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September 9, 2013 at 8:21 AM

Storm All-Star Lauren Jackson headed to China for offseason play

LJFerns

Storm All-Star Lauren Jackson
ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO

Storm All-Star Lauren Jackson is nearing the end of her rehabilitation from January hamstring surgery, signing to play in China this winter. The Australian native will join the Heilongjiang Shenda Basketball Club based in Heilongjiang University Gym in Harbin City, which is the capital of Heilongjiang Province.

“I’m looking forward to my arrival in China and Harbin City,” Jackson said in a released statement on Monday. “I have been very privileged to play basketball all over the world and this is a new, exciting challenge for me, playing for this club in the WCBA league.”

With Jackson signing, WCBA arguably passed Russia and aligned itself with Turkey as the second-best women’s basketball league in the world, trailing only the WNBA.

WNBA stars Maya Moore (Minnesota), Brittney Griner (Phoenix), and Nneka Ogwumike (Los Angeles) have already signed to play in the league this offseason. Aussie C Liz Cambage (Tulsa) played in the league last season and could return after rehabilitating from an ankle injury suffered in August.

Storm F Camille Little played in China last offseason but her agent said she’s close to signing a contract to play in Turkey this winter. Storm All-Star Sue Bird is nearing the end of her rehab from May knee surgery and plans to return to Russia this winter before playing the 2014 WNBA season. Bird, 32, was medically cleared last week for all non-contact, on-court drills. She began participating in shooting drills with the team Tuesday.

“I’m looking forward to meeting the president of the club, Mr. Zhai Shi Jun, my new teammates and coach and to being on court wearing No. 15 in the team colours,” said Jackson, whose No. 15 has traveled to play with clubs in Korea, Russia, Spain and Australia in her approximate 16-year professional career.

Jackson is expected to report to China on October 20. The WCBA season-opener is tentatively set for Nov. 12. The Finals are slated for January and play normally ends in February. Little mentioned in the past that the short season is ideal in keeping skills sharp but also providing enough time for a break before the WNBA’s summer schedule.

Storm coach and GM Brian Agler suspended Jackson’s 2013 contract and expects the 32-year-old star to return for the 2014 WNBA season. Jackson, a 6-foot-6 post, is a three-time WNBA MVP and two-time league champion.

“We are very glad to sign Lauren Jackson, one of the best female basketball players in the world,” said Zhai Shi Jun, the president of Heilongjiang Feng Shen Women Basketball Club that finished 3-19 last season. “With Lauren ‘s joining in, Heilongjiang will be back to being a championship competitor again. We warmly welcome her landing and we believe she will love her life in China.”

There could still be a hiccup in Jackson’s return to Seattle; however the WNBA as a whole will have to plan its schedule around the 2014 FIBA World Championships slated for Sept. 27 to Oct. 5 in Turkey or possibly lose international stars like Jackson. A four-time Olympian, Jackson helped the Oplas qualify for the World Championships in August. The 2014 tourney is a precursor to the 2016 Olympics.

The Opal’s two games in August were Jackson’s first return to play since October 2012 when the Storm lost to the Lynx in the opening round of the WNBA playoffs.

Comments | More in Northwest Ballers, Olympics, Overseas Hoops | Topics: Brittney Griner, Lauren Jackson

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