If you’re to believe social media, then French C Sandrine Gruda was with friends, including countrywoman and former Storm PG Edwidge Lawson-Wade, at chic spots in Paris this past week instead of reporting to WNBA training camp.
France crowned its domestic-league champion on Saturday, likely bringing the last flight of WNBA veterans stateside to tip the league’s 18th season this Friday. Bourges Basket, led by new Atlanta PG Celine Dumerc, won the French Cup. It’s the team’s first since 2010.
While sharing Olympic ties with Bourges players, Gruda played during the offseason in Russia with Los Angeles C Candace Parker and Storm PG Sue Bird. Gruda, a highly coveted star, was traded to LA from Connecticut at request due to not liking the Sun organization. She averaged 11.5 points and 4.5 rebounds off the bench in her last WNBA season in 2010.
Gruda, 26, posted her excitement to return to the states on her Twitter account last month. It just won’t be in time, it appears, for the Sparks-Storm exhibition at 1pm on Sunday at KeyArena.
Not uncommon, as fans are slow to accept. Bird is one of the few globetrotters who doesn’t need much time to switch gears from overseas play to the WNBA — whether it’s due to the Olympics or an overseas postseason.
Seattle teammate Temeka Johnson, who lost to Bird’s UMMC Ekaterinburg for the Russian championship last month, needed a break. Johnson’s first practice was Saturday and she was the last player to report to Seattle’s camp. Bird returned to Seattle May 3 along with G Tanisha Wright and F Camille Little, who played together in Turkey this past offseason. WNBA training camps opened April 27.
“I want to be in my apartment,” said Bird, a native New Yorker who now calls Seattle home. “And for me personally, it’s not always good to take a lot of time off. I like to stay in shape and I like to stay on top of things. The less time I take off, the better I am physically. But having my apartment in Seattle plays a huge role (in why she reports quickly).”
Gruda’s absence is a missed opportunity for Seattle to test its new and still undersized lineup against a tough Western Conference rival with significant size in the paint. Parker, a 6-foot-4 post, played 10 minutes off the bench in an exhibition win, 98-58, against China on Saturday. C Jantel Lavender, Parker’s 6-4 backup last season, appeared in 14 minutes against China while rookie F Alicia DeVaughn, who’s 6-4, got the start.
Storm coach Brian Agler said he’s going to start Bird with Wright in the backcourt. The versatile Noelle Quinn will start on the wing and the undersized tandem of Camille Little and Crystal Langhorne inside. They’re both 6-2 and like to rebound.
The Storm played private scrimmages against the Chinese and Australian national teams last week, using WNBA officials. But this is Seattle’s first and only WNBA-sanctioned exhibition. Seattle will use the matchup to continue to test rotations and make final evaluations.
Johnson, a nine-year veteran, is back for her second season in Seattle. She’ll play from the bench Sunday after starting in place of Bird last season so the latter could rehabilitate from knee surgery. Third-year wing Shekinna Stricklen will need to show where she fits in the lineup.
Second-round draft pick Michelle Plouffe and training-camp invitee Jasmine Lister are getting their final look. Agler seems sold on free-agent C Angel Robinson, who’s 6-5, earning a roster spot. While he can keep the current 12-player roster, Agler was leaning toward 11 last week.
Lister,a 5-4 true PG, is likely the final cut. There’s something about her game that catches your eye and she can run an offense. But it’s a tough position for a rookie to play in the WNBA. Plouffe, who’s 6-4, is steady and can add depth inside.
“On Monday, we’ll probably make a decision and get our roster set going forward,” Agler said. “We’ll probably start the season with 11 players and sit back to see what our team might need. Sometimes you have to get into the season a little bit to really realize what you have.”
WNBA final rosters are due Thursday. The Storm hosts the Sparks, again, on Friday in the season-opener at KeyArena. LA is expected to be fully stocked with Gruda starting along side Parker, utilizing this week to work the French Olympian into coach Carol Ross’ design.
Seattle plays at Phoenix, which features 6-8 C Brittney Griner, on Saturday for the Mercury’s season-opener.