Svetlana Abrosimova meets the media after her first practice with the Storm. Aaron Last/Storm Photos
The European Connection: Abrosimova and Veselá
Kevin Pelton, stormbasketball.com | May 12, 2010
Seattle Storm training camp got a European feel this week with the arrival on Monday of Russian wing Svetlana Abrosimova and forward Jana Veselá, a native of the Czech Republic. While the two players are both Europeans, however, in terms of WNBA experience their stories could not be more different.
American fans are familiar with Abrosimova, who came to the U.S. to play at UConn before being a first-round draft pick of the Minnesota Lynx and playing eight seasons in the league. Now, she's returning after a year absence from the WNBA. Veselá is also an experienced veteran of international play. A two-time Olympian representing her country, Veselá has played with WNBA stars at the highest levels of European club competition. She had a key role on the Ros Casares Valencia team that finished as the runner-up in Euroleague this season and won the Spanish Liga Feminina title. For her, the WNBA represents the next frontier.
"WNBA, for me, was like a dream come true," Veselá said after her second practice with the Storm. "I always thought I wanted to play in this league because, to me, it still is the best league in the world. I'm really appreciative to be here and play with these great players. I like it."
Playing for a contending team makes that all the better.
"This team has Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird and Swin Cash, great players here," she said. "I think every year they compete for the WNBA title, and this is important because I like to win championships."
Right now, Veselá is going through an adjustment period. She noted the Storm's playbook is far more extensive than the ones she is familiar with in Europe, which consist of 6-7 sets called repeatedly. Also, Veselá is changing positions. She has primarily played small forward internationally, but because of her 6-3 height Storm Head Coach Brian Agler sees her as a versatile, floor-stretching power forward.
"He was like now, when I play four, it's an advantage for me because I can play at the three-point line, I can shoot threes, when I screen I can pop," said Veselá. "I'm going to play the post but play it on the perimeter. It's a little bit different. Everything - the moves, you go to screen - it's a bit different."
At the same time Veselá is working to pick things up, Agler and the coaching staff are evaluating her with an eye toward determining a final roster later this week. He described Veselá's first two days as a "learning experience for her. Great instincts for the game. Handles the ball, passes the ball. Picks things up when you show her. So she's doing well."
Abrosimova's spot on the roster is more secure. In fact, she will likely be one of the Storm's top reserves, offering some of the wing athleticism Agler was seeking to upgrade the second unit. As much as the Storm recruited Abrosimova, though, Agler - who originally drafted Abrosimova in Minnesota and was her first pro coach - indicated that she sought out the team, believing it to be the right fit for her.
"I really made my agent talk to him and see what they had for me," explained Abrosimova.
"I want to win a championship and I felt like I wanted to go to a team where I'm familiar with the coach and the players. At my age, I don't want to come to some new situation. I don't want to start from the beginning, ground zero. Here, I played for Brian, I know his system and I know how competitive he is. I like that a lot. Sue and Swin and Lauren, these players, I know they're going to win the championship - they already did it - and I just want to be part of it."
Abrosimova played only briefly after the 2008 Olympics because the Russian National Team wanted its players at home to train. She then decided to take the 2009 WNBA season off, so it has been three years since Abrosimova's last full campaign. That season, 2007, also happened to be the best of Abrosimova's WNBA career.
Former teammate Bird says Abrosimova hasn't dropped off since then. She should know, since Abrosimova's UMMC Ekaterinburg team just defeated Bird and Spartak Moscow Region to win the Russian Superleague title.
"The best way I'd describe Svetty is someone who's not afraid to take a risk, both offensively and defensively," said Bird. "What you're going to see is a versatile player who can make plays. She's just a flat-out playmaker - offense, defense, whatever it is. I'm really excited that she's on our team and looking forward to playing with her."
LAST TWO CUTS WON'T BE EASY
Less than two days away from having to make cuts to finalize the Storm's roster for the start of the regular season, Agler has little more clarity.
"It's about as clear," he joked Wednesday, "as looking through that wall right there."
The issue is that all of the 13 players left in camp (guard Loree Moore is still on the roster, which numbers 14, but will be waived after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery on Monday) have shown enough to justify sticking around.
"We had a team meeting today," said Agler. "We had 13 players. I told them, 'Everybody in here is deserving to be on this team. You know we have to be at 11. Unfortunately, everybody can't be here. It's going to be a tough situation. I don't want to talk about it anymore, but that's where we're at.' And that's how it is."
Agler said the coaching staff would discuss the situation after practice, per tradition, but he anticipated bringing the same group of 13 players back for one last day of evaluation on Thursday before making the final decisions. 11-player rosters are due to the WNBA Friday morning at 11 a.m. Pacific. The versatility of the roster gives the coaching staff a lot of options. About the only restriction, he indicated, was the need to keep two additional post players behind locks Jackson, Camille Little and Le'coe Willingham. Veselá, Abby Bishop and Ashley Robinson all are in the mix in the post. Beyond that, things are open.
"We could go a variety of ways," Agler said, "and things could be just as well no matter which way we went."