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 G/F Shekinna Stricklen, who started the final 10 games of the season but didn’t increase production with the increase in minutes. She averaged 7.2 points overall, down from 10 points her second season in the WNBA last year when she started 21 games. Stricklen was drafted with the No. 2 overall pick in 2012 and is expected to transition into a reliable outside scorer and defender. She did improve her confidence on defense and shot an improved 38.5 percent from three-point range. Stricklen led the reserves nine times in scoring this season, but more was needed. She missed one game due to a neck injury.
Stricklen will return to South Korea to play this WNBA offseason. She’s a restricted free agent, entering the fourth year of her rookie contract.
Seattle Times: First, your injury. You left a July game in Minnesota on a stretcher after a collision with Lynx G Tan White. The images on television were alarming, where you scared?
Stricklen: Oh, yeah! I was totally scared. Thank God it wasn’t nothing serious. The tests (at a Minneapolis hospital) just came back as a neck strain. I was just in a lot of pain. The first thing I asked, though, was did I get the charge (draw an offensive foul against White). When they told me I did, I felt fine.
Q: Funny! What were the responses you heard from any family or friends watching the game?
Stricklen: My Twitter was blowing up. A lot of Minnesota fans were tweeting me and checking in on me and praying for me. The same with our fans and several other people. It was a blessing and really made me feel very special.
Q: It was the last road game before the WNBA All-Star break, so that gave you time to recoup?
Stricklen: Yeah, I just relaxed and was being careful, trying not to move as much. I got away for a little bit for a little vacation to Hawaii. I was there laying on the bench under an umbrella, of course. I didn’t want any sun, just relax and not do much.
Q: Then you returned and started the first game after the break against Phoenix, your first of the season. Did that catch you off-guard?
Stricklen: I think everybody was thrown off. I was totally like, “What?!” I had been out and hadn’t touched the ball, really, in almost a week. I only had one practice in and after just getting hurt, it kind of scared me. You never know when it’s going to be your last game. But I found out I was starting that day in shoot-around (July 22). Brian had a decision, he’s the coach so just go with it.
Q: You’re looking forward to heading back to Korea, why the change after being so apprehensive the first two times in Korea and Turkey?
Stricklen: The season is short and I felt really comfortable with it, so I’m going to give it another try. They’re changing the rules after this year (in limiting international players), so I want to see what’s up. It’s a lot different than Turkey. In Korea, they’re organized and there’s less stress. They pay on-time and there are no worries. I can just play well. I’m going to play with Vicki Baugh. We played in college together (at Tennessee). Maybe the time will go a little bit faster.
Q: You entered camp with a lot more confidence and as the season progressed, you contributed more on the court. Those were things you said you wanted to work on last offseason, is it the same this go-round?
Stricklen: I don’t want to just be a three-point shooter. I want to also be a scorer in other ways even though it was one of my best offensive years. And I’m always working to try to get better on defense. I did better with it. I took the part of I’m taking a charge. That’s something that really stuck out this year. I took charges and we got the ball back.
Q: Obviously the minor improvements didn’t help result in a playoff berth, how are you handling the season being over?
Stricklen: It’s a bad feeling just knowing the season is over with and not being able to make the playoffs and losing the last game. It’s basically how the whole season went. We just couldn’t get going. I really do think how the beginning of the schedule was (playing a record 10 of the opening 13 games on the road) was really tough. Especially when you have new players getting to know each other and trying to get that bond. We didn’t find that until the end of the season. But we kept in touch with each other and encouraged each other to keep fighting and keep getting better, so we can come in next year and be a totally different team.
Q: You’re a quiet person but this is your third WNBA season, are getting a little more vocal?
Stricklen: A little bit. I talk a lot more but off the court, I’m still the one just smiling and laughing. I really don’t say a lot. The only one who hears me a lot is Alysha (Clark). Meek (Temeka Johnson) has started to hear me a lot more. We’ve started to hang out a lot. Other than that, nah, I’m quiet.
Q: What was a good on-court experience for you?
Stricklen: My best shooting game was against Indiana (July 31). I think I hit six threes?
Q: Yes, 6-for-9 from three-point range for a season-high 20 points. Was the worst experience suffering the neck strain against Minnesota?
Stricklen: There have been a lot of those games. A lot. I can’t just pick out one as the worst. It was like every time we played Phoenix. But I can watch the Minnesota game. I actually watched the next day. I had to see it, it would have bothered me if I didn’t. And it looked a lot worse than how it felt. Anyway, next season will be better. It will.