Storm Starts Camp with Key Questions

Kevin Pelton, | April 29, 2012

As the Seattle Storm opened training camp with the first practice of the 2012 season on Sunday at Seattle Pacific University's Royal Brougham Pavilion, the date May 18 hung over everything the Storm did. That's when the Storm will host the Los Angeles Sparks on Opening Night (). Between now and then, the Storm coaching staff must evaluate candidates for the last three spots on the roster, find a starting small forward and install its system at both ends of the floor.

"We have less than three weeks before our first game," said Storm Head Coach Brian Agler after practice. "We've got to get a lot of things in here this first week. We've got to bring a lot of the people that we know are going to be on our roster back into the fold when they get here, whenever that is. Then we've got to get into some competition and be ready for that first game of the season. It will be tough."

Storm Head Coach Brian Agler.
Aaron Last/Storm Photos

Agler chats with the media.

That process began Sunday with just a handful of veteran players on hand. With returning reserve Allie Quigley and newcomer Tina Thompson watching drills while awaiting the chance to complete their physicals tomorrow, just four of the 11 players on the court had WNBA experience. Two of them, forward Victoria Dunlap and center Lindsay Taylor, have played just a single season.

Two returning Storm players, guard Tanisha Wright and center Ewelina Kobryn, are still competing overseas. Guards Sue Bird and Silvia Dominguez and center Ann Wauters, who wrapped up championships last week, are getting a quick break before reporting to camp. Bird and Dominguez are due in Seattle next weekend, Agler told reporters. Until they arrive, Agler and his staff must adjust his approach to teaching.

"I think we probably didn't go over as much today," Agler explained. "We tried to be a little bit more thorough on our explanation and really show some patience. At the end, we just let them play instead of stopping them every single possession. I think that's important because we do have to evaluate through this as well."

Seven of the 10 spots on the Storm's roster before the Olympics (when Lauren Jackson returns from Australia) are spoken for entering camp. Barring something unforeseen, holdovers Bird, Wright, Camille Little and Katie Smith and newcomers Thompson, Wauters and rookie Shekinna Stricklen will make the team.

That leaves three positions on the bench, which will likely be filled by one guard, one forward and one center. There is a favorite at each position, but the other players invited to training camp will have a chance to battle them to make the final roster.

At guard, Dominguez is the most likely backup to Bird. Agler values her experience at the highest levels of European basketball, including back-to-back EuroLeague titles as starting point guard. The addition of Dominguez is similar to when the Storm signed Jana Vesela prior to the 2010 season and kept her on the roster based largely on her international track record. Vesela rewarded that faith as a key member of the championship team.

However, the coaching staff will have several other alternatives. Quigley, though not a true point guard, has the advantage in terms of experience after finishing last season with the Storm. Rookie Ashley Corral, signed as a free agent after going undrafted out of USC, provides outside shooting. And invitees Dellena Criner and Jacqua Williams are fine athletes who excel defensively.

Camp signings Rachel Allison and Alysha Clark will compete with Dunlap for a spot at forward. The athletic Dunlap, a first-round pick by the Washington Mystics last year, was acquired in an offseason trade and has the potential to fit well into the Storm's defensive scheme. Clark was the final cut by the San Antonio Silver Stars each of the last two seasons and has made further progress toward converting to small forward after playing power forward at Middle Tennessee State, where she led the NCAA in scoring as a senior. Allison, in a WNBA training camp for the first time after graduating from Baylor in 2009, is the best shooter of the group.

Up front, the Storm has three options to provide more size in the middle. Kobryn got a chance to adjust to the WNBA in her first season stateside and should return to Seattle readier to contribute after a strong season in her native Poland. Texas product Ashley Gayle is an athletic shot blocker and rebounder in a similar mold to departed Ashley Robinson. The 6-8 Taylor, who last played in the WNBA in 2004, offers the most size and was a standout on the first day of camp thanks to her overseas experience.

"It's going to be competitive," said Agler.

As the coaching staff is evaluating who makes the roster, it must also sort through possible starters alongside returning Bird, Wright and Little. Agler said Wauters, a former All-Star, has "a strong chance" to start at center if she arrives in camp soon enough to pick up the system. That would leave one spot open at small forward, where the Storm has a variety of different options, including Smith, Stricklen and Thompson.

"We might have a ballhandler at the three spot or we might have a post player," Agler said. "That's part of how we have to be creative this year. How can we be able to do both? Are we going to play a big alignment and keep our best players on the floor? That's going to be important for us as we develop."

That development started Sunday. While the players on the court at SPU might have born little resemblance to the roster that will take the court against the Sparks on May 18, Agler was pleased with the Storm's first steps toward taking shape.

"I thought our intensity was good," he said. "Our concentration, our focus was good. The intention was there for them to do things right. We just have to work through mistakes."

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