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Familiar Faces as Storm Opens Training Camp
Bird On Time, Burse Returns, Johnson Key Addition

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Kevin Pelton, stormbasketball.com | May 18, 2009
The Seattle Storm's 2009 Media Day featured an unusual headliner: Sue Bird. Even though Bird has been with the Storm for the entirety of her WNBA career, entering its eighth season, she's hardly a veteran of Media Day. Because the WNBA pushed back the start of training camp and the regular season to avoid conflicts with international schedules, Bird was on hand for the first time since 2004.

"It's kind of interesting being here for the first day," she said. "It's been a while."

"You don't really realize how much you miss something until you're away from it and then you go back to it."
Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty Images
Fortunately for Bird, there were plenty of familiar faces. When the Storm kicked off training camp last April, the dominating theme was everything that had changed - a new ownership group, a first-year head coach and the addition of three starters. By contrast, the start of the 2009 season is all about continuity and familiarity. This time around, Media Day had more of the feeling of a reunion than an introduction.

The biggest return, of course, came when Lauren Jackson decided to stay with the Storm as an unrestricted free agent. Even before that, second-year Head Coach Brian Agler, in his dual role as director of player personnel, had brought centers Janell Burse (who sat out the 2008 season to rest) and Suzy Batkovic (who last played in the WNBA for the Storm in 2005) back into the fold. Even Agler's marquee addition in free agency, guard Shannon Johnson, is being reunited with her head coach with the ABL's Columbus Quest.

The signing of Jackson capped off an offseason that saw Agler meet all of the team's goals.

"We really had three main objectives in the offseason," he said, "and we got all three accomplished: To re-sign Lauren, to re-sign Tanisha (Wright) and to give us some more depth at the point guard position. We feel very good about all those things. Some of those took longer than others to get accomplished, but in the end it played out in our favor."

So, while both Agler and his players were careful to keep the focus on improving, there is a sense of confidence in the group the Storm has assembled for its 10th Anniversary season.

"I have a good feel about this year - high expectations as usual," said Bird. "But only time will tell, so we'll see."

"I'm excited about it," added Burse. "Just looking at what we have here and the people who aren't even here - Swin (Cash), Lauren, Suzy, Tanisha - who are going to bring a wealth of experience to our team. It's exciting."

The return of Burse, penciled in by Agler to reclaim the starting center position she held from 2005 through 2007, was a welcome one for both her and her teammates.

"It's good to be back," she said. "You don't really realize how much you miss something until you're away from it and then you go back to it and you're like, 'This is awesome.'"

"I missed her a lot last year, just having her around, both on and off the court, so it's good to see her back," said Bird. "I got to play against her in Russia; she's looking really good."

"While Johnson may be new to Seattle, her ties to Agler run deep."
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"I'm so excited to see JB back," said center Ashley Robinson, one of Burse's close friends on the Storm. "She's not only a great basketball player, but she's a great person. We've missed her. She's such a familiar face for me, so I was happy to see that face."

While Johnson may be new to Seattle, her ties to Agler run deep. In addition to Johnson beginning her professional career playing for Agler in the ABL, they spent two years together in San Antonio, where Agler was an assistant coach. And Bird and Johnson, whom Agler envisions pairing in the backcourt on a regular basis, quickly fit in with each other on the first day of practice thanks in part to their experience together with the U.S. Olympic Team.

"They played yesterday together and it was impressive to watch for the first day in a long time they've done that," said Agler.

"We took turns at the one and two, switching back and forth," added Bird. "I really like that. I like being able to go to the two, I like having another point guard on the floor. Almost all my career I've had that. I really appreciate having somebody who's kind of similar alongside me. I think we're going to complement each other really well this year."

Agler sees the versatile backcourt, with Bird, Johnson and Wright capable of playing in any pairing or even all three on the court at the same time, as one area the Storm has improved from the 2008 squad that won a franchise-record 22 games before falling in the first round out of the playoffs with Jackson sidelined. The other would be depth in the post, where Jackson anchors a group of six players who could compete for playing time. There is much work to be done, but Agler likes where the team is right now.

"I think that our main goal is to put ourselves in position to win a championship," he said. "You can't make the playoffs on June 6; you have to go through that process. With each game and each day that we practice and play, we can take a step closer to accomplishing that goal. Then when you get in that position, you change your goal to winning the championship. It's like living in the moment - you can only live day by day and try to get better day by day.

"I like the roster the way it's set up right now. We have to make some decisions, but I also think that once we get all hands on deck and we get a chance to practice together, I like how competitive we can be."