The Perfect Fit

The math, initially, seemed obvious. 14 teams would pick in the WNBA’s Dispersal Draft, picking players from the former Miami Sol and Portland Fire. Those teams had five starters each, a total of 10. 10 is less than 14, and those ten players were the best on their respective teams, so they should have been locks to be selected, right?

Not so for Sandy Brondello. The Sol’s starting two guard 23 times last season, Brondello found her name omitted from the 14 called in the Dispersal Draft – not that it bothered her. “I wanted not to be taken in the first round (of the Dispersal Draft),” Brondello said afterward, desiring the freedom afforded by becoming an unrestricted free agent. However, she wasn’t passed over out of teams’ selfless concern for her free agency wish. Instead, there was concern that at age 34, the valuable part of Brondello’s career might have already passed.

Brondello is back to full health, and it’s showed in her game.
Jeff Reinking/WNBAE/Getty
Brondello’s statistics leant credence to the theory. A consistent performer during her first three seasons in the WNBA, two with the Detroit Shock and one with the Miami Sol, Brondello had averaged between 12.7 and 14.2 points per game before slipping to 8.8 ppg last season. Brondello’s field goal percentage slipped from 41.3% to 36.5%, and the career 42.5% three-point shooter instead made just 31.8%. That age played a factor wasn’t an unreasonable thing to conclude, but Brondello steadfastly refused to. “People say I’m old, that I’ve hit my peak. I’m like, ‘I’ll keep improving until the day I retire’,” she says, and she believes it.

At the same time, Brondello’s off season is a lot easier understood in the context of the injuries she was suffering. “Not that I’d like to use that as an excuse, but I was injured going in there from February. I had three days of training camp,” she recalls. “Came back fairly well, and then had a car accident.” Through the pain, Brondello soldiered on, missing just two games. But it was obvious she wasn’t the same player. “The girls joke about me, tell me that they hadn’t seen me do a runner last year. I told them I couldn’t, because my leg hurt so much.”

She can take the humor now, because after taking the winter off to heal a lingering foot problem, the old Brondello is back. That much was evident to the Seattle Storm and Coach Anne Donovan quickly after Brondello signed with the team as a free agent, both sides seeing the other as the perfect fit for them. From the start of training camp, Brondello and Brondello alone has been Donovan’s shooting guard, the player entrusted with the responsibility of easing the pressure on the Storm’s franchise point guard, Sue Bird.

Too often last season, Bird was asked to do it all. With another ballhandler and shooter in the backcourt, she doesn’t have to be on every play. At least, that’s how the story read on paper. Brondello’s importance became far more tangible when Bird went to the sidelines against Los Angeles in the Storm’s home opener, befallen by chondromalacia in her left knee. With Lauren Jackson struggling with her shot, the Storm turned to Brondello. She made the team’s only two field goals in overtime.

Though Bird returned to the lineup for the Storm’s next game, she wasn’t her usual self. Brondello, like the rest of the team’s starting lineup, helped pick up for their teammate. In the three games Bird struggled with her shot, Brondello averaged 12.3 points per game and made 16 of 27 shots, impressive accuracy for any WNBA player, let alone a shooting guard who also made three three-pointers during the stretch. If there was any lingering question about whether Brondello was completely back, she answered it June 19 against the Sparks, scoring 21 points and hitting a critical shot with 10.9 seconds left as the Storm beat the defending WNBA champions 69-67 in Los Angeles.

Brondello has shined in two games against the Sparks.
Jeff Reinking/WNBAE/Getty
Really, that was just old hat for one of the finest shooters in the WNBA’s history. Even after the 2002 season, Brondello ranked fifth in WNBA history in both three-point percentage (40.4%) and free-throw percentage (85.8%). Few, if any, players in the league have a quicker or prettier release from the perimeter. Donovan’s been impressed this season. “She has a quick release on her shot and she shoots on the move, which makes it very difficult to guard her,” Donovan commented earlier this season.

Because of her perimeter ability, Brondello has historically been one of her team’s first options offensively. In Seattle, she’s adjusting to a slightly different role. “Third option,” she responds without hesitation when asked to describe her place in the Storm’s offense. With Bird and Jackson on the roster, Brondello won’t have many plays called for her, and she’s had to adjust her game somewhat to spend more time in a catch-and-shoot role on the perimeter. Still, she doesn’t find her job with the Storm all that different, saying, “Even though I’m the third option, I’m still being aggressive, because that’s how I can help this team.”

Through the first two games of the season on the road, Brondello might have been a bit too aggressive, making just seven of 24 attempts on the perimeter. Since, she’s blended her talents into the Storm’s lineup much better, and it’s no coincidence the team has lost only twice in six games since, both times by just three points. Quickly, the Storm’s starting five of Brondello, Bird, Jackson, Adia Barnes and Kamila Vodichkova has become a cohesive unit, with all of the players knowing each other on and off the court. “This is one of the closest teams I’ve ever played with,” Brondello says, explaining why she’s so happy to be in Seattle. Though Brondello is not, technically speaking, the Storm player with the most WNBA experience – that’s Barnes and guard Rita Williams; though all three entered the WNBA in 1998, Brondello missed the entire 2000 season to play for her native Australia in the Sydney Olympics – her international experience is unparalleled on the roster, and only Williams comes close to her 3,850 WNBA minutes played. As a result, leadership, in addition to outside shooting, was a major consideration in Brondello’s acquisition. To her, the role is a natural one. “I just try and have a more stabilizing influence, keep everyone positive and that,” Brondello says, elaborating, “I just try to help wherever possible. I am a little bit experienced, and if I see things I’ll tell the players.”

Brondello wasn’t taken in the Dispersal Draft, but that has turned out to be the best thing for both her and the Storm. “I think this team is a special team because this is so much talent,” she says. “We have a great coaching staff.” And an experienced, sweet-shooting two guard who’s a perfect fit.