By Seth Dahle
Fresh off its 11th playoff appearance in franchise history, the Seattle Storm opened the 2017 training camp on Sunday afternoon at Royal Brougham Pavilion on the campus of Seattle Pacific University. While Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Nikki Greene were absent due to competition overseas, the rest of the team was on hand, including the team’s back-to-back Rookie of the Year duo, Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd.
Third-year head coach Jenny Boucek and her players shared their thoughts on opening day and what fans should expect to see in 2017.
Boucek: “The biggest takeaway was that we learned a lot from last year, and now we’re starting at a totally different place. We still have a long process ahead of us, but I think they have some good learning references from a year ago. We started on a good note.”
RIDING MOMENTUM FROM LAST SEASON
Seattle won five of its last six regular season games in 2016 en route to earning a spot in the WNBA Playoffs – its first postseason appearance under Boucek. Most of the core players who were part of that success are back this season, and Boucek said that experience helped speed things up on day one of training.
Boucek: “They did a wonderful job on setting the tone. We had great leadership from our veterans, and I think that’s why the practice was able to move as quickly as it did, because our veterans were setting great examples.”
STEWART & LOYD BACK TO BUSINESS
For Stewart and Loyd, it’s back to business on the hardwood. Combined, the duo accounted for nearly 48 percent of the team’s offense and 41 percent of the rebounding efforts last season, and they plan on bringing that same leadership to the 2017 campaign.
Stewart, the reigning WNBA Rookie of the Year, led the Storm last year with 18.3 points per game to go along with a team-high 9.3 boards per contest on the way to earning a spot on the All-WNBA Second Team.
Stewart: “Last year, it seemed like we were just thrown into things and getting used to each other. And now this year, we couldn’t wait to be back and playing with each other knowing what we did last year and how we’re going to improve so much this year.”
Loyd averaged 16.5 points per game in 2016, scoring in double figures in all but five games. She also went on to muster All-WNBA Second Team honors. Loyd said the team is motivated and excited to get back to work.
Loyd: “Everyday you want to get better, and everyday you want to push yourself to compete. For us, we’re really excited with everyone coming back and everyone we’ve added. We’re very talented and also very young.”
Alexis Peterson, the Storm’s second-round pick in the 2017 WNBA Draft, made her rookie debut on the hardwood, while third-round selection Lanay Montgomery was also in attendance.
The reigning ACC Player of the Year out of Syracuse, Peterson showed explosiveness and playmaking ability on opening day of camp. She’s expected to add depth to the Storm’s backcourt as a reliable scoring threat and distributor.
Peterson: “The pace is definitely a lot different. I like the style. I like the tempo. I like the camaraderie. The girls really made sure I understood what was going on. They made me feel welcome, and it was fast-paced, but definitely something I’ll get used to.”
Boucek said that although she introduced a lot of new material to the youngsters, they responded well.
Boucek: “We throw a lot at them. It’s a lot for young players. I thought they were eager and hungry. They were very teachable, and they kept up really well.”
SUE BIRD UPDATE
On Sunday afternoon, the team issued a statement on Sue Bird, who didn’t compete on day one of training camp after she underwent a left knee scope earlier in the month.
Bird, who is entering her 16th year on the Storm roster, averaged 12.8 points and 5.8 assists last season on the way to earning All-WNBA First-Team honors. With so many returners back from last season, Bird described it as a “head start.”
Bird: “You can see that this is a team that has been together has been together for a couple of years. We have some new pieces, but the core group already knows it [Boucek’s system], so everything was picked up quickly.”
NEWCOMERS MAKE DEBUTS
In addition to the rookies, three players in Carolyn Swords, Jennifer O’Neill and Sami Whitcomb made their training camp debuts.
At 6-foot-6, Swords is the Storm’s tallest player on the roster and gives Seattle a much-needed boost on the glass, while O’Neill and Whitcomb add depth in the backcourt. Boucek said that Swords gives the Storm a different look and allows the more versatile players such as Stewart to float around in different positions.
Boucek: “It’s a different look than we’ve had. We feel like it’s really going to help, especially against certain teams and certain matchups. The more different looks we can give, the more we maximize her [Stewart] talents, and I think that really helps our game.”
Bird: “Something that we were struggling with was rebounding and guarding particularly bigger players, and Carolyn immediately can fix part of that problem.”
Stewart: “It’s nice having another big who can fight with other bigs from other teams. Her size is going to be tremendous for us.”
PRESEASON OPENER ON TAP
With the preseason opener against Phoenix only 10 days out, Boucek and the Storm are moving along quickly. After opening practice with walkthroughs and plays, the team immediately jumped into two-on-two, three-on-three and full-court scrimmages that centered on getting defensive stops and transition offense.
Boucek: “We have our way of playing offense, and we have our way of playing defense. We were really trying to get on the same page and remind, revisit and teach the young players what our way is. It’ll take some time moving forward, but we always want to start with that vision and build.”
The Storm tips off against the Mercury at 11:30 a.m. PDT in a preseason game on May 3 at KeyArena.
Boucek: “Our focus is getting better everyday. We want to be better than we were last year, and we want to be better than the day before and see where that leads us.”
Bird: “We were able to play well enough to make the playoffs. But at the same time, last year doesn’t mean anything. This year’s a new year, and we have to build on our identity.”
Stewart: “We got to the playoffs, but we wanted to do something in the playoffs, and that didn’t happen last year.