Series Note: The Storm did not advance to the postseason for the first time since 2003. The team held its exit interviews in August. This series will feature conversations from the 12-player roster. PG Sue Bird’s conversation was a feature used in the newspaper.
In a new move, the WNBA held the draft lottery four days after Seattle lost its regular-season finale to eventual WNBA champion Phoenix. Seattle (12-22) and Tulsa (12-22) had the best chance to win the No. 1 overall pick, the Storm hitting the lucky number. The draft should be held in April 2015.
In addition to a top-tier pick, should Storm coach and GM Brian Agler choose to keep it, the team could look different. Alisha Valavanis, the organization’s new chief operating officer, is taking a holistic approach to moving the franchise into the next 15 years and that includes on the court.
Here’s a conversation with F Alysha Clark, who was rotated with teammates Shekinna Stricklen and Noelle Quinn in starting at the small forward position. Clark made her first WNBA career start in an early loss at Connecticut and started a total of 22 games this season. The initial move was made to give the Storm a spark to open games. Statistically, her stamp on games was minor. Clark, who’s transitioned from being a dominant, undersized post in college to a wing, averaged 4.2 points and 16.5 minutes this season. But the defensive plays and 44.8 percent shooting from the field often came at key moments to ignite teammates.
Clark won’t return for a second season as an assistant coach at her alma mater Middle Tennessee State. Instead, she’ll return to Israel to play this winter. She’s expected to return to Seattle next season.
Seattle Times: You’re usually the one to keep things upbeat, were you able to at the end of this season?
Clark: It sucks. This is a suck-y feeling, especially as a competitor. You never want to just be done. It just sucks, plain and simple. I tried not to dwell on it because it just didn’t seem real. I even wrote on Facebook, “I can’t believe this is really the last game. Like, it’s about to be done. There’s no “OK, get ready to pack for playoffs.” No, we were done. That feeling sucked. Our attitudes toward one another off the court didn’t change. Some of us went to dinner and just kind of talked. It’s still nice to be around everybody.
Q: What was your impression of the team going through the season with a lot of new pieces and players in different roles?
Clark: We did the best that we could. It could have been a disastrous season. We could have easily tanked and just not cared. From people looking outside in, they’re like “Oh, man! That was so bad.” But on the inside looking out, us here, we knew the team that we had and every day we came in and we worked hard. Every game that we lost was a change of a few possessions. It’s not like we were (always) getting blown out by 30 points. There were games that we could’ve won that, for whatever reason, we just had something missing and just couldn’t pull it through. As athletes and a team, it’s easy for people to get caught up in that and forget everything else. But that was never our attitude and I’m proud of us. I’m proud how we stayed with it.
Q: And that attitude had to start in practice, right?
Clark: When we came to practice, we wanted to get better. We came in fighting hard every day in practice to get better. That was our goal. Unfortunately it was a little too late, but you could see toward the end that we were a better team the last few games than we were in the start. With that, I’m proud of how we fought. I’m proud of how we stayed together.
Q: Was there a leader who established that fighter mentality?
Clark: It was a collective (personality) of everybody. When you get at this level, you want teammates like that. It was 1 through 12 — we’re not going to give in; we don’t quit. There’s not a quitter on this team. It was a collective effort from everybody, which was nice. That’s what made it enjoyable. I know 12-22 isn’t great, but we thoroughly enjoyed each other and each other’s company every day that we came out on the court together.
Q: You were in and out of the starting lineup, how did you manage that change from being a deep reserve your previous two WNBA seasons?
Clark: For me, as a player, I’ve never been caught up in that kind of stuff. Even in college, I believed if you’re one of the best five that should be on the floor, you’re going to be on the floor. At that point in time of the season where I was starting, they felt like I was one of the best five to be out there. That’s fine. As things went, they changed. That’s fine. I don’t get caught up in that stuff because I worry about what I need to do when I’m on the floor. I couldn’t care less if I start and play 10 minutes or if I come off the bench and play 10 minutes as long as I do what I need to do in those 10 minutes.
Q: You also had a change this year in knowing going into training camp that you’d be on the final roster, how do you feel you handled that role, too?
Clark: Pretty well. It was a different adjustment. Personally, it was up and down, kind of inconsistent in terms of my play as far as what I evaluate. I was trying to find that balance of fulfilling the role that Brian expected and what the team needed of me and not losing who I am as a player and what’s gotten me here. For me, I battled with that all season trying to make sure I found the balance. But I think I handled it pretty well. It’s definitely given me something to motivate me and work toward for next season. I’m more motivated now because I’m going to come back much better than I’m leaving here after our last game. I’m 110 percent committed to that. That’s my driving force this offseason.
Q: You’re not coaching this season in order to focus on your WNBA career, but will you drop by to see the MTSU team?
Clark: I don’t leave for Israel until Oct. 1, so I have some time to be at home and rest. I’ll go up there and see the girls. They’ve all been texting and writing me, saying, “You have to come see us! We miss you!” That’s my home. I’ll go up there and see them and get some workouts in.