2011 WNBA Preseason: Seattle Storm 'Still Getting Used To Each Other'

The reigning WNBA champion Seattle Storm's will begin their regular season schedule on June 4 against the Phoenix Mercury, who they swept in the 2010 Western Conference Finals. Having finalized their bench, the Storm are they heavy favorites to win the 2011 title. For more on the Storm and the WNBA, visit SBN's women's basketball site Swish Appeal.

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Seattle Storm Waive Point Guard Sharnee Zoll To Bring Their Roster To 11

First, let’s acknowledge that the last person on the Seattle Storm’s roster was really not going to make or break their 2011 WNBA title hopes.

Nevertheless, the choice for that last spot – between point guard Sharnee Zoll and 6’5" third round draft pick Krystal Thomas – did figure to provide some insight into what coach Brian Agler feels about his depth chart, as described by Kevin Pelton of StormBasketball.com.

“Part of it has to do with the immediate health of our team, what our depth is,” explained Agler. “Then I think both of them bring special things to the table. One’s a true point guard and the other one’s a true five. We sort of need depth in both areas. I think this week, and if we get healthy, will determine who ends up on the roster.”

Today the Storm announced in a release that they’ll be keeping Thomas, which could mean that Agler felt he needed more depth at center.

The argument in favor of Zoll was that the team didn’t have anybody with the label “point guard” on their bench. However, it’s also not like they’re lacking for ball handlers – starting shooting guard Tanisha Wright is among the most efficient non-point guard ball handlers in the league, veteran addition Katie Smith is more than capable of handling the ball, and on the wing free agent acquisition Belinda Snell is a capable distributor. They obviously more than made due with Svetlana Abrosimova essentially being the only ball handler off the bench last season, so there’s no reason to believe they’re in trouble moving forward without Zoll.

What’s marginally surprising about keeping Thomas despite the team only having seldom-used Ashley Robinson as a reserve center is that she was not considered among the strongest prospects at center in the draft due to low shooting percentages.

But what she definitely could contribute at the WNBA level is defense, which only reinforces our understanding of what Agler is most focused on.

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Seattle Storm The Consensus Preseason Favorite To Win The 2011 WNBA Title

When looking at what the Seattle Storm have done this off-season - from adding Katie Smith via trade to signing Belinda Snell as a free agent to drafting Ify Ibekwe in the second round - it's quite clear that they're entering the season with a lot less reason to question their bench than there might have been last season.

With that, it should come as no surprise that media and WNBA GMs consider them the favorite to win the 2011 WNBA title. 

Women's Hoops Blog | WNBA General Managers polled...Storm and Sue Bird tops | Seattle Times Newspaper
It's preview week and so far only Slam Magazine doesn't have the Storm as favorites to repeat...58 percent of the GMs believe the Storm is "most likely to win" the WNBA Finals. New York Liberty second with 17 percent of the votes.

Of course, as Kevin Pelton of StormBasketball.com points out, a GM selection doesn't really guarantee success.

WNBA GMs Pick Storm « StormTracker - The Official Blog of the Seattle Storm
Seven out of 12 GMs picked the Storm, with the New York Liberty (two) the only other team to receive multiple votes. Of course, that’s no guarantee: Last year, the Storm did not receive a single vote from GMs. Besides the championship prediction, the Storm was honored in multiple other categories. Home Court Advantage was recognized by 11 of the 12 GMs, who said that KeyArena is the toughest place to play.

But the bottom line is that they were so dominant last season means that they would have needed personnel considerable losses to be anything less than the favorite. So with the team returning so much talent from last year and really only enhancing their bench, it would be a stretch to consider someone else a preseason favorite, as ESPN's Mechelle Voepel suggests.

Seattle Storm still favorites as WNBA's 15th season nears - ESPN
The Storm were 28-6 in the regular season last year, then swept their playoff series against Los Angeles, Phoenix and Atlanta. All three WNBA finals games with the Dream were decided by three points or less, but still … a sweep is a sweep.

So with the likes of Lauren Jackson, Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Tanisha Wright, Camille Little and Le'coe Willingham ready to take the floor again, if I asked the Magic 8 Ball, "Is Seattle the top pick to win the WNBA title in 2011?" the answer would be, "It is decidedly so." (After I flipped it over enough times to get the response I wanted, that is.)

With the prospect of the Storm bringing Seattle back-to-back championships, this year - perhaps even moreso than last - is probably the year to at least give the team a chance if you haven't before.

Don't Drop the Ball: Make This the Year You Actually Support the Seattle Storm - Seattlest
But the fact is, the Sonics are gone. And the Storm is still here. And it's OK to be grieving--it's natural--but, if you're truly a basketball fan, if you truly love the sound of squeaking rubber and the smell of indoor bleachers and the game itself, make this be the year when you get behind one of the City's most excellent teams.

They're even a reason to take the Monorail. Maybe.

For plenty more links about the Storm's season - which begins Saturday at KeyArena - visit their official blog run by Kevin Pelton.

For more on the WNBA, visit SB Nation's women's basketball site Swish Appeal.

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Seattle Storm Waive Monroe, Cut Roster To 12

The Seattle Storm were expected to waive someone after this afternoon's game against the Tulsa Shock.

It figured to be one of three players and it turned out to be 6'5" second-year center Jacinta Monroe, who they acquired in a trade with the Washington Mystics along with Katie Smith.

Although Monroe, the sixth pick overall in the 2010 WNBA Draft, didn't play much in her first year, she did show promise as a shot blocker and was thought to be the icing on top of the trade for Smith. However, with 2011 second-round draft pick Ify Ibekwe playing so well this preseason, the minutes in the post rotation had gotten scarce.

Given the remaining roster, it would appear that point guard Sharnee Zoll would have the inside track for a roster spot ahead of 6'4" rookie center Krystal Thomas - the Storm don't have a distributor on the bench to backup Sue Bird and already have veteran mainstay Ashley Robinson at center, who head coach Brian Agler has been committed to. Carrying a third center on an 11-player roster seems unlikely when there's an obvious void at reserve point guard.

The deadline for settling rosters is June 2, but there have also been reports that Agler would wait to see who ends up on the waiver wire before making a final decision.

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Seattle Storm Hang On To Beat Tulsa Shock 76-71 In Preseason Meeting

The final score is clearly not what's most important about the Seattle Storm's 76-71 preseason win over the Tulsa Shock at KeyArena this afternoon.

And with the stats down in KeyArena, it's even easier to suppress the impulse to read too much into this result.

"We had some good possessions and some not-so-good possessions," said Storm point guard Sue Bird, who dished out a game-high eight assists. "That's just us getting used to each other and getting familiar with the plays themselves."

But a telling sign of how the Storm approached this game is that head coach Agler sat Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson with the game on the line, according to Kevin Pelton of StormBasketball.com. What's most important is getting the team some game experience against a less familiar opponent, gaining a little more insight into who might be worthy of a roster spot as the time for final cuts approaches, and getting players into game shape.

"I think our conditioning's not quite there yet," Agler said about a performance in which a 20-point halftime lead dwindled to five. "When you get tired, you start making mental mistakes."

Rookie forward Ify Ibekwe apparently seized the opportunity to impress in the Storm's final tuneup before the regular season begins - although there was apparently some trouble tracking stats for the game, Ibekwe had a solid seven points, four rebounds, and two steals off the bench for the Storm.

STORM: Live from Press Row - Storm vs. Tulsa (Preseason)
...Ify Ibekwe came off the bench to score [seven]. Brian Agler mentioned before the game that Ibekwe can score in a variety of ways, and we saw just that during the first half. Ibekwe made a three and another long jumper, but also scored off the dribble.

With Agler already complimentary of Ibekwe prior to the game, this performance might help her earn a roster spot as a player to invest some development time in.

"I thought she played really well in the first half," Agler said of the 6-foot-2 rookie out of Arizona. "I think she's got a tremendous amount of potential. She hit some shots, defended, she went up and rebounded in a crowd a couple of times, which are all good things."

The other rookie of interest was 6-foot-8 Shock center Liz Cambage, who showed flashes of potential in her first WNBA contest. But she apparently struggled to put those flashes together into any sort of consistent production according to Seattle Times reporter Jayda Evans, which is understandable when being defended by reigning WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson.

Women's Hoops Blog | Seattle Times Newspaper
SORRY MATE: Yeah, Australians Liz Cambage (Tulsa) and Jackson are friends, many calling the recent No. 2 draft pick the next Jackson. Cambage is doing well with good ball-handling skills for a 6-8 center. Still Jackson worked her on defense, smacking the ball away when Cambage brought waist-level on a post move. The steal was eventually converted into a Jackson three-pointer to put the Storm up 31-16 with 4:33 remaining in the half.

Playing against Jackson only compounded the understandable nervousness for the Australian rookie playing her first game in the U.S.

"(Elizabeth) Cambage was so nervous," second-year Shock coach Nolan Richardson said of his rookie center who finished with 10 points and eight rebounds in her first WNBA start. "Matter of fact, I think she threw up. This was her first pro game in the United States and she was going against one of her fellow Australians in (Lauren) Jackson, the MVP ... you know, there were a lot of things. I thought she did settle down and became a force around the basket. They weren't getting anything easy anymore and she was able to control the boards when she was in that area."

The Shock are probably in a more difficult spot than the Storm in terms of figuring out their final roster after last summer's 6 win season, but other Shock rookies helped themselves as well.

"Kayla Pederson is one of my favorite kinds of players," Richardson said of his 6-foot-4 first round draft pick out of Stanford, who he has previously compared to Larry Bird. "She's everywhere. She's going to rebound, she'll hit some shots and she'll guard people so when you look at those three rookies, I was really pleased"

That rookies garnered so much attention in today's game is pleasing not only for the two teams involved, but also a sign of how much more competitive this year's training camps are around the league with a fairly strong draft class entering the league.

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Australian Center Liz Cambage Highlights Seattle Storm's 2 P.M. Preseason Game Against Tulsa Shock


Australian rookie Liz Cambage in a media day interview with SBN's Swish Appeal.

There are plenty of reasons for intrigue with the Tulsa Shock in town today for a 2 p.m. preseason game against the Seattle Storm at KeyArena.

For University of Washington women's basketball fans, there's the debut of former Stanford forward Kayla Pedersen and former UCLA guard Darxia Morris, both of whom most recently challenged Courtney Vandersloot and Gonzaga in the 2011 NCAA women's basketball tournament Spokane regional this past March.

There's also guard Marion Jones, who is embarking upon her second season in the WNBA. And then there's former Storm guards Betty Lennox and 40-year-old Sheryl Swoopes who will make their first trip to Seattle as members of the Tulsa Shock.

But the center of attention will be 6-foot-8 Australian center Liz Cambage, who the Shock acquired with the second pick in the 2011 WNBA draft behind Maya Moore.

WNBA Draft 2011 Prospect Capsule: Elizabeth Cambage – "She's Definitely One Of The Most Exciting Prospects in Australian Women's Basketball" - Swish Appeal
Not many people outside of Australia heard of Elizabeth Cambage prior to the 2010 FIBA World Championships. But there was the teenage sensation, all 6'8 of her was on display, showing off post moves with skill against the likes of Sylvia Fowles and Tina Charles. She wasn't afraid to be physical, and she backed down from no one. She now will be eligible for the WNBA draft, but she comes with questions; the biggest of which is will she even come here and play for multiple seasons?

After some controversy about whether Cambage would even play in the WNBA, she announced that she will play this season and skip the 2012 season to prepare for the London Olympics with the Australia Opals (similar to Australian Storm forward Lauren Jackson).

Looking at the Shock's roster, Cambage would seem to be the likely starter for the Shock. But given Shock coach Nolan Richardson's hockey-like substitution patterns and the fact that she missed a portion of camp due to Visa issues, it's hard to figure how much she'll play.

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2011 WNBA Preseason: Sheryl Swoopes Returning To Seattle With 'Hurt And Disappointment' Behind Her


Three-time WNBA MVP Sheryl Swoopes in a media day interview with SBN's Swish Appeal.

For better or worse, Tulsa Shock wing Sheryl Swoopes is among the most recognizable names in women's sports at least partially for the thing that shows up in the opening paragraph of her Wikipedia entry: her immense talent on both ends of the court earned her lofty comparisons to NBA legend Michael Jordan and the honor of becoming the first woman to have a shoe line named after her.

Yet unlike the other supposed "heir apparents" in basketball, Swoopes has carved out her own niche in basketball history, winning four WNBA championships with the Houston Comets teams that dominated the early years of the league as well as three MVPs and three WNBA Defensive Player of the Year awards after winning a NCAA National Championship at Texas Tech.

However, her career took a jarring turn when the Seattle Storm unceremoniously released her early in 2009, on the weekend before her contract would have become guaranteed.

"I think initially, things just kind of happened really fast," Swoopes said in a media teleconference announcing her return to the WNBA back in March after a two season hiatus. "And to be honest with you, when Seattle released me I thought there was an opportunity for me to go and play somewhere. Don't know with who or where. And then when that opportunity didn't happen, it just kind of hit me. Like, ok, now it's time for me to move on and I've just got to figure out what else I'm going to do and where I'm going to go from here. That was a couple of years ago. It' probably took me a minute to deal with it and to understand what had just happened."

Swoopes had been one of a trio of All-Star signings for the Storm in 2008 - which included current Storm forward Swin Cash - and seemed to position her for a fifth ring and the franchise for their second WNBA title. Unfortunately, injuries to Swoopes and their other aging stars led to a disappointing first round loss to the Los Angeles Sparks in the first round of the 2008 playoffs.

"What a lot of people don't understand, and again I don't want to continue to talk about what happened in Seattle before or anything like that, but what a lot of people don't know or realize is that my last two seasons in the WNBA, I played injured," Swoopes said. "When I was with Houston I had a bad back. I was getting injections in my back just to make it through practice. I finally took a summer - I went and did back surgery and when I came back Seattle signed me and I wasn't 100%. I think Coach Agler knew that and understood that, but I came back."

Now at age 40, Swoopes returns to Seattle as a member of the Shock for a preseason game (Sunday 2 p.m. at KeyArena) to face the team that released her into what Tulsa World writer Jimmie Tramel described as "exile" and eventually made the type title run that many people expected her to be a part of back in 2008.

While past reports have described Swoopes as "hurt and disappointed", that chapter of her legacy is in the past now.

Swoopes is ready for the Shock's preseason contest with Seattle. | Tulsa World
Two WNBA seasons passed and nobody took a chance on a three-time league MVP who needed back surgery in 2007.

Then Shock coach Nolan Richardson decided he could use - on and off the court - a 40-year-old veteran. Swoopes was asked following a recent practice if she feels like she has anything to prove in her return to Seattle.

"No. That was three years ago," she said.

Championship glory isn't likely to figure prominently into this latest chapter of Swoopes' legacy. In the Shock's first season in Tulsa after relocating from Detroit, they struggled to a league-worst 6-28 record amid constant roster and lineup changes.

As she said in the media day interview above, her primary goal this season is simply to help the team win more games than last year, whether that be from contributions of the court or a championship mentality off of it. Nevertheless, Swoopes is clearly appreciative of the opportunity to finish out her career on her own terms.

Sheryl Swoopes is Ready to Shock the WNBA in Tulsa - Swish Appeal
"I just think sometimes when we are in a situation or when things are kind of given to us, we might not appreciate them as much," Swoopes said. "But then when things are kind of taken away from you regardless of how it was taken away - whether it was your fault, someone else's fault, whether you could control it or not - and to be given a second opportunity or another chance, I just think you kind of appreciate that a little bit more."

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