By MARK MOSCHETTI
SEATTLE – When 2-year-old son Nash comes running toward her in the Seattle Storm’s practice gym, there’s no question that Sami Whitcomb is the mom on the team.
But occasionally, it’s someone much older than Nash who’s making her way toward Whitcomb.
It might be rookie guard Jade Melbourne, who just turned 21 on Aug. 18. It might be Jordan Horston, 22 and another rookie. Or perhaps Dulcy Fankam-Mendjiadeu, age 24 and also a rookie.
During those moments, the 35-year-old Whitcomb becomes more than just the mom on the team.
She becomes the team mom. Someone who’s been around the block a few times. Someone who has been in the league longer than any other Storm player except for All-Star guard Jewell Loyd. Someone who knows the ins and outs. The little things that aren’t printed on a handout sheet or found in an orientation packet, but come only with experience.
“Anything in the game, off the court, on the court – I can go to her and I can ask her anything, and she’s going to answer it and help me out,” Melbourne said. “She’s one of the greatest on our team for that, and we all appreciate her.”
Ask Whitcomb about the “team mom” designation, and she’ll say without hesitation that she doesn’t regard herself in that way.
Then, in the very next sentence, she’ll go on and talk about all the things she does to be there for all of her teammates – rookies and veterans alike – and it becomes pretty clear Whitcomb fills that role perfectly, whether or not she takes on the title.
“We have a lot of younger ones, and I’m trying to be helpful and step into that sort of leadership role when I can,” Whitcomb said. “I haven’t dubbed myself as a team mom or anything. I always want to be helpful, and if you need anything, I’m always there.
“I probably have a motherly aura because I am a mom and because I’m older. I think just the age gap lends itself to me taking on the role, as well,” she continued, then added with a laugh, “I’m less cool because I’m older, so I’m happy to be the one who says, ‘Hey guys, don’t forget this,’ or all of those things.”
A player such as Melbourne, who’s 8,200 miles away from her hometown of Melbourne, Australia, and not only is the youngest player for Seattle but also is the youngest in the entire WNBA, certainly has lots of reasons to appreciate the way Whitcomb looks out for everyone.
But so too does someone such as Yvonne Turner, who’s also 35 (but nine months older than Whitcomb) and is just 1,650 miles from her hometown of Omaha, Nebraska.
“She’s our little super-hero,” Turner said. “When you have a player like that, it makes it very easy for you to go up and talk to them. She’s very approachable and very knowledgeable, as well. She’s been in Seattle before, so it’s nothing new for her. As much as she has our back, we have her back as well.
“I’m glad she’s on our team and not on another team.”
FEELS LIKE HOME HERE
Whitcomb is glad of that, too. After playing her first four WNBA seasons with the Storm (2017-20), she was traded to the New York Liberty in February 2021. She played two seasons in the Big Apple, was one of the team’s co-captains in 2021, then became the sole captain in 2022.
A free agent after last season, Whitcomb decided to return to Seattle, signing a two-year contract with the Storm.
The idea of being a team mom naturally didn’t factor into her decision. But being a real mom to Nash did influence her choice.
“Seattle has been home to me; I’ve been part of two championships here (2018, 2020),” Whitcomb said. “Obviously, I’m bringing my family. Some of these WNBA markets can be tough. But Seattle is a place where we (she and her wife Kate) felt we could thrive as a family. In conversations with the coaches and with the organization, it felt like it was going to be a good role and felt like it was going to be a good fit.”
It certainly has been a good fit on the court. After coming off the bench for 21 of the first 22 games, Whitcomb took over a starting spot on July 25 at New York and has answered the opening whistle the past 15 outings. Through Saturday’s game at Las Vegas, she had made at least one 3-pointer in 28 straight games and was averaging 11.8 points per game as a starter (9.8 for the season).
“You’re seeing a young team now that has played over half a season together,” Whitcomb said. “The young ones have gotten more experience, and we have more experience together. I think we’ve found a group that’s starting well for us, and people are embracing their roles off the bench, and they’re more established roles now.”
FAMILY FILLS HER UP, GIVES HER LIFE
Regardless of her on-court role, Whitcomb’s job isn’t showing up for work at 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning and going home at 4:30 or 5 in the afternoon. There are morning or afternoon practices, most games are in the evening – and of course, there are road trips, whether it’s a quick one to Phoenix or Los Angeles, or 10 days across the country.
That’s where Whitcomb’s wife Kate – whom she met in Australia and who is now expecting their second child in December – plays a huge role.
“She carries a lot of the load for me so I can come here and do my job and try to be great on the court,” Whitcomb said. “When I’m not here, I try to put in a lot of time and energy into that and into being a really great mom and wife, and I love doing that. It’s different form basketball.
“Spending time with them, having fun with them is healing to me,” she added. “It fills me up, give me energy, gives me life.”
Whitcomb is one of about a dozen moms currently playing in the WNBA. That group includes, among others, Diana Taurasi of Phoenix, Candace Parker of Las Vegas, and DeWanna Bonner of Connecticut.
“I don’t really have a personal relationship with any of the other moms. But if I did, I’m sure they’d be more than willing to chat with me about it,” Whitcomb said. “We’re happy to figure it out as we go. Obviously, we have a lot of moms in our lives, and we chat with them.”
As for Whitcomb’s nurturing kind of role with her mostly younger teammates … well, that’s something that she didn’t really have to figure out.
It just came naturally.
“In my early days (with the Storm), she always checked on me,” Melbourne said. “She just told me to be myself – I’m here for a reason, and she just reminds me every day of what I can do. Like if I turn down a shot, she says, ‘Hey, that’s your shot – take that one.’ She wants the best for me going forward, and me being very young, she helps me out a lot.”
Perhaps most appreciative of all is head coach Noelle Quinn.
“She has maternal instincts for sure,” Quinn said. “She has maturity about her, taking care of people and being a leader. She’s been here, works very hard, sets a very good example. Sami makes it appealing and welcoming for her to make (her teammates) want that knowledge from her. … I’m so glad she came back and graced us all with her presence, because she definitely has made an impact.
Whitcomb plans to keep making that impact.
“I think just for reassurance, if they have a question, they’ll come to me,” she said. “They know that I probably know – and they know that I’m happy to help them.”
Doesn’t matter whether the person coming toward her is 2 …
… or 22.