Under new management and a new coach, the Storm selected Notre Dame’s Jewell Loyd No. 1 overall and Connecticut’s Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis at No. 3.
A landmark day for the new-look Storm took place, fittingly, in a venue undergoing similar change.
They huddled in a draft room at Art Marble 21 in South Lake Union, formerly World Sports Grille, famously Jillian’s Billiard Club back in Gary Payton’s heyday. With the No. 1 and 3 overall picks in the WNBA draft, the Storm made an event out of the occasion Thursday, inviting fans and media as the club made its most important draft selections since 2002, the year the franchise chose Sue Bird No. 1 overall.
In a recast restaurant, the recast Storm enjoyed a pivotal moment. With the top pick, it chose Notre Dame guard Jewell Loyd, an athletic and creative playmaker who left college a year early. Then at No. 3, the Storm took the best shooter in the draft, Connecticut forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, completing a first-round talent haul that should spur the franchise’s rebuilding efforts.
It wasn’t a can’t-miss draft with Brittney Griner, or Lauren Jackson, or Bird, at No. 1. But the Storm maximized its two first-round picks, capitalizing on the good fortune and novelty of Loyd and Minnesota center Amanda Zahui B., who went second overall to Tulsa, turning pro early.
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In essence, the Storm pulled off an interesting double in one draft: It took Loyd, who along with Connecticut’s Breanna Stewart, would’ve been atop the 2016 WNBA draft. And at No. 3, the Storm selected the college senior it coveted the most in Mosqueda-Lewis. It’s almost like the Storm had two No. 1 overall picks. That’s how you succeed in a draft that seemingly doesn’t have one bodacious, surefire superstar.
“Going in, we were still excited about the talent in this draft,” Storm president and general manager Alisha Valavanis said. “Then, things changed.”
A decent draft turned into a good one. And Loyd became the special talent worthy of a No. 1 pick.
“I think we felt like that was a gift that was given to our city and to our franchise,” Storm coach Jenny Boucek said.
A crowd of 359 came to Art Marble 21 out of passion for the team and curiosity about change. This is different, for sure. Valavanis replaced Karen Bryant, Seattle’s great women’s basketball ambassador, last July. Boucek was promoted to head coach after Brian Agler left for Los Angeles in January. The Storm traded Camille Little and Shekinna Stricklen in a megadeal in late January to get the No. 3 pick and Renee Montgomery.
But as Valavanis and Boucek addressed the crowd, you could feel the excitement. There’s already a natural chemistry between Valavanis and Boucek that seems to trickle down to the entire basketball operations staff. Valavanis has a candor that makes her trustworthy. Boucek’s energy and enthusiasm make you believe that, while rebuilding can be an excruciating experience, the climb will be fun. And the Storm won’t be down for long.
Of the pre-draft process, Valavanis said: “Once Jenny came on board, it was really clear. She had a vision for the brand of basketball we should play.”
It sounds like a free-flowing style of basketball that will emphasize versatility, athleticism and length. Boucek wants playmakers throughout the lineup. You can envision Loyd attacking and scoring from all over the court. You can envision Mosqueda-Lewis punishing defenses with long-range jumpers and helping keep the floor spaced. You can envision Bird thriving despite playing with inexperienced wing players. And Boucek isn’t a coach who will limit players to their most dominant traits. She wants to develop well-rounded athletes.
“I really try not to have preconceived notions of players,” Boucek said. “They will have an open opportunity to show me what they can do. I want to give them a chance to break out of any boxes they feel they’ve been put into.”
That’s a good way to view the entire Storm organization now, too. This is an open opportunity to build something special. There is no box. Possibility reigns.
“I think we took a critical look at where we were,” Valavanis said of the franchise’s decision to commit to rebuilding. “It was time to build. We’ve set out a plan we’ve stayed with.”
On Thursday, the Storm had opportunities, especially at No. 3, to make a trade that might’ve made them better in the short term. But they chose to keep taking the long view.
Last summer, the Storm had its WNBA-record streak of 10 straight years in the playoffs snapped. But the focus isn’t merely starting a new streak. The team wants to add to the two championships the franchise has earned. Getting back on top requires building every level of the team and franchise properly.
After Thursday’s shrewd moves, the franchise appears well on its way.
Information in this article, originally published April 16, 2015 was corrected April 17, 2015. A previous version of this story misspelled Brittney Griner’s first name.