Aaron Last/Storm Photos
Wright Makes Immediate Impact for Storm
Less than 24 hours after completing her two-day journey from Israel to Seattle, Tanisha Wright took the floor for her first practice of Storm training camp Thursday. While Wright admitted fatigue afterwards, she was an active presence while working with the first team much of the session. Clearly, new Storm Head Coach Brian Agler was impressed with what he saw.
"Our defense," said Agler after practice, "got better today because of Tanisha Wright - her presence, her poise and her communication out there at the defensive end. I'm excited about her potential.
"I talked to her yesterday and she'd been traveling probably 24 of the last 36 hours before our meeting. I know that she was worn out, but if she can play for us through the season like she did today, we'll be a much better basketball team than we were two days ago."
The paycheck hold-up was about the only downside to a successful season overseas for Wright. She was chosen by coaches as the Israeli D1 league MVP after averaging 21.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, a league-high 6.2 assists and 3.2 steals per game. Wright led Raanana Hertzeliya to the best regular-season record in the league before being knocked off in the Israeli Finals.
"It was a good season for me overseas," she said. "It was fun. My team was a lot better. We had a great run. It was so much fun, it really was. It was fun to play. The team was a lot more professional and they did things to help us be better and feel better and different things like that. All we had to do was focus on basketball, so that made it a lot easier."
The dominant performance, done in a league a notch below Europe's best but still loaded with WNBA talent like All-Stars Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Michelle Snow and reigning Rookie of the Year Armintie Price, was a confidence boost for Wright. She did it while playing the dramatic majority of her minutes at shooting guard, her natural position. Now, it appears Wright will be seeing more time at shooting guard for the Storm after primarily playing the point last season.
"We're still trying to decide who's going to play those minutes behind Sue (Bird) at the one, but we also think that Tanisha's natural position is at the two," Agler said. "So we want to get her the ability to play both. You'll see her playing both on Saturday."
"I think it's a good thing that I can be versatile," Wright responded. "I think that's the key about playing in this league is you can play different positions. If need be, I can handle the ball there a couple of times and help in that way, but I'm looking forward to being able to play the two and doing things on that front."
As a rookie, Wright played small forward in addition to both backcourt positions, but enjoyed success when filling in for an injured Betty Lennox as the starter at shooting guard. In 2006, Wright became Bird's primary backup at the point, and last season she saw only limited action at the two guard after the Storm drafted Katie Gearlds to play both wing positions. Agler envisions Gearlds playing largely at forward this season, opening up backup minutes at shooting guard behind starter Sheryl Swoopes and potentially alongside Swoopes when the Storm goes small.
Certainly, Wright remains very much in the mix to claim the role of backup point guard. Agler has also said he'd like to see Bird play off the ball more this season, which could mean having Wright initiate the offense at times when she is on the court alongside Bird.
On her first day of practice, Wright spent almost all of her time at the point, which helped the process of picking up a new system on the fly. From the start, the difference was apparent between Anne Donovan's system and the motion-based offense favored by Agler that asks players to read and react to various situations on the floor. Being late for camp sets Wright back to some extent in picking up the system, but neither player nor coach seem particularly worried.
"I wish she would have got back here a little earlier," added Agler, "but I'm glad that she's in now and I'm looking forward to working with her."
At the other end of the floor, Wright looks forward to Agler's emphasis on defense, always her forte. A three-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honoree in her days at Penn State, Wright has been the Storm's primary defensive stopper on the perimeter throughout her career, a role she's unlikely to relinquish. In turn, Agler is excited about Wright's potential to play a key role in an improved Storm defense.
"She just sort of has that presence and that drive about her that she enjoys that," he said. "She thrives in that setting."