Live basketball is still on hold, but the Storm held a lot of practice the past week.
For the first time in its history, the WNBA will hold its draft virtually Friday, after the event was canceled to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The Storm’s “war room” will stretch across multiple screens from Washington to Ohio, where coach Dan Hughes is quarantined with his family. Team officials have held practice sessions, focusing on how info — including the draft board — will be shared with each other and with the rest of the league’s teams.
The WNBA bumped up the time allotted between picks to four minutes to guard against glitches and has multiple contingency plans for the draft, which will air on ESPN at 4 p.m. Seattle has the 11th, 19th and 31st overall picks.
“We’ve actually practiced,” Hughes said of turning standard Zoom video meetings into mock draft days. A technical team will make certain that Storm CEO and general manager Alisha Valavanis and Talisa Rhea, vice president of operations and assistant GM, don’t lose contact. Rhea is handling the Storm’s draft board.
“I’m not the most technological guy, but I’m pretty confident,” Hughes said. “We’ll have multiple things going, and I like doing that, it’s a comfort zone to me. I’m sitting right here with a TV, a rather large computer and a portable computer. That’s how I live my life, even watching TV.”
The draft order changed Wednesday when the New York Liberty initiated a three-team trade, sending marquee post Tina Charles to the defending champion Washington Mystics for the 12th overall pick. New York also received the ninth and 15th overall selections from the Dallas Wings, giving the Liberty five total picks before the Storm makes its second selection.
New York has the No. 1 overall pick, which is expected to be Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu. Hughes believes the Liberty’s moves to make over its roster likely change who will be available for the Storm in the first round.
ESPN projects the Storm to draft Kitija Laksa, a shooting guard from Latvia who played three years at South Florida and missed the 2018-19 season due to a torn knee ligament. Laksa, 23, played professionally the past year for TTT Riga in Latvia.
The Associated Press polled WNBA coaches and general managers, and they predict Seattle will select South Carolina’s Mikiah Herbert-Harrigan in the first round. The 6-foot-2 forward averaged 13.1 points and 5.6 rebounds for the Gamecocks last season, shooting 43.5% from three-point range.
“When you watch her, she’s got a wide, active body for a post player, and she’s really mobile,” said Storm point guard Sue Bird, who’ll provide draft analysis during the telecast Friday. “In the WNBA that seems to work.
“For us, we have a player like Natasha Howard where, yeah, you give up a few inches size-wise and from a literal weight perspective, not as big as other players. But because you’re active and mobile, you’re able to make up for some things. (Herbert-Harrigan) is a player like that.”
The Storm also is adding two former No. 1 overall picks when or if the WNBA is able to hold a season amid the pandemic. Bird, the top pick from the 2002 draft, and forward Breanna Stewart, the No. 1 overall choice in 2016, are both returning from season-ending injuries.
Despite missing Bird and Stewart last season, the Storm advanced to the playoffs in 2019, a year after winning the league title. Howard led the way last season, averaging 18.1 points and 8.2 rebounds.
Bird, 39, is the league’s oldest player, and some observers feel the Storm could add some backcourt depth. They drafted point guard Jordin Canada in 2018, and she started 29 games in 2019, averaging 9.8 points and 5.2 assists.
The Storm also expects their first-round pick from the 2019 draft, Australian center Ezi Magbegor, to join the team this season. Now 20, the Aussie remained home last summer to further her development.
“When you draft 11th, you’ve got to be open-minded to the best player that might fit into your culture,” Hughes said. “If we were drafting a little higher, we could be more selective (by position). Some perimeter depth would make sense in our situation. At 11, if somebody is there that we value and they happen to be a post player, you’ve got to look at that, too.”
WNBA training camps were slated to open April 26 with the season opener scheduled May 15. Both are postponed indefinitely.