By MARK MOSCHETTI
As she looked back on her rookie season in the WNBA, Jade Melbourne knew precisely what she wanted to say in answering a reporter’s question.
But she kept tripping up on one particular word. So she ultimately just let her hands do the talking.
“I want to take what I’ve learned back to my team (in Australia) and having that ability to even take on a leadership role on my new team and incorporate what I’ve learned and continue to get better – I’m super-excited for that,” the 20-year-old Aussie guard said.
“Hopefully, I can really grow in the next six months and continue on that upward trajected. .. trajectory … I don’t know how to say that word,” she said, laughing, then lifted her right hand and pointed at an angle toward the ceiling, “You know what I mean – you know, the graph that goes up.”
The graph that goes up.
While Melbourne certainly will be aiming to stay on that trajectory – phonetic pronunciation challenges notwithstanding – so too will a trio of her Seattle Storm teammates: Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu … Jordan Horston …even Ezi Magbegor.
When you’re under age 25 – as all of them are – upward trajectory and figuring out how to keep it going, is paramount.
“Patience and persistence,” head coach Noelle Quinn said. “The reps matter and how you approach those reps matter. We kept up the preparation process of it, the player development process of it.
“We remained steadfast to that, and it showed in the productivity level of our younger players.”
STICKING TO THE PROCESS
The Storm had one of the youngest teams in the league last season after enjoying years of veteran leadership and stability. That team certainly had its share of rough stretches during the expanded 40-game schedule.
But gradually, those inexperienced players gained experience. Rookies were still rookies, but in name only. On the court, wins started to come more regularly – six in a stretch of nine games, including a road rout at Indiana and a one-pointer at home against Atlanta that featured a comeback from a 16-point deficit.
“Sometimes, you can’t equate process to wins and losses, especially in a season like this one (2023),” Quinn said. “It’s not going to happen overnight when you have a young team, a team looking to build and having a special process to get back to where we need to be. The biggest thing is understanding who we are and what we do and staying committed to the work and to each other.”
The 22-year-old Horston quickly became a regular in the Storm rotation and wound up averaging 6.9 points and 5.1 rebounds, getting 17 starts in 36 games. Fankam Mendjiadeu, 24, started 21 of the 34 games she played, and had back-to-back double-doubles during a July road trip to the East Coast. Melbourne, now 21, but still the league’s youngest player (by 36 days) saw varying amount of minutes coming off the bench in 29 games, averaging 2.8 points and 1.2 assists.
And then there was Magbegor. While the other three were cutting their WNBA teeth, she was in her third year, made her first All-Star game, averaged 13.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, racked up 10 double-doubles … and is still just 24.
“I’m super-proud of Ezi this year: an All-Star, put into a position where she’s never played on this team, having to score and having to defend, and leading, as well,” Quinn said. “This was a huge step in the right direction for her to have a season like this.”
So heading into 2024 – which starts with 10 of the first 15 games on the road, then features a club-record nine-game homestand from June 23-July 14, and then takes a month-long break for the Paris Olympics – Seattle will still have one of the league’s youngest rosters. That roster likely will include another under-25 from the No. 4 overall pick in the WNBA draft..
But it’s a roster that potentially could stick together for a good number of years into the future.
“We have an MVP-caliber player in Jewell Loyd what we’re building around. We have a lot of pieces that hopefully are staying and we’re building around, as well,” veteran guard Sami Whitcomb said. “We have coaches that really believe in this group and are committed to really building and growing what we’ve started this year.”
DULCY FANKAM MENDJIADEU
Turns 25: July 26, 2024
Joined the Storm: 2023 WNBA draft, Round 2, Pick 21
Last season: Played in 34 games with 21 starts… Averaged .3.9 points on .523 shooting from the field, plus 4.4 rebounds… Posted her first double-double on July 8 at New York with 12 points and 14 rebounds. Came back with her second in a row three days later at Washington, this time with 12 points and 11 rebounds… The next night in Atlanta, tallied a career-high 13 points… Grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds on Aug. 20 at Minnesota.
Dulcy on Dulcy: “It was a lot more than I expected. It was up and down, it was frustration – but it was amazing. As a player, as a competitor, you always want more… One day you’ll be good; one day you won’t. You just have to learn from it, learn how to process it, and learn how to get better next time. What the coaches are expecting me to do (during offseason) is working more on my offensive game, being more comfortable shooting in the 15-foot range, and defensive being a lot more (explosive). I would say that’s something I need to work on, but I don’t want to limit myself to just that.”
Turns 25: May 21, 2026
Joined the Storm: 2023 WNBA draft, Round 1, Pick 9
Last season: Played in 36 games with 17 starts… Averaged 6.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.2 steals… Had her first double-digit scoring game with 14 points, plus a career-high seven rebounds to help the Storm break into the win column on June 6 with a 66-63 victory against Los Angeles after rallying from a 21-point first-half deficit… Logged her first double-double on June 13 at Phoenix with 13 points and a career-high 14 boards… Double-doubled again in Atlanta on July 12 with a career-high 23 points, plus 10 rebounds.
Jordan on Jordan: “If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will… I feel going into next year, I already have a season under my belt. I know how people play, and I know the lingo of the league. Schemes and (other) stuff will be easier for me to pick up. Having that first year, whether it was a great year or whether it wasn’t, it’s something you go through to grow and who you want to become.”
Coach Quinn on Jordan: “Her game is very athletic – no one is going to jump with her. She feels more comfortable playing at the wing. She started the year playing at the 4 (power forward) and did a lot of really good things. She’s a playmaker, she can take the ball to the rim and push, and she obviously can rebound at a high level. She’s very versatile, and I don’t want to put her in a box.”
Turns 25: August 13, 2024
Joined Storm: 2019 WNBA draft, Round 1, Pick 12
Last season: Played in and started all 40 games, averaging career highs of 13.8 points and 8.1 rebounds. … Earned her first spot in the WNBA All-Star Game… Named to the WNBA All-Defensive second team… Topped 50 percent field goal shooting for the fourth time in four seasons, finishing at .513… Averaged a career-best 1.9 blocks per game with 74 total, finishing second in the league… Had at least one blocked shot in 32 of the 40 games, including a stretch of 10 games in a row… Recorded nine double-doubles.
Ezi on Ezi: “I think there are so many areas I can grow on the court and off the court, being more of a vocal leader. I think I’ll just continue to work on my perimeter game. But post play, as well as down in the post and being more of a presence and kind of just not forgetting about that stuff. It has been a big focus for me to work on my 3-point and perimeter play, but I’m a post player, so I think it’s just getting back to that.”
Coach Quinn on Ezi: “I’m going to demand way more of her because she has shown the ability to now be mentioned among the top players in the league. I don’t want to miss steps with her. The 3-point shooting was really good, but she has to get back to scoring around the rim and find some comfort being a post presence there. That versatility she creates as it relates to scoring at this level is important for us. Her defense has to continue to hold steady. You saw what she can do – I want more of that.”
Turns 25: August 18, 2027
Joined the Storm: 2022 WNBA draft, Round 3, Pick 33. By mutual agreement, stayed with the Canberra Capitals in Australia for 2022, then signed rookie contract with Seattle in February 2023
Last season: Played 29 games, all in reserve… Averaged 2.6 points, 1.2 rebounds, and 1.6 assists… Recorded her first double-digit game with 10 points on June 3 at Los Angeles… In just 12 minutes of action at Washington on July 11, had eight points and a career-high four steals… In exactly double the minutes the next night at Atlanta, scored seven points and tied her career high with five assists.
Jade on Jade: “I learned so much this season; it will only do wonders for the future. Playing for the first time in America and in the best league in world, it definitely was a challenge, but something I definitely enjoyed… There were some moments in games where I began to feel comfortable, like I belonged here and have a position on this team and in this group. As the season (went) on, I started to feel more comfortable and get more familiar with my teammates. That culture piece is huge: Knowing that you fit the team and the culture is massive, and it happened over time.”
Coach Quinn on Jade: “She’s taken this journey very positively and her growth mindset has been amazing,” She’s obviously gotten into some games and given us some big minutes and she’s able to watch and learn in a major way. She’s going to continue to make strides in her work and her play in games but for a 20-year-old stepping into a role of point guard on a young team, I think she’s done an amazing job.”