Timing Right for Batkovicís Return
To add post depth entering the 10th Anniversary season, the Seattle Storm reached into its history Thursday, re-signing center Suzy Batkovic. A 2003 second-round draft pick of the Storm, the Australian spent the 2005 season in Seattle before deciding to forego the WNBA and continue her career exclusively in Europe. Now, Batkovic is back, the situation finally being right to return to Seattle and the WNBA.
"I've wanted to come back, but just haven't had the right time the way my life's panned out, I guess," Batkovic said by phone from Italy, where she is playing during the offseason. "Now I think is a good time for me to return. Obviously it's going to be a big time for me; coming off Europe I go home and get married and then pretty much go straight back to the WNBA. I'm looking forward to it. It should be exciting."
With 2009 a quiet year for international basketball competition, the timing made sense. The Storm also helped clear the path for Batkovic's return by renegotiating her rookie scale contract, making the trip stateside worth her while.
"I think for her to make the commitment to come over and play each year, being on that rookie scale salary, was difficult for her and her family," explained Storm Head Coach and Director of Player Personnel Brian Agler. "She'd always declined to come back, not because she disliked Seattle, but because when you're making multiple times as much in Europe, it's sometimes better just to take the time off."
Agler has seen plenty of Batkovic's game, both during her lone WNBA season (when he was an assistant in San Antonio) and on the international scene. He knows that the Storm is adding a skilled post player who filled a key role as a rookie in 2005.
"She'd always been on our radar," said Agler. "She's an international star and has played at the highest level of international completion, including Euroleague, the gold-medal matches in the Olympics and the 2002 World Championship. She's going to give us some great depth at the post position and can be a starter for us or play quality minutes off of the bench. I like Suzy's versatility offensively as she has the ability to step out and shoot the basketball or put her back to the basket. She is a great addition to our team."
In 2005, Batkovic averaged 6.9 points and 3.2 rebounds per game off the bench for the Storm, backing up starting center Janell Burse. Since then, Batkovic has added strength and believes she's improved with experience. In the 2008 Olympics, she led Australia with 8.9 rebounds per game and was second in scoring at 11.9 points per game, trailing only Jackson. Since then, Batkovic has been playing for Cras Basket Taranto in Italy, which is in the EuroCup quarterfinals. Batkovic is averaging a team-high 17.4 points as well as 7.0 rebounds per game in EuroCup play.
Batkovic's game fits well with those of the Storm's other post players under contract. She thrives in the high post with her ability to shoot from midrange as well as set up teammates as a passer.
To learn about her new coach, Batkovic sought out her former teammates. In addition to Jackson, Sue Bird and Tanisha Wright played with Batkovic in Seattle in 2005 and were with the Storm last season. Batkovic and Wright had a chance to reconnect recently when Batkovic's Taranto squad knocked Wright and Tarbes out of the EuroCup playoffs.
"Well, obviously Loz is one of my best friends, so I spoke to her," said Batkovic. "She's always had nothing but good things to say about him. I'm friends with Sue and a lot of the other American girls, so I've got a feel for what he's like. Just talking to him on the phone, he sounds like a great guy and a great coach."
When Batkovic decided to rejoin the Storm, her conversations with Jackson also took on a different element. Batkovic felt having a good friend in Seattle made her 2005 campaign "a lot easier," and she naturally hopes that Jackson, an unrestricted free agent, decides to return to the Storm. The sales pitch has started in earnest.
"Don't worry, I've been doing that, mate," Batkovic said.
It will be a busy spring for Batkovic. She is getting married May 30 in Australia. The Storm hopes to have Batkovic come to Seattle after she completes her season in Italy to complete paperwork and her physical before she returns home for the wedding. Afterward, she plans to join the Storm shortly into the regular season.
"She may miss a game or two, but she won't miss many," Agler said. "That's understandable. Getting married is a special day in your life and your family's life, and we want her to take full advantage of that."
Batkovic's honeymoon of sorts will be a second season in the WNBA, and while that makes for a whirlwind schedule, she's looking forward to it.
"(Seattle's) a great place to be," she said. "I really liked it when I was there."