Storm Welcomes Back Janell Burse
The Storm welcomed back center Janell Burse Monday, agreeing to terms with Burse on a new contract that means a return to the Storm and the WNBA for Burse after she opted to sit out the 2008 campaign to rest and give her body a break from the grind of year-round basketball in the U.S. and overseas.
"I'm really excited about it," Burse said by phone Monday from Russia, where she is playing for Dynamo Moscow. "I missed last summer to heal up and everything. Around the end of June, July, I missed it so much and I really wanted to play, but I couldn't because of the situation. I'm really looking forward to getting back on the court in America and in front of my family and friends."
"I missed my teammates, I missed the games," she said. "You don't play on that kind of level like you do in the WNBA on a constant, nightly basis when you play other places. There's so much talent in the league and there's only so many teams, so everybody is so good. As an athlete, you always want to compete at your highest level, and the WNBA pushes you to do that."
The time was right for Burse to take a summer off after playing year-round for some time. The busy schedule gave Burse little chance to rehabilitate a nagging shoulder injury, and she was also troubled by the lingering effects of a stress fracture in her foot suffered playing overseas. The time away from the game has allowed Burse to get healthy, which has helped her both physically and mentally.
"That break was the best thing I could ever have done for my body and my career," she explained. "My body is thanking me for it now. I haven't been playing in pain since I've been in Russia. How I feel now compared to how I felt last year at this time before the WNBA is totally different."
Storm Head Coach and Director of Player Personnel Brian Agler noticed the difference in Burse's feelings about playing in the WNBA, and has been confident throughout the offseason that the Storm would be back in the fold for the 2009 season.
"Talking with her last year, there was always questions on how she was feeling," he said. "It does take a toll on these players playing year-round, there's no question about that."
Getting Burse signed was always an important offseason goal for Agler, who drafted Burse in the second round in 2001 while in Minnesota and opted to make her one of the team's two core players last offseason, taking her off the free-agent market. Burse has appreciated Agler's confidence in her game.
"He was the first coach who gave me a chance on the professional level," she said. "I'll always respect him for that. It's a good feeling playing for a coach who picked you in the draft and who you know saw something in you - even though it was years ago that he drafted me. I'm really excited about working with him again."
Having given her an opportunity in the WNBA, Agler then watched from opposing sidelines as Burse developed into a starter for the Storm who effectively complemented Lauren Jackson in the post. Burse started all 90 games she played for the Storm from 2005 through 2007, averaging 10.0 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game while shooting 49.5 percent from the field. She ranks in the Storm's all-time top five in points (fifth), rebounds (third) and blocks (second).
Burse's Dynamo squad has advanced to the quarterfinals of the EuroCup and is fourth in the Russian Superleague, chasing after a Spartak squad led by Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson. Burse leads the team in both rebounding (8.8 rpg) and blocks (1.4 bpg) in EuroCup play and has added 13.7 points per game for a team that is a top contender to win the competition. Normally, Burse's schedule in Russia would have extended into the start of training camp, but the move to push back training camp and the regular season will give her a few weeks off before reporting, something she says, "makes a huge difference."
Agler, who visited with Burse while in Moscow in December, is pleased that when camp opens this season he'll have Burse available in the post.
"We're excited about Janell being back on the roster this year," he concluded. "She's been a very, very consistent player over the last five years in the league as a starter. She's playing extremely well in Europe and there's no question she'll come in and impact our team in a positive way this season."