Series Note: The Storm was swept in the opening-round of the WNBA playoffs by Minnesota on Sept. 22. Game 2 was played at the Tacoma Dome due to a scheduling conflict at the team’s KeyArena court by one of its sponsors, Microsoft. Minnesota went on to win the WNBA championship as Seattle players dispersed to offseason destinations the following days after holding exit interviews with coaches and the media. This series will feature conversations from the 11-player roster.
The WNBA offseason won’t feel as long given news the league should generate on the business side. The league’s collective-bargaining agreement expired Sept. 30 and a new agreement will need to be in place before free-agency can open as tentatively slated in February. The 2014 WNBA schedule likely will be moved up to accommodate for the 2014 FIBA World Championships in Turkey from Sept. 27-Oct. 5.
Storm-wise, the team could remain the same in 2014. Here’s a conversation with rookies Tianna Hawkins and Joslyn Tinkle. Hawkins, 22, had a typical rookie season. The No. 6 overall draft pick, she was challenged by coach Brian Agler to earn her minutes in practice and had a few standout games for the Storm. She scored a career-high 17 points with four rebounds in a loss to Tulsa in June and contributed 13 points with six rebounds in a win against Phoenix in August. Hawkins was inconsistent in learning Agler’s system and didn’t play in Game 2 of the playoff loss. Tinkle, 22, a was a late add due to foot surgery after a standout career at Stanford. A 6-foot-3 post, she earned a spot on the playoff roster but only appeared in six regular-season games and two minutes in Game 1 of the postseason.
Seattle Times: What did you think of your rookie season?
Hawkins: It was a great season, just being part of a special team. Going into the season people had shaky predictions of how well we were going to do in the season. Just to make it to the playoffs and also be part of a special team has been great.
Q: Was it when you arrived that you heard of the low expectations?
Hawkins: It was when I got drafted. I took it for what it is and just put it behind me and got the mindset of proving everyone wrong. With the adversity that we faced, we kind of showed the strength of the team. You know, mentally and physically, we could conquer anything.
Q: Tina Thompson was hard on you in practice this season to help you improve. Since you play the same post position, what was it like to be on the same team as the four-time WNBA champion in her retirement season?
Hawkins: Her leadership was awesome. To be able to say that I was on Tina’s team her last career year and to go through her ceremony for her retirement (at KeyArena) was great. She taught me a lot from Day One. To be able to listen to what she had to say was very special.
Q: Did you watch her as a youth?
Hawkins: No, no. I didn’t watch the WNBA.
Q: You’re going to play in Hungary with Uniqa Euroleasing Sopron this offseason. What do you think you’ll work on to prepare for your return in 2014?
Hawkins: I just want to be able to contribute to the team. I know what to expect now that I have a year under my belt, so I’m excited about next year. I’m nervous and excited to go to Hungary. Just being in a different country makes me nervous. I’ve never been out of the country (USA).
Q: You obviously were a late add, signed to a seven-day contract in August, but how did you feel about being part of the Storm?
Tinkle: My experience was awesome. I’m so grateful that I got this opportunity regardless of how long I was here. Coming in at this point in the season, too, I didn’t know what to expect. The team had kind of gelled and there was only a few weeks left in the season and I came in really not knowing what they expected from me. But it was a great opportunity to even be a part of this special team and get my foot in the door. It was a great experience and I’m so thankful for it. If anything, I just really learned so much from these great players.
Q: You went undrafted and were home in Missoula, Mont. before being signed, right?
Tinkle: I was home prior to this and rehabbing and looking forward to overseas play. Coming off ankle surgery, I hadn’t been playing very long. As soon as I got the call, it was a complete whirlwind the next morning. A great turn of events for me. This experience has helped me tremendously. I know what I can work on in the offseason to stay in this league. And it’s been really, really fun. I’m honored to have played with the girls on the team.
Q: You had microfracture surgery in April in your right ankle, playing injured your senior season. Did you worry about getting a chance in the WNBA because of the uncertainty of how you’d return?
Tinkle: I was. I hadn’t really played basketball, yet, when I got the call the end of August. I was (medically) cleared and it was feeling really good but in my head, I had a longer deadline that I wanted to be ready by — two more months to play overseas (in October). So, I thought I had plenty of time to get myself back in basketball-shape and everything. Once I got the call, it was much faster. I needed to get back in it. It was healthy and ready but I hadn’t tried it, yet. I started playing and was feeling good and I did a couple of workouts here (with the Storm) and more than anything, it gave me that confidence that my ankle was feeling good.
Q: You weren’t playing but was your agent still campaigning to get you a WNBA contract at all?
Tinkle: It was unknown when I finished my season at Stanford. I had high hopes of being drafted and playing for sure, but didn’t know what would happen. I found an agent and they told me mixed things of whether I would be drafted because before I didn’t get drafted, I was playing on a broken foot all year. I knew surgery definitely had to be done, but I wanted to hold off on it. But I definitely wanted to take the opportunity to play, even if it was on a poor ankle. I felt I couldn’t give up that opportunity. It probably wasn’t smart anyways because they (WNBA teams) need you healthy more than anything. But I just thought I was a rookie coming in and trying to make it. I wanted to just push through it. But after I wasn’t drafted, my trainer back at school said I should definitely have this done. That’s when we decided to have the surgery and get healthy before having my agent push for training camp and stuff like that. I was still hoping, obviously, to get another shot playing at this level in this league.
Q: The injury hurt a couple of offers to play overseas, but you finally signed with Uni Györ in Hungary. You’ll see Tianna overseas, were you able to form a bond with the Storm despite signing late?
Tinkle: I compared it to college but it was obviously very different. I have former teammates of my that are now playing in the WNBA and they told me how it was very different and it depends on where you go. So, I was nervous coming here at this point in the season as a rookie and hadn’t been playing. Once I got here I definitely felt the love and support from everyone from the staff, the players and the organization. Everyone was really welcoming and really nice. It actually was like college and a pleasant surprise. Everyone was very genuine and kind.