It’s been nine years since Sami Whitcomb walked off the Alaska Airlines Arena court after finishing a bittersweet career with the Washington Huskies.
“I have a lot of tough memories there, but also a lot of amazing memories too,” said Whitcomb, a Storm guard who returns to UW when Seattle (6-4) hosts Indiana (5-5) at 4 p.m. Sunday. “It’s been enough time that has passed to where you mainly remember just the good times.
“Honestly, that arena is one of my favorite places in the world so to go play there again with a group that I love in front of the Storm crazies will be really special.”
The former Husky is excited to return to Washington where she ranks 15th all-time in scoring with 1,205 points and fourth in school history in three-point field goals made (176).
As a senior during the 2009-10 season, the 5-foot-10 guard led UW in scoring (13.0), rebounds (5.6) and assists (2.5) while earning first-team All-Pac-12 accolades.
However, the Huskies compiled a 34-58 record in her final three seasons under coach Tia Jackson.
“Beating Cal at home my junior year on Senior Night is probably my best memory playing at Washington,” Whitcomb said. “That was really exciting because they were eighth in the country and we were struggling. That was the highest-ranked team that we beat.
“We had some really tough losses. … But looking back, I still wouldn’t change anything. I’m grateful for the experience I had. I’m glad I didn’t transfer and stuck through it. I made lifelong friends with people that I cherish.”
Whitcomb’s basketball journey comes full circle at an inopportune time considering the Storm was just getting comfortable at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett where Seattle has a three-game winning streak.
In its last outing – an 84-62 win over Los Angeles on Friday – the Storm played its best game of the season while hitting a season-high 14 three-pointers, including three from Whitcomb.
“This year has a feel of a lot of away games,” coach Dan Hughes said. “The same way you get yourself ready on the road, there’s got to be a little bit of that in this situation.
“We’ve asked the players to adjust their schedules a little bit. Get there early and get acclimated because everything will be new to us.”
With the exception of games on Aug. 2 and 8, the Storm will play the rest of its regular-season contests at Alaska Airlines Arena. It’s unclear where Seattle would play if it needs to host a postseason game.
“I like the facility,” Hughes said of Alaska Airlines Arena. “If you put a good crowd in there it will feel like a home-court situation. But I really don’t know. We’ll have to see.”
For Whitcomb, this summer will be a nostalgic journey to the place where the three-point specialist discovered, honed and perfected her trademark trigger-release jumper.
“Washington didn’t recruit me as a scorer,” the 30-year-old Ventura, Calif., native said. “I remember (former UW assistant) Mike Daugherty said: ‘If you want to play more you’re going to have to develop a shot.’
“Then, it became if I want to get it off, I needed it to be faster. That’s where the whole quick-release thing happened because I knew that was my bread and butter. It got quicker and quicker.”
The secret to Whitcomb’s unorthodox jump shot, she said, isn’t the release but rather her footwork.
“If I get my feet under me, sometimes I don’t look at the basket until I’m in my motion,” said Whitcomb, who averages 5.9 points, 1.9 assists, 1.2 rebounds and 14.6 minutes. “I’ve studied a lot of shooters like Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. … But early on, I learned a lot from (New Zealander) Kirk Penney.”
Whitcomb, who went undrafted in 2010 after leaving UW, landed in the WNBA as a 28-year-old rookie in 2017 after a six-year stint playing overseas.
“It seems like a roundabout way, but I think more and more it might be more common because it’s tough to break into this league,” she said. “There are players who can come right from college into the WNBA and those are rare, special players. For the rest of us who get drafted in the second or third round or don’t get drafted, there’s so few roster spots that sometimes you have to wait a few years for opportunities to come up.
“So much of it is opportunity and being ready when it comes to capitalize on it. I was quite lucky that it was Seattle and a team that played a style that suited me. It takes a lot of resiliency. You have to really love the game. You have to really love all of the ups and downs. For me, it was continually trying to get better than it was trying to get into this league.”
In her first two years with the Storm, Whitcomb carved out a role as an offensive threat off the bench capable of big scoring performances like the May 26 night in 2017 when she tallied 22 points in 15 minutes — all in the second half — to beat New York.
Last year, Whitcomb provided significant production during the postseason during the Storm’s WNBA championship run.
In the offseason, Whitcomb, who became an Australian citizen, helped Australia to a silver medal in the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup.
And the blonde-haired bomber made basketball headlines last December with a 40-point performance for Basket Lattes Montpellier Agglomération (BLMA) in France.
“I couldn’t miss early on and had 32 (points) at halftime,” said Whitcomb, who sank 10 of 14 three-pointers against Hungarian team VBW CEKK Ceglèd. “Everything from outside was falling. It was fun. I really enjoyed it.”
Whitcomb continues her red-hot shooting this season with the Storm and ranks 13th in the WNBA with a 40.9 three-point shooting percentage. She’s also ninth in the league with 15 three-pointers.
Hughes admits he wouldn’t teach Whitcomb’s shot to a 10-year-old, but would encourage an aspiring basketball player to model Whitcomb’s work ethic.
“We (practiced) at noon and I walk in this morning at 10 and she’s already on the floor working out,” Hughes said laughing. “That’s not unusual for her. I can’t draw up a comparison because she’s rather unique in that regard. She really puts the time in.
“Sometimes with shooters, you develop a trust with them and I have that with Sami. Judging how the ball leaves her hands, I think it’s going in. I can’t tell you how she gets it up and in so fast, but she’s one of the best shooters in this league.”
— Jordin Canada, who has missed the past two games due to a left-knee injury, is listed as probable for Sunday.