The last time the Seattle Storm started training camp early with just one starter back from overseas play, the season culminated in a WNBA championship. While that is certainly no guarantee of similar success this time around, the outcome did reflect the tone starting forward Camille Little helped set as the most prominent player on hand in 2010.
"I remember that season she came in and we had a lot of people coming in late," recalled Storm Head Coach Brian Agler. "She seemed to be the only returner we had. She really took it upon herself to be that person that set the tone, to be the leader, to communicate. Her strong presence carried through the season."
Now two years more experienced and entering her fifth season in Seattle and sixth in the WNBA, all but the first half of 2008 spent playing for Agler, Little has only stepped up her leadership role with younger players during the first week of training camp.
"It's kind of one of those things where you look around and you see who's here and that's the role that I'm going to have to take," explained Little. "It's a lot like 2010, when no one was here yet. I'm used to it. I've been a leader, I guess, my whole life. It's something I take pride in. Later on, hopefully my leadership skills will help. I can be proud of what I did to help the young girls and show them how to prepare as we get ready for the season to open."
Little believes she's improved as a leader as she's learned to appreciate what the players new to training camp are going through over the first few days, and the patience that requires.
"We're throwing a lot at them every day," she said. "Especially the ones coming right out of college, the game is a lot faster. So we have to give them a day or two to catch up with the game and realize what their strengths are. We don't want to push them or discourage them too early because we might need them."
Giving advice to inexperienced teammates is something Little calls "not hard to do," in large part because of the help she gets from fellow veterans Katie Smith and Tina Thompson. Smith, in her second year in Seattle, and newcomer Thompson might not know the Storm and Agler's system quite as well as Little, but as she points out, "basketball is basketball."
Still, Agler has repeatedly made note of Little's contributions in terms of leadership this week.
"Everybody goes from a young player to a veteran at some point. I think she's made that transition."
"I think that she shows great leadership in two ways," he said. "Through her actions - her intensity, her communication, how intelligently she plays - and then also through her words, whether it's her communication on the floor, or on the sideline to people who are on the floor, how she pulls people aside and talks with them one-on-one. I think it's been spectacular."
Over time, Little may continue to play a similar leadership role even when the Storm has its full complement of starters. For now, she believes she can do that best without necessarily needing to say anything.
"On a team like this, I really don't have to be as vocal," she said. "When Sue (Bird) and Lauren (Jackson) are here, that's not my job. I'm trying to lead by example. Hopefully what I do on the floor is a leadership role all in itself and I don't have to say much. But when I feel the need to say something or express myself, I try to do so."
Almost imperceptibly, Little has gone from a player trying to establish herself in the WNBA to an experienced one with more than 100 starts - including every game but one over the last three seasons - in a Storm uniform.
"Everybody goes from a young player to a veteran at some point," said Agler. "I think she's made that transition. I sort of look at her more as a veteran player now. So I would expect a lot of her leadership to carry on through the season, even when we get everybody here."