Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Swoopes the Analyst

Tune in to tonight's FSN local broadcast of the UW women against the Kansas State Wildcats to hear Sheryl Swoopes offering color commentary. Swoopes and Brad Adam will be calling the game for FSN Northwest from Hec Edmundson Pavilion starting at 5:00 p.m.

Monday, December 29, 2008

LJ Update

We're a week away from teams being able to sign free agents to contracts, but don't expect a decision from Lauren Jackson on her future so quickly. That was the message from Jackson in an interview with the Daily Telegraph of Sydney.

"I think at the moment I have to decide on both (options), yeah both - whether to play in the WNBA and if so, with which team," Jackson told the paper. "I don't want to jump into anything that I can't fulfil right now. I don't know how I might feel in a couple of months' time.

"I have to make a decision and it's going to be a big one. It could impact on the rest of my career."
In the rest of the story, Jackson talks about her love for the city of Seattle and her happiness with the Storm. It's a must-read.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Holiday Traditions

On behalf of the entire Storm organization, a Happy Holidays to you and yours. Hopefully everyone in the Seattle area has made it safely through our atypically snowy holiday season.

Storm players shared with us a few of their traditions as well as what Sue Bird has learned about Christmas in Russia during her time spent playing overseas. Also see WNBA.com's look at how WNBA players, including the Storm's Swin Cash, are celebrating.

Ashley Robinson:
"My family is pretty normal. We just go over to someone's house to eat and exchange gifts. If there is a Cowboy game on we are usually shouting at the TV. That's about it. Get together, give gifts, and STUFF OUR FACES!"

Camille Little:
"At home in North Carolina, I have lots of fun memories. As a young girl, I always woke up really early on Xmas morning and my parents would be upset, so they told us one year we couldn't get up earlier than 8 a.m. To make sure I stayed in my room until then, my Mom hung a bell on the door knob of my bedroom so she could hear if I opened the door.

"On Xmas morning we put on Christmas music, and start opening presents. After all the presents are opened, we start cooking breakfast. We always have a big breakfast and all our family & friends are invited. We have pancakes, bacon, grits, eggs, sausage, biscuits, orange juice, coffee, the works! One year there were so many people we had to rent a room at a recreation center to fit us all."

"Christmas is different here. They open gifts at the strike of midnight on New Year's Day. Their santa is blue and they call him "Grandpa Claus." And with their religion and calendar, Christmas is on Jan. 7."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Robinson Diary: Mavs Fans Remind Me of Storm Fans

Hey y'all! I have been so busy this month. I finally have time to sit down and get everyone caught up on what has been going on in Dallas. I know all of y'all are Seahawks fans, but “HOW BOUT THEM COWBOYS!!??” I think the Terrell Owens and the Cowboys receivers vs. Tony Romo and Jason Witten bickering is over. I didn't know whose side to take on this one. TO is a huge Lady Vol Fan, but Witten is a Vol! I stayed neutral throughout all that drama. I think the media made something out of nothing. TO has been on his very best behavior since he became a Cowboy. So please leave my BOYS alone. It's looking like the Cowboys are not going to make the playoffs anyways. BUMMER!

STORM FANS! I have said it before and I'll say it again - Storm fans are the best fans in the WNBA! I think your only competition might be the Mavs fans! They are terrific. They have the longest sellout streak going in the NBA right now. How incredible is that? My challenge to my faithful Storm Fans is to start our own sellout streak. The energy the Mavs fans bring reminds me so much of Storm fans. The Mavs just had a seven-game homestand. It was amazing how the team fed off of the energy. The only downfall was that the other teams that aren't used to playing in a packed arena fed off that same energy. Every home game ended up being a nailbiter. The Mavs came out on top, going 6-1 during that homestand. The only loss was a double-overtime game against a healthy San Antonio Spurs squad. In 2009 we need to get KeyArena rocking on another level! Let's further prove that Storm fans aren't just the best in the WNBA but the best in all sports!

I still have more bragging to do about these Mavs Fans. Mavs season ticket holder Neal Hawks came up with this brilliant idea to give up his courtside seats to military personnel on a special day called “Seats for Soldiers.” This year American Airlines flew in 150 soldiers that are currently rehabbing injuries suffered while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. They took a 45-minute flight from San Antonio to DFW. I was lucky enough to get tag along with Mavs Sideline Reporter Emily Jones on this special day. We greeted the soldiers at the airport and rode on the charter buses with them en route to dinner.

I was supposed to be interviewing different soldiers and just hearing their stories to assist Emily in finding a good story for the game broadcast. I don't know how well I did interviewing, but I did have great conversations with a few of the men and women on the bus. From the airport we went to Abacus. Abacus is one of the top restaurants in Dallas. Abacus Chef Kent Rathbun is BIG TIME! He's been Iron Chef, on the CBS Morning Show and he has been featured in multiple magazines. Chef Rathbun put it down for the Soldiers. I normally don't eat at high-end restaurants like Abacus, but I was not going to pass up free food from Chef Rathbun. As we say down south, “He put his foot in it.” I wasn't even hungry but ate anyways. Glad I did. So we get to the game and guess who the Mavs were playing? The team formally known as the Seattle Super Sonics! I was excited to see some of the guys, but I have to say I do wish they were still in Seattle. The team formally known as the Seattle Super Sonics played hard, but the Mavs came out on top.

From talking with the soldiers I learned that I have no idea what the word "war" really means. The men and women in our military are truly a group of unselfish Americans. I felt so proud to be in their presence. What heart it must take to go fight and protect people you don't even know. They just know they love our beautiful country and plan on keeping us safe. Seats for Soldiers was one of those experiences that I will never forget. I left at the end of the day feeling so blessed. Thank you to all of our men and women serving in the U.S. Military.

Courtesy Mavs.com

I finally heard from Kristen and Swin. Kristen was so sweet. She told me the best part about Ireland is she gets to work out whenever she wants. LOL! I used to try to get Kristen to leave the gym. I never could talk her into leaving early. She was consistently the first person in the gym and the last person to leave. I told her a lot of her needs to rub off on me and just a little of me needs to rub off on her. She seems so happy and I'm guessing she might be home by now. There might be some Kristen O'Neill sightings in the area. Swin and I are never online at the same time. One morning I woke up to a cute little message from Swin. Swin's nickname is grandma. Her message was, "Very wise like a granny." LOL! Love you, Swin!

So many people have asked me if the Storm is OK since the Comets folded. I want to make sure everyone saw this quote from Karen Bryant, the Storm's CEO, on the Storm's future. She said, “It's definitely a loss, there's no doubt about that. But as it relates to our future here, our future continues to be bright. We're focused on our 10th anniversary of playing in Seattle and have a lot of momentum already.”

I think that answers all question about the Storm. OUR FUTURE IS BRIGHT!!!

Being home has been a great time. I've started to miss playing so bad. I don't miss being in Europe, but I do miss being on the court with my Storm teammates. Everybody should be on their way home for the holidays. I wish all my lovely teammates safe travels back home. Happy Holidays to you from me! 2009 is going to be a blast!

Levinson on KPLU

Force 10 Hoops L.L.C. Chairperson Anne Levinson appeared yesterday on KPLU with Gary Davis. Take a listen online to the archived audio of the interview. (HT: RebKell and Stever)

Force 10 also pops up in Seattleite Jim Caple's piece for ESPN.com Outside the Lines on the year that was in Seattle sports, with the Storm singled out as a bright spot: "Before (Clayton) Bennett moved the Sonics to Oklahoma, he sold the Storm to local businesswomen who are committed to keeping the team here."

Caple tells the city's story using Lorin "Big Lo" Sandritzky, aka Seattle's Biggest Sports Fan, who describes the Storm as behind only the Seahawks in his heart with the departure of the Sonics. It's a must-read, even if the year's events aren't something we want to rehash, and it ends on an optimistic note.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Storm's Players Moving On

The last week before the European leagues break for the holidays was a critical one. In EuroCup, teams completed their two-game aggregate 16th-final playoff series, while the Euroleague played the last week of group action. In every case, the results were positive ones for teams with Storm ties.

Let's start in the EuroCup, where K.V. Imperial AEL faced the toughest challenge. As the lower-seeded team, Imperial had to go on the road for the conclusion of the series, needing to win or lose by three points or fewer. Indeed, Imperial pulled off the 79-70 win to take the series 141-128. Shyra Ely, who had to leave the first game just after halftime because she suffered whiplash, led the way with 15 points and 14 boards.

"It's a big win for our team and our country (Cyprus)," said Imperial coach Linos Gavriel. "It was a great collective win. We congratulate Rivas for their participation and now we want to continue making history against Galatasaray."

Katie Gearlds and Athinaikos were in comfortable shape coming home up 11 points, but still in danger of being knocked out. Any worry was short-lived, as Athinaikos defeated SK Cesis 90-72 to advance. Gearlds' 23 points led all scorers, and she knocked down five three-pointers while shooting 9-of-14 from the field.

Dynamo Moscow, the top seed, cruised to a 164-115 aggregate win, taking Thursday's matchup with the Solna Vikings 89-57. Janell Burse had 12 points and six boards, adding three steals and a pair of blocks on defense. Teammate Oxana Zakalyuzhnaya deserves a tip of the cap for her 26-point, 14-rebound effort.

Lastly, for some scheduling reason, Tarbes finished up its series a week early, beating Baschet ICIM 96-52 in the home leg. The final 206-110 margin was easily the largest in any of the aggregate series. With advancement well in hand, Tanisha Wright played a quiet 13 minutes in game two, finishing with two points and two assists.

EuroCup will resume play with the Eighth-finals on Jan. 29 and Feb. 5.

Nothing was on the line for Spartak Moscow Region this week, the team having already assured itself the top spot in Group D. Still, in a matchup of the best and worst the group had to offer, Spartak clocked Lattes Montpellier 103-48 at home. Ho hum. Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson were two of the five Spartak players to score double-figures, Bird posting 11 points and five assists and Jackson scoring 13 points.

The bigger matchup was in Prague, where ZVVZ USK Praha was hopoing to secure a spot in the postseason with a chance to move up to third in Group C. USK Praha's 69-64 win over Lotos Gdynia was enough to achieve the first goal, but not the second. Lotos still took third place in the group because of point differential, as USK Praha would have needed a win of 14 points or more to move past Lotos. Swin Cash had eight points and six rebounds in the win as part of a balanced scoring attack.

So the good news is that USK Praha plays on. The bad news is that a fourth-place finish in Group C means drawing the winner of Group D ... which, as you read a moment ago, is the Spartak juggernaut. USK Praha will face a tall order trying to pull off the upset when the Euroleague playoffs commence Jan. 27 and Storm teammates collide overseas.

Barnes Headed to Israel

Storm color analyst Adia Barnes is headed to Israel to play for Ramla, reports Safsal.co.il. Barnes previously played two seasons in Israel. I apologize for completely missing this, but apparently she has been playing in Italy, where she spent last season, before deciding to make the move. (HT: RebKell)

Another good read is Jayda Evans talking to Ashley Robinson about her internship with the Dallas Mavericks.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

2009 Schedule Observations/Analysis

Alright, you've seen the release announcing the Storm's schedule and you've checked out our breakdown of the season's 10 biggest games. Still want a little more? Here's some additional analysis and observations.

First off, I'm not sure if we've mentioned it on the site, but the season is moving back a bit in 2009. The regular season will tip off the first weekend of June and play will run through the middle of September. Expect this kind of schedule to be the norm, at least through 2012, when the Olympics will be an obstacle. When the WNBA has pushed the schedule back, primarily because of past Olympics, it has been successful.

The upside at the front end is obvious. Teams should have virtually their entire roster throughout training camp, which will help build continuity and should create better play in the early part of the season. It also gives players a bit of a break instead of forcing many of them to go directly from championship series overseas to the grind of the WNBA season.

- Here's the Storm's month-by-month breakdown:

Month  H  A Tot
June 3 6 9
July 6 3 9
August 7 4 11
Sept. 1 4 5
At least in terms of home and road games, the schedule is soft in the middle but challenging at both the beginning and the end. The Storm will look to make up a lot of ground in July and August. After playing at Phoenix on July 1, 13 of the team's next 19 games will be in the friendly confines of KeyArena. It will be important to build up some margin for error going into the month of September.

- The Storm has just one back-to-back all year, and it comes during the first two days of the season as part of a home-and-home series with Sacramento. Presumably fatigue shouldn't be a big factor there, especially since both teams have the same schedule.

- With the Houston Comets suspending operations, the Western Conference is at 6 teams for the first time in the Storm's existence (while the league has had 13 teams off and on, the smaller conference had always been the East). As a result, the Storm will play all five other West foes four times apiece, a change from last year when each West team played four teams three times and two teams four times.

- There are no real long road trips on the schedule, with a trio of three-gamers the longest of the season. Those are split up, with one in June, one in August and the last in September. The Storm will have a pair of extended four-game homestands, the first in mid-July and the other at the end of August. The team leaves Seattle just once (for the relatively short trip to Sacramento) between July 1 and July 28.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Follow A Leader: Bryant


Karen Bryant is a huge inspiration to me and would be a great leader to follow with all the things she has accomplished.”

Kent, Wash., 8th-grader Breanna Leonard wrote those words about Bryant, the Storm’s CEO, for Macy’s Follow A Leader essay contest. The 15-year-old mentoring program matches youth with Pacific Northwest leaders who have careers in arts, science, medicine, sports, education, law, business, industry, technology and government.

Breanna, who attends Cedar Heights Middle School in Kent, met Bryant for the first time in November during a luncheon honoring students selected for the Follow A Leader program. In early 2009, Breanna will spend a day “on the job” with Bryant, and will also return to attend a Storm game during the upcoming season.

Macy’s Follow A Leader mentor program, co-sponsored by the Seattle Times and KING 5 Television, is designed to encourage children to develop their writing and communication skills, and to think and learn about various career options. Breanna was one of 20 student honorees selected from over 600 entrants in grades 4-12, after submitting an essay explaining why they would like to meet and spend a day with one of 20 local community leaders and how education can help them achieve their dreams. All winners also receive a $1,000 U.S. Savings Bond.


From reading about Karen Bryant, I learned that she’s the leader I would want to follow for a day because she’s a role model to me. I have loved basketball for as long as I can remember and have played ever since 4th grade. I remember watching basketball when I was a little kid and always asking who was winning and what team had which color jersey.

Karen Bryant was an amazing athlete and could’ve played professionally if she wanted to, but instead became the CEO for the Seattle Storm. Now she can still enjoy basketball and is responsible for finances, marketing, and community relations for the team, which is something I’m interested in. Karen Bryant helped women’s sports begin and that is why she’s the leader I would want to follow. She shows us that if you work hard and stay committed you can have your dreams come true. Karen Bryant is a huge inspiration to me and would be a great leader to follow with all the things she has accomplished.

If I could spend the day with Karen Bryant, that would be absolutely wonderful. I would ask her what she does as the CEO of the Storm, to see exactly what she does and if I would want to go into that profession. Also, she seems like she has fun at her job and I would want to know how she really feels and if at times it gets stressful.

Education can help me achieve my dreams just like it did for Karen Bryant. Karen Bryant was a former basketball player in High School and College. She then went into project management instead of playing professional basketball. She’s now the CEO of the Seattle Storm which involves basketball and management. Here is what Karen Bryant says about her job, “… it’s exciting, and there’s never a day that I don’t smile and treasure the privilege that I have to work for the Storm.” Karen Bryant’s dreams came true and so can mine with education. Now you know why I would want to follow the leader, Karen Bryant.

Season Reviews/Wallpapers

For those of you who tend to check the blog and not the storm.wnba.com homepage (and have missed the latest news RSS feed we've added in the sidebar), I wanted to make sure everyone saw our series of 2008 Season in Review articles, which wrapped up last week and covered all 13 Storm players.

Also part of each article was a new 2008 wallpaper, and these are now up on the Storm Desktop Wallpaper page along with two others featuring Doppler and Head Coach Brian Agler.

For the record, I'm sporting the Kristen O'Neill wallpaper on my computer. UW represent!

Ely Healthy

Good news on Shyra Ely. The Storm's basketball staff got in touch with Ely from Cyprus, and it appears her injury sounded worse in translation than it really was.

Ely reports colliding with a teammate in last week's game and suffering whiplash. She's been cleared to play and is already back at practice for her K.V. Imperial AEL team in preparation for Thursday's completion of the aggregate series with Rivasecopolis.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ely Link

The Actionled blog has a translation of a local article indicating Storm forward Shyra Ely may have been injured in last week's EuroCup playoff win over Rivasecopolis. Ely played just 17 minutes and apparently suffered an injury just after halftime.

I've asked around but haven't gotten any more information. I'll pass it along if I do.

Friday, December 12, 2008

EuroCup Playoffs Under Way

Wednesday and Thursday marked the start of the EuroCup's postseason with the Round of 32 or 16th-finals. Under the EuroCup format, teams play a home-and-home series with the winner determined by total differential. That's not uncommon in soccer, but I'm not sure any other basketball league in the world uses aggregate scoring. Anyways, this week sent the higher-seeded teams on the road to start things off.

Dynamo Moscow enters the playoffs as the top seed and did nothing yesterday to lose that distinction, defeating Solna Vikings 75-58 to take a commanding aggregate lead. Nonetheless, Janell Burse said, "We hope to play better at home in Moscow. It was important to win this first game." Burse scored 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting and pulled down seven boards.

Tanisha Wright's Tarbes Bigorre Elite squad picked up the week's most decisive victory, crushing Baschet ICIM by 52 points, 110-58. Something tells me Tarbes will be moving on. The game was so lopsided Wright was barely needed. She played 16 minutes, scoring three points and handing out four assists.

As Katie Gearlds blogged about, her Athanaikos squad started solidly with an 11-point road win by a 68-57 final at SK Cesis. Gearlds knocked down three triples en route to 11 points, adding four rebounds. She went the distance, playing all 40 minutes.

The only team with Storm ties to host the opening leg was Shyra Ely and K.V. Imperial AEL. For some reason, Ely was limited to 17 minutes, scoring six points and grabbing five boards in that span. Despite Ely's short night, Imperial held off Rivasecopolis 62-58 and can advance by winning the next leg or even playing within three points.

Over in the Euroleague, pool play is just wrapping up. This was round nine out of 10, with playoff play starting when the league resumes after the holidays. On Wednesday, Spartak assured itself the top spot in Group D by doubling up an overmatched Broker Kosice squad 100-50. Lauren Jackson remains locked in, scoring 23 points in 18 minutes and needing just nine shots (eight of them makes, four from three-point range) to do so. That's uber-efficiency.

Sue Bird delivered nine assists in 23 minutes (presumably at least a couple to Jackson), scoring 12 points without a turnover. Not too shabby, I dare say.

The results were not as good for ZVVZ USK Praha. Facing a difficult matchup at UMMC Ekaterinburg, USK Praha got blown out 103-57. It didn't help that an already short-handed squad was without leader Lindsay Whalen. Swin Cash had 13 points and eight boards, but it was not nearly enough. Michaela Ferancikov√° was the only other USK Praha player to score double-figures as the team shot 30.2 percent.

Going into the final round, USK Praha is tied for the fourth and final spot in Group D with Union Hainaut Basket. Union will play Ekaterinburg in the finale, so USK Praha will almost certainly advance with a win over Lotos Gdynia and would tie Lotos for third.

Swoopes, Doppler Ring Bells for Salvation Army

Storm Photos

Seattle Storm star Sheryl Swoopes and mascot Doppler donned Santa hats and headed to the downtown Nordstorm Tuesday afternoon for a good cause. Swoopes and Doppler joined other Seattle sports figures, media members and local celebrities as part of the Salvation Army's Celebrity Bell Ringing Day.

Working alongside the Mariner Moose, Doppler offered hugs to kids and plenty of smiles besides exhorting passers-by to donate. Swoopes was a hit even with the other bell-ringers when she arrived shortly later, chatting with Seahawks Head Coach Mike Holmgren and Hall of Famer Warren Moon (at right), amongst others, in addition with fans who wanted an autograph or just a chance to talk to the three-time WNBA MVP.

Despite the persistent seasonal Seattle rain, the event was a major success. Doppler, Swoopes and company raised a grand total of nearly $20,000 for the Salvation Army's Red Kettle holiday campaign. While it's too late to donate to Doppler and Swoopes, you can still do so at local retailers throughout the holiday season.

Storm Photos

Gearlds Blog: I'm Safe from Riots

Let me start this off by first saying that I am safe! The riots that are going down here in Athens are not too close from where I live, but they aren't really that far away either. I could probably drive and be there in less than 10 minutes - part of me wants to go to get a first-hand look, but the smarter part of me is saying to stay away!!!! I haven't seen any riots in person, only those that have been on CNN. Everything is taking place mostly in the center of Athens, but it has began to spread to other parts of the city and country as well.

You all probably know that the riots started because of the 15 year old being shot and killed last week. Well, here, my teammates tell me that the boy being shot was kind of like the tip of the iceberg that set everything off. The rioting is actually rather normal here, but never has it gotten this out of control. It's unbelievable what these people are doing - shops being burned down, cars set on fire ... it really is crazy here!

The basketball side of being here is going great! We are undefeated in the Greek league - our next tough games will be in January. In EuroCup, we advanced with the 11th seed in the Round of 32 and we played Cesis in Latvia on Wednesday. We were able to sneak out of there with a win by 11 points, so hopefully we can take care of business next week at home and advance again. This is my team's first experience at playing in Europe and we are doing pretty well (knock on wood)!!!!

But when we travel as a team on the plane, we have to wear these three-piece suits - yep, the pants, the jacket, and a scarf! We get a million looks wherever we go - we look straight up like British Airways flight attendants (pictured at right) and the things are so uncomfortable! During our last trip, we were in Frankfurt and a woman asked Toya Davis (Texas Tech '06) if she worked there because she needed help finding her flight!

Outside of basketball and riots, everything is pretty cool here. But I did get a parking ticket here and I have no idea how!!!! If you have ever been to Athens, you know there are no parking rules! People just park wherever they want. As long as you aren't blocking someone in, it's a good parking spot! I drive a little smart car (it's funny to watch people's faces when three 6-feet-tall girls get out of this tiny thing!) and usually it's relatively easy to find a spot or make my own spot like the Greeks. This one time, I thought I had a done a great job of making my own spot and the next morning I come out to find an 80 Euro ticket on the windshield! 80 Euros!?!? For a parking ticket?!?! In this country?!?! Oh well, I still park in that very same spot almost every day and nothing since - I guess cops have bad days here, too!

I wish everyone Happy Holidays and may your New Year be all that you want it to be!


Storm in the News

The story of Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson in Russia playing for Spartak and (eccentric?) owner Shabtai von Kalmanovic has been relatively well-trod over the last couple of years, but Alexander Wolff's feature in the current issue of Sports Illustrated (with Florida QB Tim Tebow on the cover) reveals some further details while making von Kalmanovic the center of a look at sports in Russia and why the country's oligarchs have invested so much money in sports.

With von Kalmanovic in particular, that translates into care for his players that goes above and beyond the norm.

"Don't ever sneeze around him," says Bird. "He'll pull out five different medications. The way he treats us, it really makes you want to play hard."

While the article is available online, the magazine itself offers photos, including one of Bird, Jackson and Diana Taurasi with von Kalmanovic and part of his art collection.

What is interesting about Wolff's feature is that it largely glosses over the impact of the financial crisis, which put CSKA Moscow's future in jeopardy within the past month. A much more pessimistic perspective is offered by the International Herald Tribune.

The global financial crisis has forced many of Russia's professional sports teams to trim costs, bringing to a halt a spending spree that was fuelled by soaring oil and gas prices over the past few years.

Many of the country's top clubs in soccer, ice hockey and basketball are owned or sponsored by individuals or companies which have made their money from producing raw material such as oil and gas.

The crisis has forced big clubs to cut their budgets next year and threatened smaller ones with extinction unless they find other sources of income in the changing financial climate.

I suspect the reality of the situation, as it usually does, falls somewhere in between those two extremes.

Closer to home, Eric Williams of The News Tribune chatted with Karen Bryant about the Storm's future in the wake of last week's news about the Houston Comets, getting updates on offseason developments on and off the court. I think I was remiss last week with the Houston news not mentioning how lucky the Storm is to have a committed local ownership group that has made the transition to being an indepent organization as smooth as possible.

Also, Seattle Times sports columnist Jerry Brewer points out that when people say 2008 has been a terrible year for Seattle sports, that's largely only true of the men's teams. The women, including the Storm, have shined throughout the year.

Lastly, exciting news from Australia. Former Storm assistant Carrie Graf has been named head coach of the Opals National Team through the 2012 London Olympics, a dream job for her. Graf will attempt to guide the Aussies to an upset of the U.S. and a breakthrough after three consecutive losses to the Americans in the finals.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Go East, Young Women

The WNBA held its annual draft lottery this afternoon via conference call and the results, for the first time in recent memory, held completely to form. The Atlanta Dream earned the first overall pick in its second season of existence, the Washington Mystics will pick second in the 2009 WNBA Draft and the Chicago Sky third.

From the Storm's perspective, it is good news to see the top picks all going to Eastern Conference teams. The West has historically done very well in the lottery, both thanks to a little luck (see Phoenix getting the No. 2 pick and Cappie Pondexter in 2006) and because traditionally the West has featured the league's very best and very worst teams. This year, there was far more parity in the West and that meant lower odds of a top-three pick for the two West teams in the lottery, Minnesota (which will pick fourth) and Phoenix (fifth).

The big-picture takeaway is that the Dream is going to add a lot of talent to its roster between getting Sancho Lyttle in yesterday's Houston Comets Dispersal Draft and whoever they take first in the amateur draft. The last time a team got the No. 1 pick in both drafts, the Phoenix Mercury added Penny Taylor and Diana Taurasi and went from 8-26 to 17-17. While that turnaround will be tough to match - there's good talent in the draft, but not a Taurasi-esque superstar - Atlanta should be much, much, much improved in 2009.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Showdown in France

Tarbes Bigorre Elite and Bourges Basket have established themselves as France's top two teams, and they met for the first time Saturday. Tanisha Wright's Tarbes squad built a 16-point halftime lead and fought off a Bourges comeback attempt for a 64-56 victory. Wright's 17 points tied her for game high honors, and she added six rebounds and three assists. The win means Tabes and Bourges are now tied atop the French LFB at 12-1 apiece.

After a couple weeks off in Russia, Spartak resumed Superleague play yesterday with an 83-62 win over Vologda-Chevakata. The visitors were able to keep things reasonably close in the first half before Spartak outscored them 28-13 in the third quarter to blow the game open. Lauren Jackson continued her hot shooting, scoring 19 points on 6-of-11 from the field in fewer than 18 minutes of action. Sue Bird, with 15, was Spartak's second-leading scorer. She knocked down all three of her attempts from long distance and added four rebounds and three assists.

Earlier in the week, Vologda-Chevakata also took on Dynamo Moscow. It was a closer matchup, but Dynamo ultimately prevailed 78-73 on the strength of a 21-9 fourth-quarter advantage. Janell Burse paced Dynamo with 16 points and eight rebounds.

Kelly Santos had one of her best games of the season Saturday, scoring 24 points on 8-of-10 shooting (with a matching 8-of-10 effort at the free-throw line). Alas, it wasn't enough as Cadi La Seu fell 79-73 to a Joventut Mariana squad which got 22 points from Armintie Price.

Similarly, TED Kayseri Koleji saw Camille Little's high-scoring effort go for naught. Little scored 27 and Lisa Willis added 18, but their teammates combined for just 21 points in an 81-66 loss to Mersin. By contrast, Mersin's balanced scoring saw five players score at least nine points, led by 17 from new Chicago Sky post Mistie Williams. Little shot 11-of-22 from the field and added seven rebounds.

ZVVZ USK Praha played extremely short-handed over the weekend, with Swin Cash one of four regulars sitting out. As a result, a game against second-division squad Karlovy Vary was more exciting than anticipated, with USK Praha hanging on for the 82-74 win behind 22 points from Lindsay Whalen.

In Greece, Athinaikos cruised to 9-0 in league play, crushing Ano Liosia 100-65. Katie Gearlds was one of five Athinaikos players to score double-figures, finishing with 11 points on 5-of-11 shooting. She added three rebounds.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Bird: A Reason for Hope in 2009

In the wake of a year in Seattle sports that - despite the Storm's success - has undoubtedly been a long one, Sports Northwest Magazine attempted to resurrect hope in its December issue, naming 20 players and/or coaches who will make 2009 better. Included on the list: Storm guard Sue Bird, as written by your humble blogger. A taste:

For years, coaches tried to get Bird to subdue her natural desire to set up her teammates and look more frequently for her own offense. Turns out all they needed to do was bench Lauren Jackson. With her superstar teammate missing the last month of the season after ankle surgery, Bird adapted her game to pick up the scoring slack, averaging 17.5 points while improving her shooting percentages during an 11-game stretch that saw the Storm go 7-4 without Jackson. The late push propelled Bird to a third-place finish in MVP voting.

You can find Sports Northwest Magazine at local newstands or bars, or you can read the whole thing (including a recap of the year in sports perfect for those with a high tolerance for pain) online here.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Overdue Overseas Update

It's been a week and a half since our last look overseas, first delayed by the holiday and then a number of other stories that required our attention. In that span, there have been two rounds of Euroleague play and one of EuroCup (strangely, Europe doesn't break for our Thanksgiving) and a weekend of play in the national leagues.

During that span, Spartak has strengthened its position at the top of Group D in Euroleague. With an 85-41 win over TEO Vilnius and a 100-76 victory Wednesday at Fenerbahce, Spartak has improved to 7-1 and a two-game lead in Group D over Vilnius, Fenerbahce and Maxima Broker Kosice. With two games left in group play, that means Spartak can do no worse than tie for first place.

The win over Vilnius avenged Spartak's only loss of the season, and Spartak clearly took out its disappointment in that loss, taking a 52-18 lead by halftime. Vilnius was held to 20.6 shooting from the field and 2-of-21 from beyond the arc. Lauren Jackson scored 13 points in 15 minutes and Sue Bird had six and five assists. It was all Jackson against Fenerbahce. She scored 33 points on 12-of-19 shooting - including five three-pointers - and eight rebounds. Bird set her teammate up with 11 assists, adding 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting herself.

Yesterday also saw ZVVZ USK Praha come up with a needed 102-78 home win over Jolly JBS Sibenik. Swin Cash scored 10 points and eight rebounds, but it was Evanthia Maltsi who stole the show. Maltsi finished an assist shy of a triple-double, posting 29 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. The win lifted USK Praha a game ahead of Sibenik in the standings and into a three-way tie for third place in Group C. The top four teams from each group advance to the elimination round. The victory also helped remove the bad taste of an 88-69 loss to Ros Casares the previous week despite 18 points and six boards from Cash.

In between, USK Praha remained undefeated in Czech play by beating Valosun Brno 98-71 in a game where Cash sat out.

Group play is complete in the EuroCup, where all four teams with Storm players advanced to the Sixteenth-Finals round (made up of 32 teams).

Dynamo Moscow (with Janell Burse) and Tanisha Wright's Tarbes Bigorre Elite team both finished atop their group and undefeated at 6-0. Dynamo will face the Solna Vikings in the EuroCup's soccer-style home-and-home aggregate playoff series. Solna features Sacramento guard A'Quonesia Franklin. Tarbes takes on Baschet ICIM.

Athinaikos suffered its first loss of the year in the group finale at CB Feve San Jose by a 90-67 final, with Katie Gearlds scoring 12 points in the loss. San Jose won the tiebreaker and thus the group. Athinaikos will go up against SK Cesis, which has one-time Storm player Wilnett Crockett. (Crockett never got in a game and spent just a day on the roster, but she still goes down as a former Storm player officially.)

Lastly, K.V. Imperial AEL qualified for the Sixteenth-Finals as one of the top third-place teams. That means a difficult first-round matchup for Shyra Ely and company - Rivasecopolis and Cathy Joens, which was 4-2 in Group C.

Elsewhere, UL Aughnish suffered its second loss in Irish Superleague play by a 60-56 final to Tolka Rivers BC. Tolka Rivers was able to hold Kristen O'Neill to 18 points on 8-of-22 shooting, and the rest of the squad was unable to pick up the slack. O'Neill added seven rebounds and four steals.

Storm News and Notes

Val Whiting, a former WNBA player and standout at Stanford, writes a monthly column in the Delaware News Journal on the female athlete. This month, her topic was how playing sports prepares women for the business world, and she chose a familiar subject - Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel, who is the senior vice president for human resources at Microsoft.

"The single biggest asset I have is not my education, not my experience, but my athletic background," Brummel said in a phone interview.

"If you look, you will find people doing well in business and who were also athletes. You need stamina and pacing in corporate America, having the stamina to be able to perform."

Beyond the athletic background of members of Force 10 Hoops L.L.C. (in addition to Brummel, an Ivy League Hall of Famer who played both basketball and softball at Yale, Ginny Gilder won a silver medal in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games as a rower [EDIT: I also completely blanked that Chairperson Anne Levinson played field hockey at the University of Kansas]), there's plenty of evidence of the value of sports experience here at the Storm. Our CEO Karen Bryant played basketball at UW, and I was counting this last week - around a third of our staff played some sport in college.

Needless to say, I am the odd man out in that regard. Those who can't ... blog.

- The Storm will be participating in next Tuesday's Salvation Army Celebrity Bell Ringing Day, to be held in front of the Downtown Nordstrom (500 Pine St.) from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sheryl Swoopes and the WNBA's best mascot, Doppler, will join other local celebrities (including Blake Lewis, Warren Moon and Lorenzo Romar, amongst many others) ringing bells and collecting for the Salvation Army's holiday drive.

- The WNBA announced today that the 2009 WNBA Draft Lottery will be held next Tuesday, the day after the Houston Comets Dispersal Draft. With the Comets ceasing operations, five teams are participating - Atlanta, Washington, Chicago, Minnesota and Phoenix.

The Storm will now pick 12th in the first round and also holds the 38th pick in the third round, having dealt its second-round pick to the Dream for Camille Little.

WNBA.com also has an interesting Dispersal Draft preview from Adam Hirshfield.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Dispersal Draft Set for Dec. 8

There are several layers to today's news that the Houston Comets are suspending operations. I covered the history angle in an article, while Sheryl Swoopes' statement also touches on the emotional aspect. However, the realist angle that cannot be ignored is that this sets up a Dispersal Draft next Monday, Dec. 8.

Teams will draft former Comets players in inverse order of 2008 record. Because of tiebreakers, the Storm will select 12th. By that point, it is possible the Dispersal Draft will already have concluded.

As unrestricted free agents, Latasha Byears, Mwadi Mabika, Hamchetou Maiga-Ba, Michelle Snow and Tina Thompson are ineligble. That leaves eight holdover players available:

Matee Ajavon
Tamecka Dixon
Roneeka Hodges (a restricted free agent)
Sequoia Holmes
Shannon Johnson
Sancho Lyttle
Erica White
Mistie Williams

Teams can also draft players whose rights the Comets hold. According to Paul Swanson at the RebKell board, three such players are eligible:

- Renae Camino, an Australian drafted by Houston in the second round in 2006 who has yet to come to the WNBA
- Lucienne Berthieu, originally a second-round pick by the Storm in 2002 who last played in the WNBA in 2004
- Polina Tzekova, a 1998 first-round pick of the Comets who played in Houston during the 1999 season and has not been seen stateside since

With 11 players available and the Storm drafting 12th, it will take a team passing (which has happened in the past) for the Storm to have the option to make a pick.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Stormin' Macy's Holiday Parade

Sheryl Swoopes and son Jordan talk with KING 5's John Curley. /Storm Photos

The Storm had a major presence at last Friday's annual Macy's Holiday Parade in downtown Seattle. Laura Sgrecci from the Storm Marketing department was there and offers a recap.

Storm guard and WNBA superstar Sheryl Swoopes is used to entertaining thousands of cheering fans on any given night throughout her illustrious career. Yet it was a different stage when she joined the colorful cast of characters in the annual Macy's Holiday Parade last Friday morning.

Joined by her son Jordan, mascot Doppler and the Storm Dance Troupe, all in festive holiday hats, Sheryl led the way as the Storm contingent traveled the parade route in a bright red convertible courtesy of corporate partner Carter Volkswagen. The Dance Troupe pranced to holiday tunes and the beat of marching bands and tossed T-shirts to the hordes of parade-watchers lined up along the streets. During breaks in the action, Sheryl and Doppler hopped out of the car to greet fans and spread some holiday cheer.

Welcoming the Storm car at the end of the parade route was none other than John Curley, who reported for KING 5's live coverage of the parade. Curley welcomed Sheryl to Seattle as a full-time resident and offered testimony as a six-year Storm season ticket holder, saying, "If you have not been to a Storm game, you don't know what you are missing. There is such energy at the Key when the Storm plays."

The Storm Dance Troupe in action. /Storm Photos