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Originally published Saturday, May 25, 2013 at 8:13 PM

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Seattle Storm start season in Los Angeles vs. Sparks

With backcourt mainstay Sue Bird out this WNBA season after knee surgery, Tanisha Wright will have to play a leading role for the Storm. Seattle plays its season opener against Los Angeles on Sunday at Staples Center.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Sunday

Storm @ L.A. Sparks, 5:30 p.m.

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LOS ANGELES — Storm guard Tanisha Wright is humored by questioning whether she can handle leading a team. That was her role as a two-time MVP and 2011 champion for Ramla, a team in Israel.

"Wright's greatness this year showed in the way she knew how to take over at exactly the right moments," the Israeli league's website stated in 2011. "Defensively, of course, she never took a day off. Wright's lack of ego was contagious to her entire team and was a main reason for Ramla's groundbreaking success."

With backcourt mainstay Sue Bird out this WNBA season after knee surgery in May, Wright will have to play a similar role for the Storm. Seattle plays its season opener against Los Angeles on Sunday at Staples Center.

"Tanisha is more proactive, jumping in and being more vocal," Storm coach Brian Agler said. "She's taken it upon herself to really help all of the players. (So) we know who we are. We've got solid leadership and we're going to be solid defensively."

The Storm, which finished 16-18 last season, hasn't defeated the Sparks since August 2011, losing all five games last year.

A 5-foot-10 shooting guard, Wright was drafted by former coach Anne Donovan in 2005. The former Penn State standout is the franchise's longest-tenured player in the lineup. Lauren Jackson, the No. 1 overall pick in 2001, is out due to offseason hamstring surgery.

Wright and forward Camille Little are the only remaining players from the Storm's 2010 championship team. Together, the players look to lead a team that features five new faces.

"It gives us an opportunity to really step out of our comfort zone and to challenge ourselves and really put ourselves out there," Wright said of transferring her overseas game to the WNBA. She didn't play in Israel this past offseason, choosing instead to rehabilitate nagging knee injuries.

"We don't shy away from that. We accept that role and are really looking for it," Wright continued. "Not to prove or show, but challenge ourselves to be better, to do more."

Wright will start alongside Temeka Johnson, a 5-3 point guard who helped lead Phoenix to the 2009 WNBA championship. Agler plans to move veteran Tina Thompson back into the starting lineup at her natural power forward position with Little at center and free-agent signee Noelle Quinn on the wing.

Wright and Johnson want to use their combined quickness to make the Storm's offense more up-tempo. Defense will remain the Storm's staple, Agler said.

Johnson and Wright once played together on USA Basketball's 2003 gold-medal winning FIBA U-21 world championship team. But even with the history the Storm's smaller lineup doesn't match up well for the opener.

L.A. features a healthy MVP Candace Parker, a versatile 6-4 post. Rookie of the year Nneka Ogwumike is a 6-2 forward. In the backcourt, free-agent point guard Lindsey Harding teams up with Kristi Toliver, the league's 2012 most improved player.

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

On Twitter @JaydaEvans

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