O’Neill Makes Difficult Decision to Step Away from Storm

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Kevin Pelton, storm.wnba.com | April 23, 2009
Last year, Kristen O'Neill turned an invitation to the Seattle Storm's training camp into a chance to fulfill her dream of playing for her hometown team. Now, O'Neill wants to make sure she doesn't stand in the way of giving another young player that same opportunity. Limited by a knee injury suffered while playing overseas, O'Neill will not attend the Storm's training camp this season, the team announced Thursday.

"Those that know me best know how difficult it was for me," O'Neill said by phone. "I feel like I'm making the best decision for me and the Storm organization as well. I talked a lot with my family and friends and those that are closest to me. My agent, she's given me a lot of guidance in terms of being able to bounce things off of her.

"Having the chance to look back on it really made me appreciate it even more. I'm just so thankful that I had a chance to be a part of it and realize the dream."
Aaron Last/Storm Photos
"I'm the type that is going to put my whole heart and soul into everything. There were times it went through my head that I could gut this out, go into camp and give it everything I can - which I would do. But if I'm not going to be 100 percent, I'm not comfortable doing that."

O'Neill injured her right knee late in her season in Ireland, causing swelling and a buildup of fluid. Her season complete, she came back to Seattle at the start of the month, planning to continue to rest her knee and begin rehab.

When she started to ramp up her training, however, the knee swelled again and O'Neill sought further revaluation from the Storm's medical staff. An MRI revealed no fractured bones or torn ligaments, with the recommendation being further rest and rehab.

That didn't square with O'Neill's usual training regimen and legendary work ethic. Last year, during the month leading up to camp, she was working out six hours a day between cardio, weightlifting and shooting. O'Neill's spot on the roster can be traced to the effort she put in to be ready to go from the first day of training camp.

"I know what it takes to prepare for and compete for a roster spot in the WNBA," said O'Neill. "Those that know me best have seen the hours that I put in behind the scenes to be the best I can be. I realize that, at this point, even with intensive rehab, I will not be 100 percent by the start of training camp."

When she began to come to the realization that her injury would leave her limited at best, O'Neill began to think back to where she was a year ago, and to players in the same situation. Watching the WNBA Draft two weeks ago only strengthened that feeling, as she saw rookies drafted into the league with no guarantees, given the league's move to 11-player rosters. Even spots on the training-camp roster have become more difficult to come by, with teams limited to 15 players in camp at a time.

"The thing that kept playing through my mind was the day when I found out that I was finally getting my chance at training camp after being told no so many times before," O'Neill explained. "The changes that were made in the league this season, it's going to be more competitive than ever in terms of even getting a spot in camp, let alone making a roster.

"I thought about all the other players that have the same goal that I did, the same dream that I did, to play in the league. For me to know that I wouldn't be 100 percent going into camp, I didn't feel it was right to keep that spot, knowing it could help someone else in their career. That actually really helped me make the decision, and I do have peace with that decision. I know how thankful I was to have my chance. In a small way, I'd like to help someone else get their chance."

Naturally, O'Neill, who grew up just north of Seattle in Edmonds and continues to make her home in the area, won't be going far. Even if not part of the roster, she will still have strong ties to the Storm.

"The relationships that I built there are ones that I plan to continue," O'Neill said. "I think that highly of Coach (Brian) Agler and the coaching staff and my teammates. Just Seattle in general, the fans mean so much to me. The Storm has a very special place in my heart and that's not going to change."

O'Neill remains extremely thankful for the chance she got to play with the Storm. By her own admission a long shot going into training camp, her hard work quickly opened eyes and culminated with her joining the roster in July and playing in 11 games. Stepping away from the season and going over to Ireland allowed O'Neill to appreciate even more what a special time it was.

"Last season I can say even from day one I felt like I realized and appreciated how rare it was, that this was something I had aspired to for so long and to finally get my chance, I wanted to make the most of every day," she recalled. "In camp, I didn't know if that day would be my last. That mentality is what kind of carried me through, because each day I was going to give absolutely everything I had.

"As the season went on, there were a lot of ups and downs - mentally, to go from day to day not knowing what the next day held. Even once I started getting seven-day contracts, which was incredible, it was still - at the end of that week, what's going to happen next week? That can drive you crazy, so for me I really tried to embrace living in the moment and enjoying each day and giving it everything I could. In that way, I felt like it helped me to really appreciate the experience as I was going through it.

"But going overseas and having the chance to look back on it really made me appreciate it even more. I'm just so thankful that I had a chance to be a part of it and realize the dream."