The Storm opened training camp Sunday with nine new faces gathered at the Royal Brougham Pavilion practice facility on Seattle Pacific's campus.
At the first inflection of Storm coach Brian Agler’s voice, Shekinna Stricklen sighed relief.
“Coach is still on me, so that’s a good sign,” the forward said after the team finished a two-hour practice to open training camp Sunday.
Stricklen was eager to begin the Storm’s first season without cornerstones Sue Bird (knee) and Lauren Jackson (hamstring) due to injuries. Nine new faces gathered at the Royal Brougham Pavilion practice facility on Seattle Pacific’s campus. They are vying for at least two spots on the 11-player roster by May 23.
Given the fresh look, the team’s returnees wanted to see what they’ll be working with this season. Guard Tanisha Wright found some positives even though it’s just one practice. Some players did arrive earlier in the week for individual workouts.
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“It was a lot neater than it has been in the past,” Wright said of the session that primarily focused on offense. “There weren’t as many turnovers. It wasn’t as sloppy.”
With Bird out, Wright is expected to join free agent Temeka Johnson in the backcourt this season. Johnson, who won a championship with Phoenix in 2009, watched the practice and should participate Monday after a physical exam.
“This is the first time we’ve had everybody in camp at the start,” Wright said, noting in the past multiple players, including herself, arrived weeks late. “The only one missing is Temeka and she’s here already soaking in the information. That’s going to be key for us and it’s going to make for a lot easier transition.”
Stricklen, the Storm’s No. 2 overall draft pick in 2012, will compete with six-year veteran Noelle Quinn for the starting small-forward position. Stricklen played in Turkey this past offseason, working on her defense. Stricklen often defended shooters like Olympian Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta Dream) in the Turkish league.
“I’m more comfortable than last year but I still think I’m thinking a little too much,” said Stricklen, who averaged 8.0 points and 23.1 minutes as a rookie. “I still just need to relax and come out here and play. The first day is always the shaky day.”
Agler made a roster move before camp opened, waiving center Chay Shegog. She was unable to pass her physical in Seattle, prompting the team to add guard Alexis Gray-Lawson. The former California star spent the past two seasons as a reserve in Phoenix.
The swap isn’t ideal. Guards are easier to find in the league than post players. And the Storm is desperately looking for bigger players to complement veterans Camille Little, Tina Thompson and Nakia Sanford now that international All-Stars Jackson (Australia) and Ann Wauters (Belgium) and Polish center Ewelina Kobryn won’t play this season.
Seattle drafted Tianna Hawkins, a 6-foot-3 forward, with its sixth overall pick in hopes she can fill the void immediately. Even 2012 second-round draft pick Keisha Hampton (6-2) is getting a look because of her ability to play inside and out.
Hampton suffered a knee injury her senior season at DePaul. She underwent surgery in January 2012 and played in Latvia this past winter in preparation for training camp.
“There are some things where I’m still slow, like my reaction on defense,” said Hampton, an All-Big East first-team selection as a junior. “I was out for about nine months, so it’ll get better. It might have been a concern for other people whether I’d be back but it wasn’t a concern for me. I’m very confident.”
The WNBA implemented new rules this season that will affect the Storm’s style. The defensive three-second rule assures players are actively defending inside, like where a player can’t be in the paint for more than three seconds on offense, to create more spacing for scoring. The league also moved the three-point line back to 22 feet, 1 ¾ inches.
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or email@example.com. On Twitter @JaydaEvans