Time for Changes for Edwards

Simone Edwards is facing a pair of important changes in her life – one of which seems to be working out well, while the jury remains out on the other. In the long run, Edwards’ promotion to the Storm’s starting lineup – indefinitely – is far more important. Don’t discount the magnitude of Edwards’ decision to shed her trademark braids, however.

“I never played without braids – never,” she told an unusually large group of reporters (presumably not there just to ask about her hairstyle) in her distinctive Jamaican-accented voice after today’s Storm practice. “When I took it down, my teammates said, ‘leave it down’. I said, ‘No, I can’t. I never play without them’. Then I said, ‘I’m going to challenge myself’. So I came out without the braids.”

Edwards will step into a starting role.
Gregory Shamus/WNBAE/Getty
Just as she was getting used to the new style, Edwards is now being forced to make another, bigger change. With starting center Kamila Vodichkova’s status up in the air pending the results of an MRI she had done on her injured heel today, Storm Coach Anne Donovan confirmed that Edwards will be Vodichkova’s replacement despite a tough night yesterday against the San Antonio Silver Stars. With a large portion of the Storm’s front line battling injuries – in addition to the absent Vodichkova, forward Lauren Jackson and reserve center Alisa Burras also sat out with less serious injuries – Edwards will be called upon to be a major contributor as the Storm fights for a playoff spot down the stretch.

The good news for the Storm is that in Edwards, it has an experienced player to step into the starting five, just as Amanda Lassiter has ably replaced Adia Barnes at small forward since the latter’s season-ending knee injury just before the All-Star break. While Edwards has started just once this season, she has 40 starts during her Storm career, including 27 during the 2001 season. Edwards played both roles last season before settling into her current spot – first post off the bench and typically sixth woman – midway through last season.

That experience makes Edwards believe that she can effectively move into the starting five. “I’ve been in the role before,” she said. “Just now, because I’ve been so passive and laid-back because I had Kamila and Lauren in front of me and I go in, play my role and come out, now I know I have to step my game up and go in with confidence.” Edwards can also count on the continued support of her teammates on this unusually close Storm team. “Sandy (Brondello) came up to me today and practice and said, ‘Simmy, I believe in you’. That meant a lot to me. From a starter, a veteran, for her to just come up to me and say that without me saying anything, it means a lot to me.”

Besides, Edwards has something much more important than a starting role on her mind – the condition of Vodichkova, her longtime teammate and good friend. Edwards and Vodichkova are the only Storm players left from the inaugural 2000 season, the only players to experience all the highs and lows the Storm has gone through on its path to consistent contention. “I’m not excited that Kamila is hurt,” Edwards said to explain her subdued attitude. “She’s my close buddy and it doesn’t matter how much I want to play or whatever, I’d rather her be out there.”

Edwards says she doesn’t want to let Vodichkova down. “I don’t want her to feel guilty,” she explained. “If I play well, I know she won’t feel too guilty. I want to take some of the guilt off of her because, as a player, when you’re hurt, you feel guilty.”

The biggest downside to Vodichkova’s injury is the hole it will leave in the Storm bench, already down a player after Lassiter moved into the starting five. Burras is the obvious candidate to replace the minutes that Edwards previously played, but the health of her knee is a question mark. Additionally, Burras cannot draw her defender to the perimeter to keep her away from Jackson like Vodichkova did, the reason Donovan did not use her in the second half against San Antonio. That means rookie Jung Sun-Min will get every chance to become the Storm’s reserve post, a search that is ongoing, according to Donovan. “We’ve got to find a post player who can give Lauren or Simone some rest,” she said. Jung played nine minutes down the stretch yesterday, scoring a critical basket down the stretch to end a Storm scoring drought and drawing a pair of charges by the Silver Stars.

At one point, it seemed uncertain that Edwards would play such a large role in the success of the Storm’s bench. With the addition of Burras this off-season to the Storm’s starting frontcourt of Jackson and Vodichkova, as well as the strong training camp play of Danielle McCulley, Edwards’ position was anything but assured. She said of her attitude, “I came in thinking, ‘I’m going to work as hard as I can. If they’re going to keep me, they’re going to keep me. But I hope if they cut me all the kids will rally in the street and say ‘We want Simone back!’”

Instead, Edwards has emerged as the Storm’s most consistent reserve, scoring in every game this season but one. While her minutes are down because the Storm’s starting posts are playing more, Edwards has picked up her rebounding and is amongst the league’s leaders on a per-minute basis. She has played well as a starter this season in her one opportunity, recording her first career double-double on 6/28 at Indiana with Jackson injured, finishing with 14 points and 11 rebounds.

Edwards’ current stint in the starting five will not be so brief. It’s still too early to say how long Vodichkova will be out, but Donovan sounded a pessimistic note after practice. “We’re not counting on her Friday,” Donovan said. “It would be a miracle if we got her Sunday, but we’re not counting on that either.” Donovan later added, “I heard two weeks last night from our team doctor – and that’s a good-case scenario.” The team is already preparing for life without its starting center, working on a full-court press it may use later in the season to overcome a smaller lineup.