remiss if I didn't say I wasn't sad. Those were my friends outside of basketball. But you take it on the chin and keep going. I've got a job to do and they've got a job to do. We'll still see them and talk and have a relationship. That never changes."
Now, more responsibility falls on Little.
The youngest of the post players at 27, she played in China during the offseason to experience what it's like to be that go-to player. She also reacquainted herself with the small forward position and worked on her three-point shot to add more versatility.
Wauters said she thinks the new players will mesh well.
"I'm more the post player with size, where she (Little) is more the mobile one," Wauters said. "I hope we find that chemistry."
Stop us if you've heard this one before.
Two point guards walk into a Russian bar and try to convince a Belgian center to play for their basketball teams.
The guards were Bird and San Antonio's Becky Hammon. Wauters and Hammon played on the same team in 2007, Bird for another club in Moscow.
"We were having drinks and it was funny," Wauters recalled of the overseas recruiting. "Before I went to San Antonio, I remember Sue and Becky, the point guards, they were talking to me and I was like, 'Sue, she's my teammate here, I can't be not loyal to her. (Sue's) finally happy that I came here (to Seattle)."
Like Jackson, Wauters can swing outside to hit three-pointers. But Wauters is concerned about the physical nature of the WNBA, which is different from the European style of play. That's where Thompson and Little enter.
Thompson, the lone remaining player from the WNBA's inaugural season, was relied upon a lot in Los Angeles due to injuries to All-Star Candace Parker. The league's all-time leading scorer (6,751 points), Thompson can still nail the three-pointer and bang inside for rebounds.
Wauters, 31, was the No. 1 draft pick in 2000 by Cleveland. She hasn't played in the WNBA since 2009. She took a break last year to have her first child. Jackson, like Bird before, pestered Wauters to play in Seattle. Jackson and Wauters teamed to win the EuroLeague title for Valencia Ros Casares in April and the Spanish league title later that month.
Wauters, who played for coach Dan Hughes in San Antonio and Cleveland, said those teams' schemes are similar to the Storm's, helping her adjust quickly after arriving on Saturday from Belgium. Agler was an assistant coach for Hughes in San Antonio before accepting the Storm position in 2008.
Wauters said she's excited to play with Jackson in the WNBA. Maybe Storm fans will see the same kind of alley-oop passes Jackson threw to Wauters in EuroLeague play?
"Yeah, that's really hard to guard for other teams," Wauters said. "I hope that even with Camille and Tina, we all can find that connection. Then we'll be pretty hard to guard.
"Going to the Finals with San Antonio, I kind of have a taste of it and I missed it."
Wauters and the Silver Stars were swept by Detroit for the 2008 title. Wauters averaged 16 points and 7.3 rebounds during the Finals.
"Now I'm really, really hoping for a championship and trying everything to win one," she said.
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @JaydaEvans.
|Is three better than one?|
|The Storm will depend on Camille Little and newcomers Tina Thompson and Ann Wauters to fill the void left by Lauren Jackson for the first half of the WNBA season. Here's how the trio's combined stats stack up to Jackson's from last season:|
|* Wauters' statistics are from 2009, her last season in the WNBA|
|Storm records without Lauren Jackson:|
Information in this article, originally published May 16, 2012, was corrected May 17, 2012. A previous version had incorrect numbers in a chart that accompanied the story.