In an effort to get younger while continuing to keep its playoff stature and remain under the salary cap, the Storm traded fan-favorite Ashley Robinson to Washington in exchange for C Victoria Dunlap on Tuesday. Seattle also re-signed G Katie Smith to a one-year deal.
“I’m excited to come back,” said Smith, 37, from Ohio where she’s in graduate school at her alma mater Ohio State and assisting with the women’s basketball team. “I didn’t know everything was being announced together and I’m just finding out about Ashley myself.”
Dunlap, 22, was the 11th pick of the 2011 WNBA draft, averaging 2.3 points and 1.7 rebounds for the Mystics. She did have 19 points and eight boards as a starter for then 2-6 Washington in July against Seattle. The Mystics lost 73-63 at the Verizon Center, the Storm playing after learning C Lauren Jackson would be out due to left hip surgery.
At Kentucky, Dunlap was named SEC Player of the Year in 2011. She averaged 17 points and 8.7 rebounds her senior season and was the first Wildcat ever named to the Associated Press All-American team.
Storm coach and general manager Brian Agler stated in a press release that he’s had his eye on Dunlap for a while. But the deal sent ripples through the Storm community. Robinson was tipped to the news on Monday and shocked when it was official on Tuesday.
Acquired via trade with Chicago in exchange for Cisti Grenwalt in 2006, Robinson was an asset some outside Seattle didn’t understand. She was the locker room glue, experiencing a breakout season in 2011 when she averaged 3.8 points and 3.9 rebounds.
Robinson, a 6-4 eight-year WNBA veteran, Robinson started 13 games for Seattle while Jackson recovered from hip surgery. The latter has long credited Robinson’s help in practice to keeping Jackson in game-shape over the years.
“I didn’t really see this coming,” said Robinson from her home in Grand Prairie, Texas where she was cleared Monday to return to playing after injuring her right foot in Czech Republic this offseason. “Brian called me and he wished me luck…But there’s a lot of stuff about leaving Seattle that’s just not easy.”
Robinson, 29, was a public figure, making numerous community charity appearances and joining former Storm F Swin Cash in donning fans as Storm Crazies. Robinson mentioned playing with teammates that were friends as the first thing she’ll miss, then the community support.
Washington plays at KeyArena on June 24.
Agler returns six players from the 2011 roster, including deep reserve Allie Quigley. Only three are starters until Jackson returns from training with her Australian national team for the London Games. The oldest team in the WNBA last summer, Agler said the organization wanted to get younger and would make some difficult moves after giving the group one last run at a title.
Seattle has advanced to the postseason a WNBA-tying eight consecutive seasons, getting booted in the opening round by Phoenix last summer.
Just four players remain from the 2010 championship team. Veterans Swin Cash and Le’coe Willingham were traded to Chicago to begin Storm’s leap into free agency in January while Jana Vesela (Czech Republic), Svetlana Abrosimova (Russia), Abby Bishop (Australia) and Alison Lacey (Australia) did not return in order to pursue Olympic roster spots.
“This isn’t what we thought would happen but it has,” Robinson said. “I know with Brian, it’s not personal, it’s business. He’s a good man and a good coach. I’ll always respect my time in Seattle, but I’m sad right now. I’m going to miss my time in Seattle but who knows when I go to DC? I’m interested in getting to know another organization.”
Robinson will be united with fellow Tennessee post players Michelle Snow and Nicky Anosike, mentioning it might be nice for former coach Pat Summitt to see. She was diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type. Robinson also played overseas with Mystics PG Jasmine Thomas before suffering the injury.
“She may get more playing time over there,” Smith surmised of Robinson when analyzing rosters around the league. “It was a blast to be a teammate with Ashley. She was one of the people that made me feel at home, said, ‘Hey, come over to my apartment and hang out.’
“Everybody loved her. The fans loved her. And you understand it’s a business, but it just stinks because you had somebody that loved the fans and gave so much on and off the floor. It’s hard. You understand it, but it never gets any easier. The same with Swin and Le’coe, too.”
*PHOTO CREDIT: Storm G Katie Smith shooting by Chuckarelei of SportsPageMagazine.com