Storm Prepares For Training Camp
More than six months ago, the Seattle Storm dispersed to all ends of the earth after winning the 2004 WNBA Championship. Now, after off-seasons spent playing overseas or training at home, the Storm is days away from reassembling to begin the 2005 season.
Not all will be there, of course. Many players remain overseas and will report to camp late. Guard Tully Bevilaqua, forward Sheri Sam and center Kamila Vodichkova will be back only with other teams after leaving the Storm this winter as free agents.
The Storm will open training camp with Monday's media day, followed by the team's first practice, with a slightly altered goal. Now, instead of trying to get to the top of the WNBA mountain, the Storm is attempting to stay there. It won't be an easy task, not with two starters to replace and teams around the league upgrading their talent in an effort to catch the Storm.
"What I love is going into training camp and having options," Donovan said after the draft. "We added two great defenders (in the draft), and that's the question on me about our small forwards, is defensively. We lost Sheri, who's a good defender at the three spot. She can defend a post-up guard, and we don't really have somebody to replace that who's proven yet. So giving us the flexibility of looking at Battle at that spot, seeing what Izzy can do physically, I think it's good for us to have some options there.
"I feel really good about our roster before the draft, going on paper, but there's still, as I've been quoted, a lot of question marks around that."
Donovan is known as a veteran coach, a perception reaffirmed when the Storm traded its first-round pick in a three-player trade last April to acquire Burse and Sam. In 2005, however, Donovan will be forced to rely more on young talent. If that hurts the Storm's chances in the short term, it could be a tremendous boon in years to come.
"There are question marks in terms of just how solid they're going to be for us right now," said Donovan. "The good thing is down the road I feel really good that we're developing. We've got players coming into camp and now, in the selection process, we can look at who's going to develop down the road."
There are no question marks at guard or power forward. In Sue Bird, Betty Lennox and Lauren Jackson, the Storm boasts a trio of players as good as any in the WNBA. Jackson, like Lennox a restricted free agent who re-signed with the Storm, will not be 100% for the start of camp after off-season ankle surgery, but will be ready in plenty of time for the start of the season after rehabilitating in Seattle for the past month and a half. Lennox joined Jackson in Seattle last week after spending the first half of the winter playing in Italy.
Bird remains overseas, playing for Moscow Dynamo, and is just one of a handful of players who will report late to training camp. Batkovic, Castro Marques, Vodopyanova, Barnes, Simone Edwards and Michelle Greco are still playing overseas. Additionally, the status of Australian guard Jessica Bibby, another free-agent acquisition, is in question after Bibby's back, which nearly ended her career, flared up recently.
As of last Saturday, Donovan was still uncertain how many players she would start camp with.
"We can have a maximum of 18," said Donovan. "I don't think we'll have 18, but honestly, we don't know when Adia's coming, we don't know when Greco's coming. Simone's up in the air, when she's coming. These free agents - Izzy Castro, Vodo - if they win, they advance; if they lose, they're out. It's impossible to know."
With several players likely to be part of the rotation out of camp, that means an opportunity for young players to make their mark. The Storm's three draft picks will report on time, as will second-year forward Trina Frierson, training-camp invitee Shaquala Williams and rookie Eva Montesdeoca, amongst others.
"I like experience, prefer it to be somewhere in the WNBA, but international experience is the next best thing to me over college experience," said Donovan. "So I think my international players probably have a head up. The difference is the collegiate players will be in here earlier and on time, so they have more of an advantage learning the system."
The most hotly-contested battle in camp should be at small forward, where at least four players will vie to replace Sam. Castro Marques comes into camp with a great shot to win the job.
"Izzy, although she's been in the WNBA with Miami and Phoenix, she hasn't really been a significant player yet," Donovan said. "And I think she has tremendous potential to be that. She's a player that I've wanted to get my hands on for quite a while, to be honest. I think she's maturing every time I see her. When I saw her in Athens, she was better than the last time I saw her in Phoenix."
Vodopyanova will provide a bigger option at small forward. A relative newcomer to the international scene, she was pursued by several teams this off-season before picking the Storm - with an assist to Bird, her teammate with Moscow Dynamo.