Series note: The Storm conducted exit interviews on Thursday, giving me the opportunity to ask players everything from views on their season to fashion and hair tips. I’ll post conversations from each in the upcoming days. Centers Ewelina Kobryn (Poland) and Ann Wauters (Belgium) won’t be featured due to their quick return home. Here’s a conversation with co-captain Lauren Jackson, who missed 25 WNBA games due to preparing for the London Olympics with her Australian national team and suffering from a re-occurring hamstring injury.
Q: What’s your plan injury-wise when you return home?
Lauren Jackson: I’m going to go home and get rehab on my back and stuff and yeah, get better. In Australia, because I play in Canberra where the AIS (Australian Institute of Sport) is, they have a history of getting me right. Of getting my body right because it’s just a focus on core and everything like that. When I go overseas to Europe, that’s not the focus even though it should be. I feel pretty confident that it’ll be good.
Q: And you feel confident you’ll be back next season? You are under contract.
Q: Over the last few years, how have you felt about being surrounded by older veterans even as you age?
Jackson: This year’s weird. To be honest. It still doesn’t feel like it happened at the moment. Obviously we just played and we trained a little bit, but I didn’t really spend any time with anyone. It was sort of come in and get ready to play. I didn’t really get to hang out or anything. But it was good. Tina (Thompson) has got so much experience. I played with Katie (Smith) last year and she’s very intense, she’s good. Obviously it was different without Swin (Cash) and Ash (Robinson) in there. But that’s just the evolution of sport.
Q: So do you even feel like you connected?
Jackson: Yeah, it’s just bizarre because I only came for 10 games. I don’t know how many games I played. But Tina and I have been friends for a long time and I’m good friends with the girls that have all been here, so it was just getting back into playing. It was different. It just feels like, for me cause I haven’t been here for the whole season, it doesn’t feel real. But I think that’s just because it’s been a very bizarre year. There have been lost of highs, lots of lows. When I was (playing) in Spain, I thought about how long this year was going to be. And now this year is over. It’s really weird that it’s all still happened and at the moment I’m kind of like, ‘What happened?’
Q: Was coming mid-season more difficult than you expected?
Jackson: Absolutely. Yes, very much so. I’m not sure if I’ll play in anymore Olympic Games or anything like that, but I’m not sure it’ll happen like that ever again. Last year I made a commitment to the Australian Olympic team and that was something I had to do for me. It was my last go-round. I don’t regret it. But it was very difficult.
Q: In the future, if you decided to play for the Olympic team, you’d skip the WNBA season altogether?
Jackson: I probably would do what I did in 2008 or 2004, which is probably miss one or two games and then go to the Olympics and then comeback rather than miss an entire (chunk of the season). I wouldn’t do that. Only because I’ve learned from mistakes. But, like I said, I don’t know if I’m going to go another time around (Olympics). It’s four years away.
Q: How have you seen Camille Little develop? She was a constant while you were gone.
Jackson: Camille, from when she first came to now, she’s developed a lot. But she was always just special. She always just did the little things, got rebounds, could play good defense. That was just her game. She did the dirty work. Now, she’s developed offensively and she’s a great teammate. It’s fun watching her.
Q: She was cute in pointing out the fact that she gets to say she knows Lauren Jackson because you’re not the type to just make friends with anyone. How do you react to that sentiment?
Jackson: She said that? Three of my closest friends are on this team — Camille, T (Tanisha Wright) and Sue (Bird). To be able to have those friendships is so very special. It doesn’t matter what happens, they’re always going to be there. With Camille, T and Sue, it developed over a period of time. It wasn’t like we were instant friends. It gives me shivers thinking about how our friendship has evolved and how close we are. I’m lucky, I’m fortunate that I have them as friends and teammates as well because it’s definitely something that motivates me to want to get better and next year play better because I want to be everything to those guys. It’s weird, but I’m very fortunate to have them in my life.
Q: That sounds very sweet. How many close fiends do you have in Australia?
Jackson: I’ve got a lot of different friends. I’ve got basketball friends. I’ve got my school friends and the people I grew up with, you know, Katrina Hibbert is one of my best friends. And then my family. I don’t have a lot of friends, but people I do have in my life, they’re the most important things to me.
Q: After a year like this, how much longer do you think you can play?
Jackson: I had like a five-year plan. But I still know I can play. Even at the Olympics, things started getting sore, again, but things that I was doing, I was like, ‘Damn, I can still play.’ There’s no doubt about it. Even coming back here and not being great, I still had games where I surprised myself. I just need to get back to the point where I’m confident and I feel like I can play. Like my body is there for me. I know going back to Australia right now is a blessing. At the moment, I’m just going to get through my contracts, give it my very best and I think 35 is what I’m going for.
Q: How do you look back on your last-second shot in Game 3 of the Western Conference semi-finals against Minnesota?
Jackson: You make some, you miss stuff. I missed it, you know. People miss shots all the time, especially me at the moment.
Q: Do you watch any of your past games, championships?
Jackson: No. I don’t even watch championships. You learn. Everyone learns from everything. I’m not 40, yet. I’ve got some years ahead of me playing-wise. For me, it’s about getting my body right. Getting back to 100 percent. That’s more the problem for me now. It’s just making sure my body’s right. Once that’s right, I’ll be good, I reckon. I’ve got faith.
Q: With the AIS, is it the quality of the doctors or the trust?
Jackson: The quality is obviously awesome. But when I broke my back the first time over here (2009)…I’ve been written off a lot of times by people. My back, in particular, the first time I did it, I had to go back to Australia and they did all my rehab there. They worked on me literally until I came back to America. It was like six months and I was playing in the WNBL. I came back and had the best season of my life (2010). I think having that confidence in the people you work with, doing it every day. I know they will help me get my body right. It just makes a difference when you’re on it every day.
Q: How did your brother (Ross Jackson) do in his race for Albury City Council?
Jackson: Yep, he’s a councilman. It’s funny. I can’t wait to see him. He’s taken photos of his little Councilor Ross Jackson (placard). They have a great big area where they have their meetings, just like a real White House. In Albury. It feels like he’s Prime Minister right now, for me. I’m just so proud of him.
Q: And your new house outside Albury, how is it coming along?
Jackson: It’s done. My furniture is in there and Sunday night will be my first night in the house. I can’t wait.
Q: So you sold your place in Seattle?
Jackson: No, I still have it. I have a few properties.
*PHOTO CREDIT: Storm center Lauren Jackson looks to pass by The Associated Press