Atkinson Returns to Storm as Replacement
Even after being cut by the Seattle Storm in training camp in June, forward La'Tangela Atkinson continued to follow the team and maintain the bonds she made during her time with the Storm.
"I was at home watching games," Atkinson said. "I would hit Pee Wee (Johnson) up, say, 'Pee Wee, why didn't you take that shot?' I talked to Camille (Little) a couple of times, I talked to Sue (Bird). I just love them like they were my sisters."
Atkinson was reunited with the Storm, if only briefly, when the team used the WNBA's roster-hardship exception to sign her as a free agent. Atkinson will be eligible to play in the Storm's final two games of the 2009 regular season because the team will be without forward Swin Cash, who returned home after her grandmother passed away last week. The Storm will have to waive her when it returns to nine active players.
After returning to her native South Carolina, Atkinson got a temporary job at a Coca-Cola bottling plant. She served as a checker, loaded up pallets and oversaw their distribution to local retailers. Atkinson even put in a shift yesterday afternoon, having already gotten the call from Agler to find out she would join the Storm, before flying to Seattle this morning and going directly from the airport to practice.
"It's a nice job," she said. "I like to learn new things and it helps me work out too, because I'm lifting 75-pount pallets. I was doing my workouts in the gym, but that's a totally different workout. I like to try new things and I like the environment - it's like family."
Now, Atkinson is back with a different kind of family, her former teammates on the Storm. Atkinson's experience in training camp is a big help as she tries to fit in on the fly.
"Being that I came here for training camp, I knew the system," said Atkinson. "I like to play the type of game (Agler) has set up for the team. If I had a chance to go to any other place, I would have to learn everything over again because each coach has a different philosophy. That's why I felt like this was a good situation."
The Storm is also looking at adding a second player using the hardship exception because of Bird's uncertain status. The Storm's point guard participated in part of Wednesday's practice, but the team doesn't want to push her too hard in coming back from a sore neck with the playoffs looming.
"We're probably going to sign another one here to get us through at least tomorrow," explained Agler. "Then we'll see. Sue's making progress - I just don't think she'll be quite ready by tomorrow. And we don't want to have a setback there either."
Agler envisions the newcomers not only helping fill in for the players the Storm has lost but also allow him to rest the Storm's healthy, active veterans - Johnson, who logged 40 minutes in Saturday's loss to Minnesota, season-long starters Little and Tanisha Wright, and center Janell Burse.
"When you only have eight players, they're going to play," Agler said. "I think part of this is not only we have people out but to give people rest, to not have to play 40 minutes."
With the Storm locked in as the second seed in the Western Conference regardless of the results of the regular season's final two games, winning them takes a backseat to being healthy, rested and prepared for the playoffs, which will begin a week from today.
"It's hard as a competitor, whether you're a coach or a player, to sit there and make decisions to rest people when you're in competition," Agler said. "It's just not a natural thing to do, but it's what we need to do. Even though we have regular-season games, the most important thing left that is in our future is beyond the regular season."