It wouldn't fit in the overhead compartment, but Seattle Storm Head Coach and General Manager Brian Agler returned home from Spain with a major addition. On Monday, the Storm announced the signing of veteran center Ann Wauters, who is playing for EuroLeague power Ros Casares alongside Lauren Jackson. Agler and Storm President and CEO Karen Bryant spent time in Valencia last week courting Wauters and convincing the unrestricted free agent to join the Storm.
After the Storm created cap space by trading Swin Cash and Le'coe Willingham to the Chicago Sky for the No. 2 overall pick, Wauters was at the top of the team's shopping list in free agency.
"When we realized she was a free agent, we started conversations with her and her agent," said Agler after returning to the U.S. on Sunday. "Of course, she's playing on the same team with Lauren and Jana (Vesela), so she heard good things about Seattle from them. I've known Ann for a long time because I even went to watch her play before she was drafted into the WNBA when she was growing up in Belgium. I've always had high regard for her, not only her ability to play - she's one of the better post players in the world - but also just the quality of person she is."
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Both in the WNBA and in Europe, Ann Wauters has established herself as one of the world's top post players.
Wauters first arrived in the WNBA in 2000 at age 19 as the No. 1 overall pick by the Cleveland Rockers. Brought along slowly, she emerged as a starter in her third season. By 2005, then playing for the New York Liberty, Wauters was an All-Star. She enjoyed her best seasons with the San Antonio Silver Stars, averaging 14.7 points and 7.5 rebounds on 53.3 percent shooting in 2008, when the Silver Stars reached the WNBA Finals.
Last seen in the WNBA in 2009, Wauters took a season off to get a mental and physical break. She missed last summer after giving birth to a son. Months later, Wauters returned to the court with Ros Casares and immediately resumed playing at a world-class level. She leads a deep team that also features WNBA All-Stars Jackson, Sancho Lyttle and Maya Moore in both points (14.9) and rebounds (8.0) per game.
"She's in great shape right now - probably as good a shape as I've seen her in," said Agler. "She plays well with Lauren. She's a lot like Lauren in terms of her versatility, but they play well together. With Lauren and Camille (Little) and Ann and Ashley (Robinson), we'll have quality depth in the post."
The addition of Wauters will be of paramount importance during the first half of this season, when the Storm will be without Jackson as she trains with her national team. When Jackson was sidelined last season, the Storm had just one player (Robinson) over 6-2 on the roster. At 6-4 - a measurement Agler thinks might be understated - Wauters not only gives the Storm valuable height but a threat opponents must respect in the post.
When Jackson rejoins the team after the Olympics, the Storm's frontcourt figures to be as deep as talented as any in the WNBA. That will give Agler some flexibility, including the possibility of playing a bigger front line with Jackson, Little and Wauters together.
"We're really going to experiment this year at the three spot," he said. "Swin gave us size at the three. Camille has the same qualities that Swin has. We're going to try her and maybe other players we acquire on our roster just to keep size on the floor. The way this league is going, it's getting longer and more athletic with size in the perimeter. We've got to move in that direction with our roster."
Off the court, Wauters should also be a good fit for the Storm's close-knit roster. While Agler has never coached Wauters, his friend Dan Hughes originally drafted Wauters and later brought her to San Antonio.
"Dan's always spoken highly of her," Agler said. "Everybody I've ever talked to about Ann Wauters just raves about her as a person, and obviously she's a proven, quality basketball player. Whether she plays in Europe or she plays in the WNBA, she's one of the best post players there is."
All of that made signing Wauters well worth the trip across the Atlantic.
"We targeted her and we felt like she was very key to how we're going to build our team in the future," said Agler. "If that's how we feel about somebody, that's what we're going to show them."