Jetlagged Bird and Jackson Return to Practice
Just two days after leading their Spartak squad to the Russian Superleague Championship and mere hours after arriving back in Seattle, Storm All-Stars Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson went through their first practice Saturday morning in front of Storm season ticket holders attending the "Meet Your Team" event at KeyArena.
"I don't think they were expecting to go through as much practice as we put them through," said Storm Coach Anne Donovan afterwards, "but since we have them and since we're not practicing tomorrow, we decided to use them. They looked great. Lauren said she didn't have her legs, but she could have fooled me."
"I feel a little bit braindead, definitely," said Jackson. "That's a good way of putting it. I feel good. I just feel happy that I'm back here and there's a little bit of familiarity."
"I feel okay," added Bird. "Jetlag is jetlag. It's just practice, so it was good to get up and down. I actually wanted to practice, because I didn't sleep well. I just didn't sleep that much. I'm tired. I'm going to take an amazing nap. Then it's Lauren's birthday, so I've got to man up for that."
The Storm saw a slightly different Jackson. Rumor had it, and photos from Korea offered evidence, that Jackson had slimmed down over the off-season. Her arrival in Seattle confirmed that belief.
"She looks so mobile," remarked Donovan. "She looks quicker than last year, which it's hard to believe she can be. I think that comes because she's better - she's always getting better - but probably because she's lighter as well."
Jackson feels better as well. The stress of dealing with stress fractures in her shins lifted overseas, as Jackson enjoyed her healthiest period in recent memory. In contrast to the 2006 Storm season, when her minutes were limited and Jackson could not practice on consecutive days, she was able to practice and play normally in Korea and Russia.
Better health has meant a better state of mind for Jackson, who described her off-season as being as enjoyable as any period during her career.
"Korea was just fun," said Jackson. "None of my teammates spoke any English, my coach didn't speak any English. All I had to do was play. It just made me feel so much more confident about my game. I really enjoyed. There was no drama, there was no hassle, there was nothing. It was purely about basketball. It was great. It made me happy over there.
"Then when I went to Russia with the girls, I had a ball. I had the best time of my life in Russia. It capped off a pretty awesome couple of months there. Now I'm here and I feel like this is going to be a pretty good year for the Storm."
Bird saw the change in her teammate and close friend. "We had a lot of fun," she said. "Not only winning, which was a huge thing for us, but we had fun. I know the whole team there, we left feeling really good about everything. She's showing it. She just feels really good about where she is. Whether it was Korea and how she played there or Russia, both on and off the court, we had a really good team. It's always nice to have a positive outlook coming into a new season."
Jackson joined a star-studded Spartak team. In addition to Bird and her close friend and UConn teammate Diana Taurasi, Spartak featured WNBA veterans Ticha Penicheiro, Svetlana Abrosimova, Tina Thompson and Tamika Whitmore. Jackson, however, proved a difference-maker in the playoffs against rival CSKA Samara, which had the league's best regular-season record. Spartak eventually outlasted CSKA in five games.
The series completed, Bird, Jackson, Taurasi, Penicheiro and Thompson made the 14-hour flight from Moscow to Los Angeles together Friday - also Jackson's 26th birthday. Bird and Jackson made it to Seattle Friday night, just after the Storm completed its preseason schedule.
The short-term deal made sense for Bird, a restricted free agent.
"Obviously, with all the uncertainty with everything, I thought it was smart to keep my options open for next year," she explained. "It's not that big of a deal because I love Seattle. I love the Storm organization. I know I'm going to grow to love the owners. This is where I want to be. But at the same time, it just so happened that my contract came up when there was all this uncertainty, so keep my options open."
After quick physicals Saturday morning, Bird and Jackson were back on the practice court at 10 a.m. The two WNBA All-Decade Team picks quickly raised the level of play.
"The mobility, the presence, spacing ... they have a feel for the game that comes with the best players in the world," said Donovan. "(They) both impacted the game just from that.
"I think everybody got a little more stiff, just knowing that the expectations have definitely risen. And yet I think they're confident, because they've been prepared with minutes and repetition in practice, so they're more prepared now to fill the gaps around them. You could see people were more on task, I think."
During their first day with their teammates, Bird and Jackson were impressed with what they saw - especially off the court.
"The morale level, for midway through training camp, it's not normally like that," observed Jackson. "Like today, it just felt different. It felt better - it felt special. I said that when we went into the World Championships with our Australian team. It kind of felt special. We said that right throughout the tournament and we won. So who knows."
"Everybody's really positive," said Bird. "Being in the locker room is fun. It seems like everybody wants to do the same thing, which is win a championship. We have the makings."