Burras Moving In

There are many reasons why former Portland Fire and Miami Sol players – four in total – are happy to have continued their careers with the Seattle Storm this season. The Storm’s talented young roster, a burgeoning fanbase, Coach Anne Donovan and the presence of former Fire assistant Jessie Kenlaw and Sol assistant Jenny Boucek all rank high on the list. Center to Alisa Burras, however, has a fairly unique reason why she was happy to be selected by the Storm with their selection in last month’s Dispersal Draft – shipping costs. “All my belongings are in Portland, still in storage,” Burras said prior to training camp. “Everything worked out for the best. My friend’s going to bring some stuff up.”

Burras set career-highs in scoring and rebounding last season.
Fire Photos
Burras had good reason to think she’d be in Portland for the long haul. An original member of the Fire, selected by the team with its first-round pick, fourth overall, in the 1999 Expansion Draft (the Storm selected second and passed on Burras as well as current Storm players to Kate Starbird and to Sandy Brondello to take to Edna Campbell, now with the Monarchs). One of five players to play all three seasons for the Fire, Burras emerged as a starter at power forward last season after previously playing a key role off the bench. With the increased minutes, Burras set career-highs in both scoring (8.7 ppg) and rebounding (4.6 rpg). Her play was a key reason the Fire remained in playoff contention until eliminated by the Storm on the season’s final weekend.

When the Fire folded following the 2002 season, it was a blow to Burras. In addition to having her belongings a half a country away from her off-season home in Chicago, she was disappointed about having to leave behind the friends she’d made in three years in Portland.

For the Storm, the Fire’s loss was an opportunity. With the assistance of Kenlaw, who spent three years with Burras in Portland, Donovan and General Manager Billy McKinney identified Burras as one of the top players to be had in the Dispersal Draft. “We didn’t think she would be there when we selected,” McKinney said later, revealing, “There was even some discussion on our part about the possibility of moving up.” When the Storm’s ninth pick came up with Burras left on the board, it was a no-brainer in the Seattle draft room. “It was a quick decision,” Donovan relates. Burras has noticed how happy the Storm is to have her. “Everybody’s really excited. They’re like, ‘We needed a physical banger down low and you’re the one’. They were happy I was still around.”

Though the Storm already had a strong frontcourt last season with All-Star Lauren Jackson and Kamila Vodichkova as the starters and to Simone Edwards coming off the bench, Burras still brings what the team previously lacked. Burras provides a presence in the low post that will free up Jackson and Vodichkova to roam the perimeter, where they are more comfortable. There’s no question that Burras’ finishing ability will help the Storm. She led the WNBA last season by shooting 62.9% from the field – a mark nearly 10% higher than the one posted by Edwards, the Storm’s most accurate shooter. Burras’ size and strength are also assets on the glass. Her 9.4 rebounds per 40 minutes last season ranked amongst the WNBA’s top 20 and was better than the 8.6 per 40 minutes marks posted by both Jackson and Vodichkova.

Burras gives the Storm a post presence it previously lacked.
Fire Photos
The main concern for Burras is her conditioning. Last season’s 19.8 minutes per game were the most of her career, and it is unlikely she would remain as effective playing heavier minutes. Burras also reported to training camp behind schedule in her conditioning, though Donovan has praised her efforts during the first two weeks of camp. “I’m so pleased with her,” Donovan said last week. “She came in out of shape, she recognized that and she’s been working really hard not only in practice but out of practice. Where we’ve gone to two-a-days, Alisa Burras has spent two more in the training room.”

Donovan has also had the opportunity to work Burras hard during the early stages of training camp, with Jackson missing the first few days of practice and Vodichkova still playing overseas. The absence of Jackson particularly helped Burras, Donovan says. “I think it’s been beneficial for her to be here without Lauren, because she’s been one of our go-to post players now since the opening of training camp. I think with Lauren here now – she’s a go-to player – other people tend to stand around and watch. With Alisa here and already established, people have confidence in her, and that’s going to help her down the stretch.”

Vodichkova’s absence should also help Burras in their battle for playing time alongside Jackson. While Vodichkova will be in playing shape and has experience playing alongside Jackson, Sue Bird and the rest of the Storm’s starting lineup, she will have to learn a new system from Donovan and the assistant coaches on the fly. “She's really going to be behind the eight-ball,” Donovan told the Seattle Times about Vodichkova last week. Still, whether she ends up the starter at center doesn’t matter a great deal to Burras. “I’m just coming to bring what they drafted more, that player they need inside,” she says. “Now if I become a starter, that’s on the coaching staff, but I’m here to do what’s best for the team.”

With training camp about halfway over, Burras is ready for a big season from the Storm. “I look for this team to be a team to be reckoned with,” Burras said at media day. “A lot of teams are going to say, ‘the Seattle Storm, they’re a team to be reckoned with this year’.” The prospect of playing for a contender that knocked her old team out of the playoffs motivates Burras. “To come in on a team and know that they can make it (to the playoffs), it’s very exciting.”

Almost as exciting as being able to have your friends move your stuff for free.