Sunday was the oddest open to a Storm training camp since its inaugural season when Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson weren’t even thoughts for roster spots. Seattle held its first practice this season with six rookies and 2012 lottery pick Shekinna Stricklen and reserve Alysha Clark as the longest tenured returnees at three seasons apiece.
“Those returning players are critical,” said Storm coach Brian Agler of Clark, Stricklen and Noelle Quinn and Joslyn Tinkle, who’ll play their second seasons in Seattle. The players began the 2014 season with paperwork, meetings and light drills.
Jackson will miss a second season due to injury. Bird is returning from a knee injury, but is currently vying for a Russian championship against soon-to-be Storm teammate Temeka Johnson. Game 3 in the best-of-five series is Tuesday and Bird’s UMMC Ekaterinburg leads at 2-0.
Starters Camille Little and Tanisha Wright and free-agent Angel Robinson are also completing play overseas. Little and Wright are stateside and could arrive later this week.
“We won’t go into real detail about goals because half of our final roster is not even here, yet, so I don’t want to be redundant with a lot of stuff,” Agler said about the practice schedule. “But we’re going to start putting in things. It’s always a challenge but most teams are missing people.”
Defending champion Minnesota is without its top eight players due to overseas commitments.
The Storm plays its only exhibition game May 11 at KeyArena and opens its 15th season on May 16 at home. The crunched schedule is to accommodate the FIBA World Championship in Turkey from Sept. 27 to Oct. 5. Seattle opened the 2013 season on May. 26.
Stricklen, Clark and Quinn are expected to provide the leadership until the core begins.
“It’s good because it’s going to make us talk more,” Stricklen said. She started 21 games last season, averaging 10 points and 2.8 rebounds. “That’s one thing (Brian) stayed on us about last year, especially me and Noe. We don’t talk loud enough. This gives us the chance to be more of a leader, talk more, help out and be the ones to step up.”
There is some familiarity around the Storm camp. Former Stanford posts Mikaela Ruef and Tinkle are reunited on the training camp roster. Ruef, a fifth-year senior, was Seattle’s third-round draft pick (31st overall) in April. Tinkle was signed as a free-agent in 2013 after rehabilitating from ankle surgery.
Ruef was a 2014 All-Pac-12 honorable mention, averaging career highs of 7.1 points, 9.3 rebounds with 3.2 assists. She’s the seventh Stanford graduate to play for the Storm. Tinkle, Katy Steding (2001), Sonja Henning (2000-02), Kate Paye (2002), Charmin Smith (2000-01), Kate Starbird (2002) are the others.
“It’s nice to be here with somebody you know and feel comfortable with, can go to the gym and shoot with,” Ruef said. “I was asking her what clothes to bring, ‘Do I need to bring workout clothes?’ The stupid stuff and she’s was like, ‘Calm down.'”
Ruef, a 6-foot-3 forward, was surprised to be drafted. She agreed to play in a coed basketball league because she expected to have a free summer, possibly signing a contract to play overseas in the fall. But Ruef’s summer plan changed while going through a final prep for the rec-league game.
“I was sitting there ready to start the game and all of a sudden my phone started going off like crazy,” Ruef said. She then watched the clip of herself being drafted by Seattle. “I was like, ‘No way!’ The (opposing rec) team was all intimated. We won by like 20 points; it was a good game.”
Agler will host a normal practice Monday. The three-week camp will be a delicate balance of getting ready for the season and making roster evaluations for the present and long term. After the opener against Los Angeles on May 16, the Storm leaves for a five-game road trip.