Training Camp Notebook - Apr. 29
A day after Seattle Storm Coach Anne Donovan made the first cut of training camp, waiving rookie Steffanie Blackmon, the Storm dropped another player Friday when veteran guard Adrienne Johnson decided to retire. Johnson, an original WNBA player signed as a free agent in March, had been attempting to get back in the league after being waived by the Connecticut Sun last spring.
"She felt like it was too much of a struggle to get her body back to where it needed to be where in order to be competitive," said Donovan after her team practiced Friday. "If healthy, AJ would have helped us, from a leadership standpoint more than anything."
Donovan, whose own playing career ended because of injuries at the age of 27, sympathized with Johnson's difficulty in making the decision to finish a career that saw her join 76 other players in the WNBA's 1000-point club.
Johnson was one of several players in the mix for a backup guard spot. Her chances of making the team were hurt when the Storm drafted shooting guard Tanisha Wright in the first round of this year's draft. Incumbent backup shooting guard Michelle Greco is also in the mix, while the Storm has several small forwards who can also play guard.
"We remain extremely competitive in the wing spots, our twos and threes," concluded Donovan. "It doesn't really change anything at all. It just takes one more player out of the mix, but it doesn't make it less competitive."
As for Blackmon, it was quickly apparent to Donovan that she was not in a position to compete for a backup forward spot. While Blackmon has as much size as other players who remain in camp, including holdover Trina Frierson and former Baylor teammate Dionne Brown, Blackmon's athleticism can't compare.
"Coming in here and giving it the shot that she did (after dropping in the draft), I was very impressed with her and her willingness to do that," said Donovan. "From a talent standpoint, she was undersized in the post and underskilled."
Twice now, Donovan has singled out guard Shaquala Williams for praise when asked which players have surprised her during the first week of training camp.
"I said it the other day: Shaquala Williams is probably my biggest surprise," said Williams. "That's because Shaquala worked extremely hard after she left our camp (last year); she's very committed to making the WNBA. I mean from a physical standpoint, from a mental standpoint, from a maturity standpoint. She's done a great job in camp."
For the first week of training camp, Donovan has been surprised at how few turnovers the Storm has committed on offense in scrimmages and drills. That's a testament to the performance of Williams and the other two players running the point in Sue Bird's absence, SPU grad Amy Taylor and Wright, who is getting reps at the position because the Storm is short-handed.
"It reflects a great deal on them, because that was our biggest fear coming into training camp was that we had no experience," said Donovan. "Shaq had been in the WNBA for a year, but didn't know our system at all. Shaq was a two guard and made the conversion to the point, so not really knowing whether she had done that completely (was a concern). She has."
Donovan offered no update on the health of Jessica Bibby, who remains sidelined in Australia because of a back injury. With Bibby out, Williams may be seizing the role of Bird's backup after being one of the last players cut by the Storm last May.
Basketball Australia has more on Bibby's injury and past back problems.
LJ On the Wing?
"We've been looking at it," said Donovan. "The more bodies you have, the more flexible you can be with that. Now that we're bringing the guys [the Storm's male practice squad] back in, that's part of the goal.
"This year, she's much more eager to be there. I foresee a lineup down the road where we can get Lauren at the three, JB ( Janell Burse) and Simone (Edwards) and/or (Suzy) Batkovic, we've got a nice big lineup, so that's something we're looking for."
Donovan downplayed the notion that Jackson might end up her starting small forward.
"I can't say it's completely out of the question, because that hole at the three is so wide open," Donovan explained. "We'd need another post to step up big time. JB's having a great camp; she's another one I really haven't mentioned that much, but she's having a tremendous camp. I'd need one more post to really step up big time in order to put LJ out there, and we don't have that yet. But we do have her playing some minutes there, definitely, this season."
"She's a complete darkhorse coming in," said Donovan. "She played in Sweden last year and doesn't have any experience at all in the WNBA, but what I see in her is that one, she's athletic, a great body. She's not afraid of contact, physical. What we're learning about her is how well she can pick things up."