Storm Ready to Work to Meet Expectations
As the Seattle Storm gathers to open its 2008 training camp, the talent is in place to generate high expectations. After adding All-Stars Swin Cash, Yolanda Griffith and Sheryl Swoopes to the team's existing core of Sue Bird, Janell Burse and Lauren Jackson, the Storm's roster compares on paper to any in the league. Still, as the team gets down to work preparing for the upcoming season, the Storm is ready to dismiss those expectations in favor of putting in the effort necessary to accomplish the team's goals.
"I think a lot of teams around the league look at this team and say, 'Wow, that's a nice roster,'" said Swoopes. "On paper it is, but it doesn't matter what it looks like on paper. All that matters is when we step out on the floor."
Griffith and Swoopes were the biggest names on hand as the Storm met the Seattle media during Monday's annual media day. Nine of the 21 players on the team's training-camp roster remain overseas, with seven rookies amongst the 12 players on hand. Forward Shyra Ely and center Ashley Robinson, re-signed earlier in the day, were the only holdovers from last year's roster in attendance. Yet players and coaches alike can envision what kind of team might take the court on May 17's Opening Night against Chicago when the Storm is at full strength.
At times, the talk turned into hyperbole about what the Storm has assembled with a lineup that includes five Olympic medalists, six former WNBA champions and four members of the league's All-Decade Team. Griffith called the roster "a dream team," saying, "You only get so many opportunities to play with so much talent."
Meanwhile, Swoopes was favorably comparing the Storm's talent to the Houston Comets teams she helped lead to championships in each of the first four seasons of the WNBA's existence.
"Looking at the talent on paper, we have more talent on this team than we ever had in Houston from top to bottom," Swoopes said, despite a Comets lineup that included MVPs Swoopes and Cynthia Cooper as well as All-Decade Teamer Tina Thompson. "We didn't have much of a bench. When I look at this roster that we have here, top to bottom - with the exception of the USA team - I've never been part of a team that had so much talent."
Around the league, the talk has not been so unanimously positive. Agler shared that he had heard some doubts from his peers around the league.
"My feedback from people like other coaches and GMs is, 'How are you going to coach this team with all those egos? How are you going to fit those players together? You've got players who are over the hill,' and things like that," said Agler. "I think there's respect for these players, obviously, throughout the league, but I think people have some question marks about us also."
"I think they have to find something to say about it," countered Swoopes. "There's got to be something wrong with it - the age or the egos or whatever."
At the same time, the Storm's new veterans have enough experience to recognize the importance of players accepting their roles. Six Storm players were starters last season, which means either Burse or Griffith will be forced to adjust to a new role as a reserve. Players who are used to featured roles in their team's offense may have to take something of a backseat so the Storm can share the load on offense.
"Any given night, somebody can be the standout player," Griffith said. "As long as we win, that's the most important thing. If we get away from wanting to do it together as a team, it's not going to work. It's going to work because everybody's hungry and everybody wants it just as bad as the next person."
"If you want to call it a challenge, what will be a challenge is how well people are willing to and want to accept their roles, whatever that role is," said Swoopes, "because I think every player that's here this year is going to have to be willing to accept another role.
Additionally, the Storm has respect for the difficult competition in the Western Conference, which will get no easier this season. The Phoenix Mercury is looking to defend last year's WNBA championship, while San Antonio has added All-Star center Ann Wauters to a team that advanced to the West Finals a year ago. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Sparks return MVP Lisa Leslie and add No. 1 overall pick Candace Parker and Sacramento is looking to extend the West's longest streak of playoff appearances.
"All the teams in the Western Conference are good," commented Agler. "That's been proven. The majority of the championships have been won by teams out here. A lot of those teams have still strong foundations there. It's a demanding thing. It's very competitive."
No matter the expectations from the outside, any real pressure on the Storm will come from the team itself. Given the history of winning amongst the team's group of core players, all of whom have won at least one championship, they don't want to squander an opportunity to make history.
"I see a bunch of young ladies wanting one thing and one thing only - and that's to win a championship," said Griffith. "We're putting so much pressure on ourselves because with a team like this, you can't get less. There's already going to be pressure on us. All we have to do is work hard, make each other better, accept criticism from each other and just keep it moving."