The team posted the 5-foot-10 guard’s image on billboards around Seattle and on Saturday night will give fans Loyd T-shirts for the season opener at KeyArena — hoping at some point this summer a connection is made that helps carry the franchise into the future.

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The plan is to put the entire Storm fan base in the palm of Jewell Loyd’s hand.

The team posted the 5-foot-10 guard’s image on billboards around Seattle and Saturday night will give fans Loyd T-shirts for the season opener at KeyArena — hoping at some point this summer a connection is made that helps carry the franchise into the future.

That plan was designed last winter when the Storm’s ownership group, Force 10 Hoops, overhauled its front-office staff and parted ways with its championship-winning coach and players who were fan favorites in an effort to reboot interest.

SATURDAY

Los Angeles @ Seattle, 6 p.m., KONG

“Fans are polite,” said Lisa Brummel, one of three Storm co-owners. “They’ve asked about the evolution of the team and getting some new players, which is politely saying, ‘Gosh, are we keeping up with the play in the league, or are we falling behind?’ Right now, what we’re doing is getting the right pieces in place, and then we need time to let those pieces work themselves out.”

Loyd’s business decision

Loyd might have expedited the Storm’s plan with a decision she made in March. The daughter of educators, Loyd describes her family like “The Godfather,” subbing the violence for a strong religious faith.

After Notre Dame won the Atlantic Coast championship, she traveled home to Lincolnwood, Ill., for spring break. Over a soul-food dinner that included duck cooked by her aunt, the family discussed Loyd’s basketball future.

It was time for her to turn pro.

A junior, she was one of the first to use an age exemption to enter the WNBA draft early. Loyd turns 22 in October, which allowed her to declare early even though she is not part of a graduating class.

When it was announced after Notre Dame lost the NCAA championship game to Connecticut in April, Irish coach Muffet McGraw told reporters Loyd was making “a really bad decision.”

“To get your degree, especially from a school like Notre Dame, it’s just mind-boggling that anybody would choose to leave early,” McGraw said.

Said Loyd, who intends to take online courses to graduate on time, “I was figuring out what I really wanted to do in my life. This has been a goal since I was little. It made sense. I wanted to learn from Sue (Bird) and play against Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore — play with the greats before they’re out. That’s how I see it from a business standpoint.”

The Storm knew in August it would have the No. 1 overall choice. It won the draft lottery after finishing the season at 12-22, missing the postseason for the first time since 2003.

Jayda Evans’ WNBA predictions

West playoff teams: 1, Minnesota. 2, Phoenix. 3, Los Angeles. 4, Tulsa.

East playoff teams: 1, Chicago. 2, Atlanta. 3, Washington. 4, New York.

West champion: Minnesota.

East champion: Chicago.

WNBA champion: Chicago.

But until Loyd’s announcement April 7, UConn forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis was the projected top overall choice. The Storm still was able to draft Mosqueda-Lewis with the third overall selection thanks to an offseason trade with the Connecticut Sun.

Mosqueda-Lewis is the NCAA’s career leader in three-pointers (398).

How they fared

Looking back at the WNBA’s previous 18 top overall draft choices:

2014: Chiney Ogwumike, Connecticut. All-Star and Rookie of the Year; out indefinitely after knee surgery.

2013: Brittney Griner, Phoenix. Two-time All-Star, won 2014 WNBA title and was Defensive Player of the Year.

2012: Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles. Two-time All-Star and Rookie of the Year.

2011: Maya Moore, Minnesota. League MVP, three-time All-Star, two-time WNBA champion and Rookie of the Year.

2010: Tina Charles, New York. Drafted by Connecticut and won Rookie of the Year; three-time All-Star and 2012 MVP.

2009: Angel McCoughtry, Atlanta. Three-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year.

2008: Candace Parker, Los Angeles. Two-time league MVP and Rookie of the Year. Out indefinitely (rest).

2007: Lindsey Harding, Phoenix. Draft-day trade to Minnesota, was cut by Los Angeles in February.

2006: Seimone Augustus, Minnesota. Two-time WNBA champion, five-time All-Star and Rookie of the Year.

2005: Janel McCarville, Charlotte. Helped Minnesota win 2013 WNBA title. Out for season (rest).

2004: Diana Taurasi, Phoenix. Three-time WNBA champion, two-time MVP. Out for season (rest).

2003: LaToya Thomas, Cleveland. Played for five teams, ended WNBA career in 2008.

2002: Sue Bird, Seattle. Two-time WNBA champion, eight-time All-Star.

2001: Lauren Jackson, Seattle. Three-time MVP, two-time WNBA champion, hasn’t played since 2012 due to injuries.

2000: Ann Wauters, Cleveland. 2005 All-Star reached 2008 WNBA Finals with San Antonio, retired in 2012.

1999: Chamique Holdsclaw, Washington. Four-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year. Retired in 2010.

1998: Margo Dydek, Utah. Two-time All-Star, reached 2005 Finals with Connecticut. Died in May 2011.

1997: Tina Thompson, Houston. Four-time WNBA champion, career league scoring leader.

Jayda Evans

Loyd averaged 19.8 points a game as a junior, developing her trademark “Jewelly-oop” — a layin in which Loyd leaps high for the setup pass.

A quicker rebuilding plan

“I hate using the word ‘game-changers,’ but they got two game-changers,” said Taurasi, who was named the WNBA Finals MVP in leading Phoenix to the 2014 championship. “They will either be really good or great players in the league for a decade. No one shoots it like Kaleena, and Jewell is one of those special players that you don’t get very often.”

The rookies will play alongside Bird, who’s entering her 13th season and is No. 2 in the league in career assists (2,068). Yet it doesn’t guarantee success.

Reigning WNBA MVP Moore is the only top overall draft choice to win a championship as a rookie, but she was a role player on the 2011 Minnesota roster that was headlined by guards Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen.

“For a WNBA team, you can’t get young and win at the same time,” said Bird, 34, who’s seen the Storm’s average age drop from 29 last year to 26.2 this season. “There’s just not enough player movement and money. So at some point you’ve got to make a choice. We did get lucky to get Jewell. What maybe was three, four years is now a little bit quicker. But it will take time.”

It’s a process Bird is willing to be patient with in an effort to protect the legacy she helped build in Seattle. But it’s also a process that likely wouldn’t have happened if coach Brian Agler didn’t leave for a similar position with the Los Angeles Sparks.

He historically didn’t play or retain draft picks. First-year Storm coach Jenny Boucek, who was mentored by Agler, is known for her player-development skills.

“The challenge is everything is so new,” Boucek said. “But I’m already seeing them playing for each other.”

Setting trends with a smile

For Loyd, the plan starts with a smile. On draft day, that’s what Loyd said she’d bring to the community.

And she’s been spotted smiling and spinning and riding piggyback on teammate Alysha Clark after practice, making kids laugh at basketball clinics and smiling in snapshots with Storm front-office staff on her social-media accounts.

Saturday might bring some rookie jitters, but Loyd said she’s most looking forward to getting the ball in her hands to play for her new fans.

“For us, we’re not afraid to break the mold,” Loyd said, referring to Boucek’s up-tempo playing style. “We’re young, we’re excited, we’re motivated, and we could be like trendsetters.”

2015 Storm schedule
Date Opponent Time TV
June 6 Los Angeles 6 p.m. KONG
June 9 at Tulsa 5 p.m.
June 11 at Minnesota 5 p.m.
June 14 at Los Angeles 2 p.m.
June 16 Connecticut 7 p.m.
June 21 Phoenix 6 p.m. KONG
June 25 Minnesota 7 p.m.
June 27 at San Antonio 5 p.m.
June 28 at Tulsa 4 p.m.
June 30 Tulsa 7 p.m.
July 3 at Minnesota 5 p.m.
July 5 at Atlanta Noon
July 8 at Indiana 9 a.m.
July 10 Phoenix 7 p.m.
July 12 at Phoenix 3 p.m.
July 15 Los Angeles Noon
July 18 Atlanta 6 p.m. KONG
July 21 New York 7 p.m.
July 29 at Washington 8:30 a.m.
July 31 at Connecticut 4 p.m.
Aug. 2 at New York Noon
Aug. 8 at San Antonio 5 p.m. NBA TV
Aug. 11 at Los Angeles 7:30 p.m. NBA TV
Aug. 12 at Phoenix 7 p.m. NBA TV
Aug. 14 Chicago 7 p.m. NBA TV
Aug. 16 San Antonio 6 p.m. NBA TV
Aug. 21 Indiana 7 p.m.
Aug. 28 San Antonio 7 p.m. NBA TV
Aug. 30 Washington 6 p.m. KONG
Sept. 3 Tulsa 7 p.m.
Sept. 6 at Chicago 3 p.m.
Sept. 8 at Minnesota 5 p.m.
Sept. 11 Minnesota 7 p.m.
Sept. 13 San Antonio 6 p.m. KONG