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May 9, 2006 at 8:11 PM

Storm it up

Big Tiff
It’s only one practice, but the Storm looks a lot more solid now that Tiffani Johnson, a 6-foot-4 center, has arrived. The Storm finally has a real bruiser who knows the WNBA and will actually contribute and not rack up the same cheap fouls every night (see Suzy Batkovic last season).
With Wendy Palmer and rookie Barbara Turner, the Storm is finally the kind of gritty, nasty team you need to win consecutive titles.
But what really happened in Houston still needs more digging. Storm coach Anne Donovan continues to rave about how she loved Johnson in Houston, watching her game closely, but word around the press table was how Johnson couldn’t move because of the weight.
Johnson said Comets coach Van Chancellor’s decision to cut her just before the season started sent waves across the league.
“That move shocked the whole league,” she said. “When I got cut, everybody was surprised. A bunch of people called my agent and asked, like, ‘What’s goin’ on in Houston?’ To this day, I really don’t know, but I thank God it happened. I’m not mad, I don’t have any bitter feelings towards Van. Had it not happened, I might not be standing here looking like this today.”
According to Johnson, four other teams were looking to land her this summer. She chose the Storm for the same reason everyone wants to play in Seattle – Olympic caliber players and coaches in Sue Bird, Lauren Jackson, Iziane Castro Marques and Donovan.
“They [Seattle] have Olympians and All-Stars, that’s what I’m accustomed to playing with coming out of Houston,” said Johnson, who teamed with Olympic forwards Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson.
“I didn’t want to come from a winning program, playing with these type of players to just – I’m too old for that. I’m trying to win.”
Throw the ball
Storm guard Betty Lennox threw the first pitch at a Mariners game Saturday. Well, we should say she tried to throw the ball. Despite being from Oklahoma where the state goes crazy for college baseball, Lennox actually tried to shoot the baseball to home plate.
“Wrong sport Betty,” the public address announcer blurted in a monotone.
Lennox adjusted her stance and then threw the ball.
“It was a pop-up strike,” Lennox said of her pitch. “It hit the front of the plate, then bounced in the catcher’s mitt. It was a bounce pass.”
Best ever?
The Storm roster isn’t set and Donovan still is talking about bringing in a young point guard or post player to develop for the future once other teams cut players, but the coach is already leaning toward calling this bench the best she’s had since joining the organization in 2003.
Well, it’s easy to top the 2005 bench because while Batkovic, Russian Natalia Vodopyanova and Italian Francesca Zara are quality players, but it always takes international athletes one season to adjust to WNBA style. They weren’t as productive as they would have been had they returned this season.
The 2004 bench featured Australian Tully Bevilaqua, and Donovan got the most out of Chelle Thompson and Simone Edwards that championship season, but the group had issues until the league-wide Olympic break in August. The players had to work with the assistant coaching staff to improve, and four of those players – Thompson, Adia Barnes, Michelle Greco and Trina Frierson – aren’t even in the league anymore.
It’s even easier to top the 2003 reserves, who for the most part were inherited from fromer coach Lin Dunn. Aside from Amanda Lassiter, none of those reserves averaged more than 5 points, and I personally broke into hives whenever any one of them touched the ball.
So, yeah, Donovan has done a masterful job in rounding up talent for this season. Palmer looks great and is a demanding leader for someone who just joined the team, Turner is going to be exciting to watch develop and Shaunzinski Gortman’s versatility will open up a lot of options.
Most of all, everyone seems to not care about who starts, or minutes, as long as the end result is winning a championship.
But it’s only training camp. Check back in July.



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