Many factors helped sway Ann Wauters to sign with the Seattle Storm as a free agent Monday: her desire to win a championship, the Storm's roster, Head Coach Brian Agler, the city of Seattle, the home-court advantage at KeyArena and, of course, Lauren Jackson's cooking. Wait, what?
"She promised me to cook every week," joked Wauters. "She said she would take good care of me over there."
Before anything else, Wauters had to decide whether she wanted to return to the WNBA after taking the last two seasons off. It was in fact her time away from the game that convinced Wauters she was ready to play in the WNBA again.
Teammates in Spain, Lauren Jackson and Ann Wauters will now play together throughout the year.
"In June, I gave birth to my son and my partner as well had a baby. This summer, it was all babies," explained Wauters by phone. "After in September, I started playing basketball again here in Valencia in Spain. I felt pretty good coming back. It wasn't easy, but now I feel good playing basketball again. I guess taking a year off gave me some new energy. I had a break from basketball. I've been playing for such a long time, all year round. It was perfect for me to have a mental break from basketball. I've found the love of the game again."
During the course of her standout career in both the WNBA and Europe, Wauters has accomplished nearly everything possible for a player. The missing line on her resume is a WNBA championship. As a result, going somewhere she could win was a priority for Wauters, and one of several reasons the Storm stood out when Agler began talking to her about coming to Seattle.
"Seattle, they've done it before in the past," Wauters said, "and I think they have a team to do it again with Brian as the coach, with Sue (Bird), with Lauren and the other girls. I think it's a pretty strong team and experienced enough to win a championship. Then, of course, the city of Seattle, I've always liked it. To play in KeyArena, I know I've only played against Seattle, but I know the fans are really great fans and that's also a factor that's really important."
Jackson proved a key recruiting ally for the Storm, and not only because of her cooking ability. During the few short months they have played together for Ros Casares, Wauters has enjoyed having Jackson as a teammate both on and off the court. Now she looks forward to playing together throughout the year.
"I think for 10 years or something like that I've played against her, so it's nice to finally play with her and not against her," said Wauters. "She's still, for me, one of the best players in the world, so it's actually kind of an honor to play with her on this team. I think it will be good that we can also play together this summer, so we can play all year round with each other. I think she's really a good teammate. She has a lot of experience, she's always positive in whatever situation we're in."
Wauters has never worked with Agler, but his reputation preceded him. Wauters arrived in San Antonio, where she played two seasons, just after the Storm promoted Agler from his position as an assistant to Dan Hughes with the Silver Stars. Wauters heard nothing but good things from the San Antonio coaching staff about Agler.
"Of course Dan was our head coach," she said. "but I also worked a lot with our assistant coaches Sandy Brondello and Olaf Lange. They also spoke so highly about Brian and what kind of coach he was."
That set the tone for the conversations between Wauters and Agler and Storm President and CEO Karen Bryant when they traveled to Valencia last week. The discussion went beyond basketball, which was important as Wauters looked to ensure that her growing family would be comfortable in Seattle and with the Storm. The family aspect was "a big part" of Wauters' decision.
"Now, it's not just me playing basketball," she said. "We have a family, and of course that's my top priority right now. That's as important as basketball, because if they're not doing good, then I'm sure I won't be playing good basketball.
"I saw Brian before, but meeting Karen as well, it's always better to see people in person. It was good. We had dinner together. We could talk about different stuff - not only basketball, but things around it as well, which is also important for me and my family. It was really nice of them to come over. I know it was a long trip, but I think it was worth it."
With the EuroLeague playoffs and the balance of the Spanish ACB season ahead, Wauters is still three months away from arriving in Seattle for training camp. She's already getting excited about the challenge, however.
"With being pregnant, with a year away from basketball, it kind of gave me that passion again," she said. "I want to play and want to play in a competitive league, trying to win. Just my last year before I got pregnant, basketball was getting more like a job. I needed a break from it and I think that was the best thing that could happen. Becoming a mom was also such a great thing as well and puts everything in such perspective. I think it's just a great opportunity for me to go back and try to win a championship."