The first day of the Seattle Storm’s 2016 training camp is in the books. A few of the returning players were absent on Sunday due to overseas competition, but all of the recent additions were on hand to participate, including draft picks Breanna Stewart and Lexi Eaton Rydalch. For the first time, Seattle had No. 1 picks Sue Bird, Jewell Loyd and Stewart in the gym together.
Here are the biggest takeaways from practice, with quotes from coach Jenny Boucek and her players.
Breanna Stewart impresses
As Loyd said after practice, most of the Storm players already knew what they could expect from Stewart. She blocks a ton of shots, runs the floor well and is a threat to score from anywhere on the court. Stewart showed on Sunday just why she was considered the top prospect in the nation. While there has been lots of new information to absorb since arriving in Seattle, she and her peers agreed it was a positive start to training camp.
Stewart: “I think the biggest thing that anyone wants to show their teammates is that you work extremely hard. No matter what happens skill-wise – because you’re here for a reason skill-wise – it’s about that mentality of working hard, giving your best effort and enjoying being here.”
Bird: “The one thing I knew was going to translate without a doubt was her defense. And you saw that immediately. She’s just so long. She’s able to get her hands on so many balls. She blocked a bunch of shots. I think she’s going to be able to create a lot of havoc on the defensive end. The offensive end is what’s going to take time. You saw some glimpses. She had some moves and things like that, but you saw some growing pains too. But at the defensive end, she immediately had an impact.”
Veterans Langhorne, Bird in good shape
For the second straight year, Bird didn’t play overseas in the offseason. The 35-year-old point guard had time to work on different aspects of her game and re-energize her body in time for training camp. On Sunday, she was running the show and constantly directing her teammates.
Loyd: “When you come into training camp with someone like Sue Bird as your leader, everyone is focused. Everyone is willing to learn.”
Boucek: “I think Sue’s shown a lot of improvement. It’s unbelievable. She’s not playing overseas, but it’s just the work that she’s putting in from a physical standpoint and a skill standpoint. She’s in as good of shape or better than anyone we have in camp.”
Crystal Langhorne, meanwhile, is coming off an incredibly successful season in Slovakia. Her team went 28-0 in the regular season, and Langhorne led the EuroLeague with 10.8 rebounds per game. She had just the kind of practice her coach was looking for on Sunday.
Boucek: “I thought Langhorne looked exceptional today. We talked a lot over the offseason about what we needed from her coming back as a veteran post. In particular her and Stewart playing together, which she’s really excited about. She was passing the ball today as well as any post I’ve seen in a long, long time, so I’m really excited about her day today.”
Teaching schemes to new players
The regular-season opener is just three weeks away, and the first preseason game is a week from Wednesday. That gives Boucek a very short period of time to help the new players get acclimated. On day one, the Storm started by walking through its offensive and defensive schemes for a large portion of practice. Once everything had been covered, the team was able to do some two-on-two and five-on-five competitions.
Stewart: “The one thing that caught my attention is Jenny really wants to make sure that everyone is on the same page. She wants to slow things down. From the start, at the first practice she wants to make sure that we all understand what’s going on. And we’re not going to move on until everyone does.”
Boucek: “I thought [Stewart] did a great job trying to absorb things as quickly as possible. It’s a lot of information for the new players. She absorbed it well. She did a lot of good things. I didn’t see any of [the new players] hanging their heads. They’re probably making a lot more mistakes than they’re used to making, because of the amount of things we’re throwing at them.”
Optimism about upcoming season
When you have three No. 1 picks on the same roster, there’s always going to be a sense of confidence and enthusiasm heading into training camp. Another reason why the Storm is optimistic about this year, though, is the fact that all 12 players from the end of last season are still with the team. Bird talked about how important continuity can be in this league.
Bird: “The biggest difference between this year and last year is that there’s quite a few of us that were here. So we’re able to move things along much quicker than the usual first day of training camp.”
Bird: “Our roster is going to have some changes, which will help with that leap. But any time you can have a core group of people stay together – you see it in every league, and particularly in the WNBA – it’s what makes Minnesota so good, and it’s what makes Phoenix so good. Yes, they’re extremely talented, but they have groups of players that are playing together for three, four or five consecutive years. We’re only in year two, but already you can see a difference from the start of last season. And that’s always a good thing.”