Stevenson Settles In With Storm

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Kevin Pelton, | May 27, 2005
When Seattle Storm post Mandisa Stevenson was playing against the Storm at KeyArena last July with the San Antonio Silver Stars, she could have had no idea how important her performance would end up being.

With his team falling behind big early, then-Silver Stars Coach Dee Brown relied on his second unit throughout much of the game. Included was a rookie Stevenson, who played 18 minutes and scored a career-high nine points, including the only 3-pointer of her rookie season.

"The second unit came in and played hard," said Brown after the game. "They played the majority of the minutes in the second half. They kept fighting."

"She played very well against us last season. That's what stood out, her game at KeyArena."
Jeff Reinking/NBAE/Getty
Taking notice was the coach on the other sideline, the Storm's Anne Donovan. So when Stevenson became an unrestricted free agent this winter, Donovan made a push to bring the young post into camp.

"She played very well against us last season," said Donovan. "That's what stood out, her game at KeyArena."

Despite the fact that Stevenson was bothered by a sore back during training camp that forced her to miss the Storm's first preseason game, Donovan quickly saw enough from Stevenson to push her from the bubble to make the team to a starter on Opening Day against the Los Angeles Sparks as Donovan went big to combat Los Angeles small forward Chamique Holdsclaw.

"It was quite a shock for me," said Stevenson. "I was happy to be in that position.

"As far as guarding one of the top players in the world, Chamique Holdsclaw, I think it was a challenge just to slow her down a little bit, but I enjoyed it. It was exciting. I had a lot of friends and family calling me from home."

Donovan was also pleased with Stevenson's effort.

"Defensively, when she was matched on Holdsclaw, I thought she did a nice job," said Donovan. "Holdsclaw had to really figure out how to attack her, and that was a fairly new position for her. She's got good speed, good length, high energy - they all add to her. Defensively, she's not a huge post, so when she got caught on Lisa (Leslie), it was tough for her. We just have to figure out how to use her best to her strengths, whether it's against Holdsclaw or smaller posts."

At the other end of the court, Stevenson's versatility and ability to play the high post have proven pluses for the Storm. While she was paired with Lauren Jackson at the forward positions against the Sparks, using Stevenson at center alongside Jackson allows the MVP to play down low while Stevenson makes entry passes or keeps the defense honest with her shooting ability.

"The fact that she's got a nice outside shot I think we still need to get there with it, but she's confident in taking it, so defensively you have to respect it and guard it," said Donovan. "Some of our other post players, they might get out to 15 or 17 feet and not get guarded any longer."

While Stevenson recognizes that she can work well with Jackson, it wasn't that which drew her to the Storm as a free agent. Instead, it was the city of Seattle, despite the fact that she'd never been here before the Silver Stars came through twice last July.

"I heard many things about the city," said Stevenson. "My father comes up here for training camp - he's in the National Guard. He always comes through and calls me, sends postcards, so I was really looking forward to getting up here, getting through the city and looking around, doing some touring. I am enjoying it so far."

About this time last season, Stevenson was somewhat surprised just to be in a WNBA training camp. After completing her career at Auburn, where she started 30 of 31 games as a senior and averaged 9.1 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, Stevenson thought her U.S. career was over.

" The only other ball I thought I'd be playing is maybe in my backyard with the kids or maybe going overseas a little bit. I never really thought about the WNBA."
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty
"I guess I really just thought that wouldn't be one of my options," said Stevenson. "It was basically just finishing school, maybe finding other things or activities to take that place in my life. The only other ball I thought I'd be playing is maybe in my backyard with the kids or maybe going overseas a little bit. I never really thought about the WNBA."

The Silver Stars, however, had thought about her, and invited Stevenson to training camp as an undrafted rookie. She didn't go into the experience alone, as across the country in Connecticut, Auburn teammate Le'Coe Willingham was in the same position.

"We called each other every other day to see how things were going, pushing each other through it," said Stevenson. "I think it was a fight for both of us, seeing as how neither of us were drafted. Some people may have looked at it like, 'They're just going to go through it and go back home,' but I think we both kind of challenged each other to say we'll both get on a team and see each other later in the season."

Both Stevenson and Willingham ended up making the team, Stevenson beating out, amongst others, San Antonio's second-round pick Cindy Dallas. Only four other players who went unselected in the 2004 Draft saw WNBA action last season. Stevenson played 259 minutes, the most of any of the undrafted rookies (only Willingham and her Sun teammate Jen Derevjanik played even 100 minutes), averaging 1.3 points and 1.2 rebounds per game.

"I think my first year, I came in just learning, looking and trying to figure out what was going on around the league - the players, I was meeting new people," said Stevenson. "I was very quiet at first and I think now, going through everything - the practices, the media, everything new the professional league brings to you - it's different. Now, people are asking me questions, 'What's going to happen? What's going on?' Even now, I still ask some of the veterans, 'What does this mean?" because I'm still learning too."

If her first month in Seattle is any indication, Stevenson is learning fast.