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Complain? No - Sanford's Having too Much Fun

June 14, 2013

She could be waiting tables at a very nice restaurant in Kansas City. Or she could be playing basketball on the KeyArena court in Seattle.

Either way, Nakia Sanford won't complain.

The 11th-year WNBA player - who did, in fact, provide service with a smile at a KC steakhouse after finishing college - is looking forward to providing her veteran talent with that same smile for the Storm this summer. Sanford began her second decade in the league when the Storm opened at Los Angeles on May 28, and made her home debut in a Seattle uniform on June 2, a 75-72 victory over the Phoenix Mercury.

Certainly, the 102-69 loss to the Sparks wasn't fun - Sanford had two points, two rebounds, an assist, and two block assists in nearly 14 minutes of action.

But it was still basketball. And after all, it was just one game, with 33 left to improve upon it.

"I still wake up every morning still not believing this is what I get to do," the 6-foot-4 forward said. "After that many basketball years, you definitely feel the aches and pains. But overall, I feel awesome - I don't feel like it's 11 years.

"The excitement and love is still there."

Nakia Sanford
Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty Images

That's the kind of thing Storm coach Brian Agler was counting on when he signed Sanford on Feb. 15 - the last of three free agents he brought to Seattle in a span of nine days to help fill in for the injury-related, season-long losses of perennial All-Stars Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird.

Sanford started contributing right away. She came off the bench for five points, three rebounds, and a steal in 11 minutes on May 12 as the Storm beat L.A. in their exhibition opener at Long Beach, Calif., 67-66.

"What I saw (that day) is somebody who's very active at both ends of the floor, understands the game, and defends well," Agler said. "She can get places and catch the ball in certain places. She just needs to get to a point where she plays at a speed that's comfortable for her."

Seattle is the third WNBA stop for Sanford. The 1999 University of Kansas graduate with a degree in broadcast journalism spent her first eight seasons with the Washington Mystics (2003-10) before playing with Phoenix in 2011 and 2012.

That the 37-year-old Sanford is entering her 11th year in the league is especially remarkable because she initially thought she wouldn't play pro ball at all.

Seems as if very few others thought she would, either.

"He-e-e-e-ck no," she said with laugh when asked if she ever thought her career would last this long. "I retired after college. I was a waitress and coaching high school. The WNBA had just started, or was maybe in its second year. I was interested, but I didn't have any idea how to get started. And I wasn't really encouraged (by other people) to do it."

DIVING BACK INTO IT

By her own admission, Sanford enjoyed waitressing - "I was good at it. It was an awesome experience, and I loved it," she said.

But some hoops passion still was burning within, and she decided to lace up her shoes again.

After getting cut by the Mystics in training camp, Stanford packed up and headed to France, where she played for two seasons. Next stop was South Korea, where she played two years totaling four seasons (a summer and a winter schedule).

"I definitely was expecting to travel the world a little bit, settle down, have some kids," Sanford said.

Instead, she tried out again with Washington in 2003, and this time, she stuck. Sanford stayed there eight years, playing in every Mystics game for the last five of those years (2006-10). Her best statistical campaign was 2007, when she averaged career highs of 11 points and 7.1 rebounds.

Sanford was traded to Phoenix prior to the 2011 season, and played 63 of a possible 68 regular-season games with the Mercury. From the final days of the 2005 season through 2012, Sanford was on the court for 235 of a possible 240 games.

She said that kind of dependability comes down to two things.

"Well, 'A', I love my job," she said. "And 'B,' there are a lot of superstar players - you can find those. But finding a player who's going to work hard and has a good attitude, that goes a long way."
- Sanford

"Well, 'A', I love my job," she said. "And 'B,' there are a lot of superstar players - you can find those. But finding a player who's going to work hard and has a good attitude, that goes a long way.

"A lot of times, you can get discouraged during all those years of ups and downs," Sanford added. "But I just stuck with it, and I love what I do. I genuinely love being a professional basketball player, and I think that shows through the longevity of my career."

MORE THAN JUST STATS

Sanford brings 10-year averages of 6.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 48.7 percent field goal shooting to the Storm. Every bit of that will come in handy this season as Seattle forges a new identity in the absence of Jackson and Bird. But Sanford, along with Johnson and Quinn, also bring those veteran intangibles.

"I think Brian did a good job of bringing in players who fit his system, so it's easier," ninth-year guard Tanisha Wright said. "One aspect that Temeka will bring is we'll be able to get up and down the court a little more, and we'll be able to score in transition. Noe (Quinn) and her versatility is something that's going to help us. Nakia does an excellent job of getting people open. She sets amazing screens.

"I think we're going to get a lot more easier opportunities than we've had in the past because of those specific things," Wright added.

That could help make the Storm more of a factor than many prognosticators around the country are expecting them to be.

"You can talk about it on paper all day long. But until that ball goes up, that's the true test of what that team is going to be like this summer," Sanford said. "On paper (not having Jackson and Bird) is definitely a loss for this team. But at the same time, we're professionals, and we're going to put a good product on the floor for these fans."

She is willing to play whatever role it takes.

"I've had every experience you can name," she said. "I've been the last person not playing, I've been a main starter, I've been in the middle - I've been all of those things."

Furthermore, she'll play whatever role with a smile.

"It just matters what team you're on and how things work out. That's how it has worked out for me in my career," she said. "But I've also gotten 11 years out of it, so it's working. Something's working.

"And I definitely wouldn't complain."

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