Storm Goes For Defense in Draft
Asked to sum up her team's performance in today's WNBA Draft, Seattle Storm Coach and Director of Player Personnel Anne Donovan showed no hesitation.
"It's great that we have a post player in the third round who is going to be competitive," said Donovan. "It's great that we've got two guards that we really like and at different positions, a two and a three, are going to come in and make our roster a lot more competitive in training camp."
Picking 12th in each round after finishing with the WNBA's second-best record and winning the Championship last season, Donovan knew she couldn't count on the Draft to fill all the holes left when the Storm last a pair of starters and three members of their rotation during free agency. The additions of free agents Jessica Bibby and Iziane Castro Marques and 2003 second-round pick Suzy Batkovic, amongst others, allowed Donovan flexibility going into the Draft and Donovan and company to look at other needs.
Specifically, that need ended up being at the defensive end of the court. Though the Storm ranked third in the WNBA in Defensive Rating last season, it also had the league's best Offensive Rating for the second straight season.
"We're pleased that we get both of those kids in camp at the same position, virtually, at the wing, and we can look at them both," said Donovan. "We can bring them in and have head-to-head looks."
Both Wright and Battle have the hardware to demonstrate their defensive prowess. Battle was the Big East's 2003 Defensive Player of the Year, while Wright won the same award in the Big Ten each of the last three seasons.
"We're not telling (Wright) or Ashley Battle how to play defense," said Donovan. They both come in knowing that that's something we need from them and they're good at."
"Hopefully I'm going to continue to play defense as well as I did in college and even better," said Wright by phone.
With Wright and Battle in the fold, the Storm looked up front in the third round and also managed to snag the proverbial best player available in Baylor forward Steffanie Blackmon. Blackmon, the last player drafted amongst those invited to attend the Draft in Secaucus, NJ, was expected to be a second-round pick and was considered a possibility for the first round.
"In all actuality, nobody's made a team and everybody has to try out," said a composed Blackmon, who had expected to go late in the first round or early in the second round. "If I had to try out as a free agent, I'd do that. Basically, my mindset as the third round was going on was I don't know how I'm going to get in (the league), but I'm definitely going to try to get in."
Blackmon, only a week and a half removed from helping lead the Lady Bears to a National Championship by scoring 22 points and pulling down seven rebounds against Michigan State in the Championship game, was named All-Big 12 First Team for the second straight season. But her height - listed at 6-2, but perhaps closer to 6-0 or 6-1 - worked against her in the Draft.
"That's a small post," said Donovan. "In the WNBA, you have to be pretty versatile to play at that height."
Height was also an issue for Wright, who was listed at 5-11 at Penn State but measured in at least than 5-9 at the WNBA's Pre-Draft Camp, held last weekend in Tarrytown, NY. Expected to be a top-ten pick, Wright slipped just enough to make her available for the Storm.
"To be honest, we watched Tanisha all year and just didn't talk about her a lot because we assumed she wouldn't be there at 12," Donovan said. "It became clear over the last week that there was a chance she would be there."
Once the Storm learned that Wright would be available, she advanced to the top of the team's draft board. In addition to her defensive ability, Wright averaged 19.3 points per game as a senior. That go-to role won't be one Wright will play in the WNBA, and Donovan has been impressed by her ability to adjust to the talent around her. Wright will have to improve her outside shooting, especially because of the double-teams created by Storm All-Stars Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson, but Donovan is not worried.
Battle had an inside advocate with the Storm in former teammate Bird. The two players played together in 2002, when UConn went undefeated and won the first of three straight National Championships.
"Before Sue left, we were talking about potential picks in the Draft, we talked about Battle potentially being someone we looked at, but she still had her whole senior year in front of her," said Donovan. "Sue sung her praises back in October."
Bird again lobbied for Battle as she communicated with Donovan via text messages from Russia during the Draft, but the younger player didn't really need the help. The Storm was already impressed with her defensive ability, her 6-0 size and her performance at the Pre-Draft Camp.
"Battle had a great Pre-Draft Camp," Donovan said. "One of the games there, she was 10-of-11, 4-of-4 from 3-point. The knock on Battle all year is that she's not a scorer, she's a defender, and at Pre-Draft Camp she showed she can score."