Veselá Harnesses the Power of the Tree

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Kevin Pelton, | Aug. 26, 2010

The secret to Seattle Storm forward Jana Veselá's big performance off the bench in Wednesday's 79-66 Game 1 Storm victory over the Los Angeles Sparks was quintessentially Northwest - it was the power of the tree.

After Tuesday's practice, Veselá and teammates joined color analyst Adia Barnes on a cruise to Tillicum Village on Blake Island in Puget Sound. Celeste Keaton, the partner of Lisa Brummel from Force 10 Hoops L.L.C., led the group and encouraged the players to get in touch with their surroundings.

"I was really happy for Jana. That’s what we’re going to need in this playoff series because she’s so versatile"
Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty Images

"We walked around there and enjoyed the nature," recalled Veselá. "Celeste saw a tree and said, 'Let's hug it.' We were taking the energy from it, so we hugged it. That's our secret."

Barnes told Veselá that she was bound to have a strong game. Lo and behold, Veselá was a key contributor in Game 1. With the rest of the Storm's offense struggling during the second quarter, Veselá helped the Storm maintain a double-digit lead by scoring all 11 of her points during the period. Veselá was a perfect 4-of-4 from the field, including three three-pointers.

Fittingly, those long-distance strikes will help plant new trees as part of the Storm's 3's for Trees campaign with partner Carter Subaru.

"I was really happy for Jana," said Swin Cash. "She’s worked really hard this season to not only understand the system, but to get a feel for her role on the team. She’s very effective in Europe, so to have her come out tonight and hit a couple of threes - and she got her hands on a couple of balls, getting deflection - that’s what we’re going to need in this playoff series because she’s so versatile."

The long-range shooting helped the Storm bust the zone defense Los Angeles used throughout the game, and Sparks Head Coach Jennifer Gillom singled Veselá out after the game as one of the reasons the zone was not as effective as L.A. hoped.

Shooting is just one of the many skills Veselá has brought to the table during her first season in the WNBA. As a 6-4 player who is more comfortable on the perimeter than in the post, Veselá has created mismatches. Once Brian Agler and the coaching staff figured out how to use Veselá in concert with other Storm players, including Cash, she has seen her performance take off.

"It's really hard to match up with her with a guard," said Cash, "and if a post player is on her she's able to penetrate to the basket. She gives us a different look on the offensive end. Sometimes when Jana and I are in together, I'm playing the four, she's playing the three. You never know what you're going to get and I think that's something Coach Agler is happy he has on the team."

"Jana is extremely team-oriented," added Agler. "She would rather pass than shoot the basketball. But I also think she recognizes the fact that some of the players went out of their way and made plays to get her the shots. She understands that's part of being a team player - you've got to take shots when the offense works that way. She's a versatile player. She can score around the basket, she can score off the dribble, she can catch and shoot it. Then, most importantly, she's a versatile defender. She can guard a variety of people."

Agler said Veselá's performance "absolutely" justified the time he has spent scouting overseas and scouring for potential contributors. Veselá was hardly a secret - she's a go-to player for the Czech National Team and played key minutes for the Ros Casares Valencia squad that finished as the runner-up in Euroleague last season - but Agler was able to sell her on coming to the WNBA and envisioned her strengthening the Storm bench.

Veselá's extensive experience in big games at the international level made her well-prepared for her first taste of the WNBA postseason, something she was anticipating.

"I played a lot of playoffs in Europe," said Veselá, "so I was excited to be here for the playoffs because they said to me the playoffs in the WNBA were amazing. It was a good game. I liked it. We'll see what happens in L.A. the next game."

Veselá should be fine in Game 2 - as long as she has the power of the Tillicum Village tree.

"We won yesterday," she said, "so today we have to go back there."