Mercedes Russell picks up nicknames as frequently as some people download apps.
Family members from her hometown of Springfield, Ore., call her “Bones” while former Tennessee Volunteer teammates nicknamed her “Slim,” which is a homage to her long and lanky 6-foot-6 and 195-pound frame.
Over the years, the Storm backup center has gone by the aliases “Cedes,” “Slim Cedes” or her personal favorite “MerSladedezz,” which doubles as her Twitter and Instagram handle.
“No one ever calls me Mercedes,” said Russell, who was tagged “Big” by All-Star guard Jewell Loyd when she arrived via free agency in Seattle last year.
However, Storm guard Jordin Canada might have given Russell a moniker that aptly describes the growth of the second-year player who figures prominently in the Storm plans after a forgettable rookie season.
“I call her ‘And 1 Mixtape,'” said Canada, who played with Russell overseas last winter for the Poland team Wisla Can Pack. “She was our go-to player. She was in the post developing her post-up game, getting rebounds and setting good screens.
“But not only that, she had some handles. Overseas she was crossing people over. She was just really aggressive and I think that’s carried over to this season in the WNBA.”
It’s a relatively small sample size, but through four games Russell has provided a sizeable lift off the bench in averaging 4.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 18.6 minutes for the Storm (2-2) heading into the game Tuesday at 7 p.m. against Minnesota (3-0) at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett.
“When she went overseas, somebody probably put a buzz in her ear and told her that this is going to be your time to step up and be that physically dominating player like you were at Tennessee,” Storm forward Natasha Howard said. “She’s finally opening up and coming out of her shell.
“We kept telling her last year to use your height. You’re 6-6 so be 6-6. To me it seemed like she worked on her game. She came back with mad confidence. It’s like she said, ‘I’m going to be the post player that my teammates need me to be.’”
Admittedly, Russell’s rookie year was bittersweet considering the second-round choice, who was taken No. 22 overall by New York, was cut by the Liberty in training camp.
Russell landed in Seattle where she won a 2018 WNBA championship, but was unable to crack the rotation.
“It’s hard to come from a great program and playing a lot of minutes and then come into a team that’s super talented and trying to find a new role and new position,” Canada said. “You’re trying to figure out how you fit in and often times that becomes a struggle. Then when you get in with the minutes that you have, maybe you’re not happy with the production that you have.”
Russell averaged just 1.6 points, 1.4 rebounds and 4.6 minutes while appearing in just 22 regular-season games last year.
“There’s a learning curve for rookies no matter if they’re the first pick in the draft or you’re picked in the second round,” interim Storm coach Gary Kloppenburg said. “With big players, there’s a learning curve in learning the defense, which is totally different at the pro level than what you see in college.
“With Mercedes, she got better overseas. It’s a lot of things, but mainly she’s more aggressive.”
In Poland, Russell led her team with 6.7 rebounds a game and averaged 12.2 points while shooting 60.6 percent from the field in 27 games.
“My first year there was a lot of learning for me with things like the pace and the physical part of the pro game,” Russell said. “Those seven to eight months in Poland at the professional level was super helpful, especially playing alongside Jordin. We just built a chemistry on and off the court.”
So far, Canada and Russell are two of the biggest surprises for the injury-riddled Storm, which is without reigning league MVP Breanna Stewart (torn Achilles) and perennial All-Star Sue Bird (knee).
Canada starred in Seattle’s 77-68 opening-night victory over Phoenix while tallying 16 points and six assists and Russell notched career highs in scoring (10 points) and rebounds (seven) during the 82-66 victory last week at Atlanta.
“She’s smart defensively,” Kloppenburg said. “She knows where to be defensively on the screen and roll and that can be difficult for a big. She’s usually pretty good as far as the schemes and being in the right place. And she’s mobile enough to trap certain situations.
“Offensively, she’s got a really soft touch around the rim. We’ve got to do a better job of getting her some touches down in there because she can go left-handed and right-handed.”
To Russell’s dismay, the Storm has no plans of putting her on the perimeter and showcasing those crossover moves Canada raved about.
“I’m 6-6, but I’m really a point guard in my heart,” Russell said smiling. “I don’t think they’re going to let me run the offense though. That’s OK.
“We don’t have to show the world everything just yet.”
— Forward Natasha Howard collected the WNBA player of the week award after averaging 19.8 points, 11.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks last week.
— Backup guard Shavonte Zellous is out for the game Tuesday due to a left knee injury.