The Storm returned to practice Wednesday night after playing its last game on July 13 at Phoenix. The players enjoyed an approximate two-week break, most retuning to their respective homes to recharge.
The WNBA is on a month-long hiatus due to the London Olympic Games. Storm All-Stars Sue Bird (Team USA) and Lauren Jackson (Australia) are competing in the Games and aren’t expected to return until the week of Aug. 12. The league resumes play on Aug. 16, the Storm (9-10) hosting Phoenix (4-15) at KeyArena to begin its final stretch of 15 regular-season matchups — 10 at home.
Regardless of medal placement, Bird previously told Storm coach Brian Agler she’d return to Seattle immediately after the basketball portion of the Olympics concludes Aug. 11. The Americans are going for an unprecedented fifth consecutive gold medal which would further make them the most dominate team-sport in Olympic history.
“I would expect Sue to practice with us a couple of times before that first game,” Agler said in a phone interview Thursday morning. “She’s told me she’d like to get back ASAP…That is what the plan is now, but things change.”
Jackson, a three-time WNBA MVP, stated she’d return as quickly as possible. But if the Opals won its first gold medal, she would take time to celebrate at home with her country.
Of those not in London, Agler is still waiting on returns. Veteran C Ann Wauters is in Belgium receiving treatment on the slight tear in her left Achilles. She missed five games due to the injury but received another MRI recently that showed it is healing.
Wauters, who averaged 10.3 points and 6.2 rebounds before the hiatus, should return to Seattle next week.
Storm F Tina Thompson remains out due to a sprained left knee and ankle suffered against Los Angeles on July 6. She’s able to shoot and complete cardio workouts, but Agler doesn’t expect her on the court until the week of Aug. 16. She could miss the opening return game because of lack of practice time.
“Obviously you can’t throw her in the first game,” Agler said. Thompson, the team’s second-leading scorer (10.6 points), missed three games before the break.
“She’s going to have to get significant practice time before we get there,” Agler continued. “But if you think about now before playoff time, we’re seven, eight weeks away from that. There’s a lot of basketball to be played and a lot of time between now and the extremely important part of the season.”
Lastly, G Katie Smith is out with lower back pain. She played through it during the first part of the season, getting needed rest during the break. She’s expected to return to practice on Sunday.
“We can still get a lot accomplished,” said Agler of practice with the reserves, starters Tanisha Wright and Camille Little, and male practice players to fill any voids. “It’s great for us to really give a lot of attention to Shekinna (Stricklen) and Eva (Kobryn) and Svetlana (Abrosimova), get them up to speed. They were all playing some really good basketball for us down the stretch before the break. They had to.”
Stricklen (one) and Kobryn (three) had to start games due to injuries. Stricklen averaged 10.6 points and 6.4 rebounds in her five games before the hiatus while Kobryn averaged 9.2 points and 4.6 boards.
Prior to the season beginning, Agler anticipated roster changes after the Olympics. But that was mainly to add Abrosimova. She was available to sign at the end of June, however, because she wasn’t selected to represent her native Russia in the Olympic Games. Agler anticipates the roster remaining the same, WNBA rules guaranteeing contracts in July.
The break was good for Agler, too. He had the opportunity to watch his daughter Taylor play AAU hoops. It’s an experience Dad hasn’t had since she was 12 and now she’s 17, headed to Indiana for college ball. His son Bryce coaches AAU basketball, his father catching some of those matchups.
One thing Agler isn’t enjoying is the delayed airing of the Olympics and difficultly viewing the women’s basketball games. He’s exchanged text messages from Jackson, who shared disappointment in losing to France on Monday.
The Australians (2-1) face Russia (3-0) on Friday at 3:15 a.m. local time while Team USA (3-0) plays former Storm F Jana Vesela and the Czech Republic (1-2) on Friday at 2:15 (PST). The Americans have qualified for the quarterfinals. The Opals, who have won silver in the past three Olympics, need a win to secure a spot.
“That should be a really good game,” said Agler of the Aussie-Russia matchup. San Antonio Silver Stars G Becky Hammon leads the Russians.
*PHOTO CREDIT: No. 2 overall draft pick Shekinna Stricklen (40) drives on Minnesota while Storm teammate Ewelina Kobryn provides a screen by Stacy Bengs of The Associated Press