Griffith to Face Old Teammates Tuesday
Any question of whether Tuesday's game against the Sacramento Monarchs (7:30 p.m., ESPN2, 1150 AM KKNW, ) will be different for Seattle Storm center Yolanda Griffith was answered at Monday's practice. As Griffith was wrapping up with local media, the Monarchs arrived for their own practice at The Furtado Center, the practice facility used by the Storm and the Sonics. Griffith quickly found herself on the receiving end of a bear hug from Sacramento forward Nicole Powell, her former long-time teammate, while her daughter Candace was surrounded by other familiar Monarchs faces. Several other players as well as Head Coach Jenny Boucek and GM John Whisenant greeted Griffith.
After nine years in Sacramento that resulted in five trips to the Western Conference Finals, two visits to the WNBA Finals and the 2005 WNBA championship, Griffith's ties to the Monarchs live on even now that she has left Sacramento to join the Storm as a free agent.
Tuesday, for the first time in the regular season, Griffith goes up against her former teammates. Asked Monday if it will be weird to face them, Griffith said, "It was in the beginning, but that's out." While some Monarchs, including Powell, were still playing overseas, Griffith got some of that weirdness out of the way when she returned to ARCO Arena for the first time for a preseason matchup early this month.
"It was tough," she said after that game. "Sheryl (Swoopes) kept getting in my ear making sure I was focused, but once the ball goes up I’m going to represent Seattle."
Storm Head Coach Brian Agler has recent experience with players facing old teammates and close friends. Last year as an assistant coach in San Antonio, Agler saw new Silver Stars Ruth Riley and Becky Hammon go through similar situations.
"You sort of have to manage their time because everybody wants to talk with them," he said. "The media wants to talk with them, the fans want to talk with them, their former staff wants to talk with them. You don't want to take away from that, but you also have to keep them sort of organized. I don't think it will be so bad tomorrow, but when we go back down there again, it could get to a higher level."
The Storm plays in Sacramento for the first time during the regular season on July 8. In that game, as tomorrow, Griffith will be all about the Storm. The rest of the season, however, she's pulling for her old team and hoping the lessons she taught her young teammates pay off for the Monarchs.
"They want to prove that they can play and win without me," Griffith said. "I left that team in a good situation with a lot of young players that listened to me. I mentored them. They're going to be OK. They have a young coach who has been training them real hard. They beat San Antonio and San Antonio had their team. That just goes to show that they mean business this year."
Like Griffith, Agler was impressed by how the Monarchs played in their opener on Saturday. Sacramento held the Silver Stars to 32.4% shooting in a 73-64 victory.
"They had a real good win against San Antonio Saturday and played real well," said Agler. "I was sort of impressed with them down in our exhibition game. Very competitive team."
Storm Looks to Maintain Run
After trailing by as many as nine points early in the third quarter of Saturday's Opening Night against Chicago, the Storm followed with a 36-10 surge over the next 13 minutes that included a 23-1 run at one point. Following the game, Agler said the performance of the team during that stretch - stifling defense that turned into fast-break opportunities and unselfish play on offense - was largely what he envisioned when putting the team together. Now, the challenge is maintaining that level of play, something Agler hopes will be aided by Monday's video session.
"We watched the film, we saw what happened," he said. "We saw sort of the beginning and the ending product and thought we got better. We talked about reasons why we felt like we were getting better. So hopefully by them seeing themselves do it, it will carry over to the next game.
"I think our defensive intensity picked up. I do think we started creating some offense from our defense. I thought we started moving the ball quicker and sharper offensively. From that standpoint, things picked up."
The Storm's run started after Agler took a timeout barely over a minute into the second half and challenged his team to focus and make shots on offense and pick up the energy on defense. The team's veterans also spoke up to try to get the team going.
"The first half against Chicago, it was our first game together and we were making a lot of mistakes," Griffith said. "I addressed those mistakes and we came out in the third quarter and took care of business."