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Seattle head coach Brian Agler looks to lead the Storm back to the playoffs in 2009.
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On Monday, Brian Agler heard the news he'd been waiting all winter to hear: Lauren Jackson was coming back to Seattle for the 2009 season.
It was a recruitment that spanned months and multiple trips overseas, but it all felt worthwhile when the Storm head coach and director of player personnel learned the two-time WNBA MVP chose to remain in Seattle instead of heading to Phoenix.
Shortly after Jackson's return was announced, Agler spoke with WNBA.com to discuss his thoughts on receiving the news, having to wait so long for the decision, how it impacted the other offseason moves he has made, and his expectations for training camp and the upcoming WNBA season.
WNBA.com: How much of a relief was it to hear that Lauren decided to come back to Seattle?
Agler: There’s a sense of relief, but we sort of approached it like she was a part of our team and we were just going to recruit her back to Seattle. We were sort of pro-active on it.
WNBA.com: How tough was it to have to wait on her decision?
Agler: It’s not easy if you sit around and worry about it too much, but we approached it from a standpoint that she was going to be a part of our team until she told us something different. I thought we did a great job as an organization to not only talk with her about why she should stay in Seattle but show her why she should stay in Seattle. Across the board we did a very good job of communicating that to her.
WNBA.com: Did the uncertainty surrounding Lauren affect other decisions you made in terms of putting together the roster?
Agler: No, we approached it like she was going to be a part of our team. We knew that with the dynamics of the league that there would be some good players available late just because of us missing a team and the size of the rosters decreasing by two and people having salary cap issues. So we set her salary aside and a core spot and just went after her like she was going to be a part of our team, and if it didn’t play out that way, then we’d move on to plan B.
WNBA.com: With Lauren coming back and the other players that you have brought in, you now have a lot of frontcourt players. I imagine the competition at training camp will be pretty fierce.
Agler: I always have felt – going back to my time in San Antonio – that a competitive training camp is the best training camp, and we feel like we’re going to have that. And we’re still up in the air; we aren’t set on a roster by any means. We’re sort of open to how things can play out, but we feel that we have quality depth in the post.
WNBA.com: Are you willing to put a number on how many roster spots you have open going into training camp?
Agler: I would have to say probably we have two or three spots open. I hate to say anything definite. I can probably tell you that Sue and Lauren are on the team; that much is pretty concrete. (laughs) But, no, we’ve got more than that. We’ve got people that have proven how good of players they are and I think some of these people really stepped up last year, whether it was Tanisha Wright or Camille Little. Swin Cash, obviously, is a solid player and we feel that she’s going to be a lot healthier this year. So we feel good about our roster, but we also know that everybody is better this year. If you look at everybody’s team, they are significantly better than they were a year ago.
WNBA.com: This year the league pushed the season back and thus pushed training camp back a couple of weeks. That has to be a big benefit to coaching staffs that most – if not all – of your players will be back in time for training camp.
Agler: It is; I wish I could say we were going to have that, but we have some people with some personal issue that aren’t going to be in training camp most of the way, so we aren’t going to have everyone there. It’s going to be similar to the past for us, but we should have the majority of our people there for most of training camp.
WNBA.com: Who is not going to be around?
Agler: Well, Suzy Batkovic is getting married on May 30 back in Australia and Lauren is in her wedding, so those are two players right there that won’t be there during that time frame.
WNBA.com: What is the latest on Swin? How is her recovery coming along?
Agler: Swin is doing well. She’s training with some of her people that she’s worked with at Connecticut and doing well. Her 10 week anniversary of the surgery is May 19 and she has a doctor’s appointment on that day, and we expect her to be released and ready to go.
WNBA.com: Health was a big issue for you last year. Now the Lauren is back and healthy and Swin addressed her back issues, how much are you looking forward to possibly having a complete roster night in and night out?
Agler: Also, with Sheryl and Yolanda last year, they had some nagging things to deal with. Every team hopes that they can stay healthy; I think that’s critical for the success of your season, usually health factors into that. Hopefully we’ll be fortunate enough to stay healthy.
WNBA.com: Talk to me about Ashley Walker, who you selected her late in the first round of this year’s draft. What do you think she can bring to this team in her rookie year?
Agler: All of the mock drafts that I was a part of, I did not have Ashley being available at No. 12. A couple people told me they thought that could happen, but I just didn’t foresee it and we didn’t anticipate that happening. We watched her play a lot and we really liked Ashley and felt that she was one of the better offensive players in the draft. So when it played out the way it did, we were excited to get a quality player and also such a quality person as Ashley.
WNBA.com: Do you think she has the ability to have an impact as a rookie or will this be mostly a learning year for her?
Agler: I think she’ll have the opportunity to do both. Obviously she’ll have the opportunity to learn quite a bit., she’s really a four player and that’ the sort of the same position that Lauren plays but she has a little versatility to her game so when Lauren plays the five, we might be able to be a little creative with the combinations that we can put on the floor. We’re going to let it play out in training camp and we’re going to give her a lot of attention and we’re going to try to help her develop her game at the pro level. We know she has a great work ethic so it’s not because she won’t put the time in or the energy into it, we know that. So we feel pretty good about who we have on our roster in terms of Ashley.
WNBA.com: You mentioned Yolanda and Sheryl, who are no longer with the team. How difficult was it to part ways with those two players?
Agler: It was extremely difficult. With Sheryl it had everything to do with salary cap issues. We had three major goals that we wanted to accomplish in the offseason and that was to get Lauren re-signed, to get Tanisha re-signed and then find a way to get us some help at the guard position and we’ve done that with Shannon Johnson. We had to take care of that first and because of that we just couldn’t make that work in the cap situation. Yolanda obviously was very much a competitor for us and gave us great minutes when she was on the floor; she decided to do something else. They are great people, I enjoyed having them on our team, they worked hard and they were a big part of our success last year, but that was last year, and now we have to get ready for 2009.
WNBA.com: You lose Yolanda in the middle but you bring back Janell Burse. I know she’s never played for you with the Storm, but do you think that her having a familiarity with most of the players on this team will help her come in and pick up where she left off?
Agler: We do. In fact, we drafted her when I was in Minnesota, and she made the roster there as a rookie getting drafted in the second round, and she has really developed into being a quality post player in our league. I think being familiar with Sue, Lauren, Tanisha and Katie, there’s no question she’ll give us quality depth in the post, she’s been a starter in this league for a period time, and again we feel real good about tour depth there with Janell, Suzy, Camille Little and Ashley walker.
WNBA.com: I know Camille played very well for you when Lauren went down last year, so that’s another player you have on the frontline to help you.
Agler: Yeah, I’m a big Camille little fan. She plays well, she competes, and she does the little things that help a team be successful.
WNBA.com: As training camp approaches, what goals have you set for the team to prepare for the season? What are you looking to see in training camp to know that you are going to be ready for another playoff run this year?
Agler: We have to be able to play as a team both offensively and defensively. We really have to establish the defensive end; we want to be as solid as we can down there and hopefully get our team to play well together on the offensive end. It’s just a matter of getting people to play together, really get a group of people committed to defend and rebound and we’ll let things play out from there.