Kennedy Burke tells a few stories, which gives insight into why the third-year WNBA veteran is excited about joining the Storm.
For starters, the 6-foot-1 forward is a candidate to start for the defending league champions after two years with the Indiana Fever, which posted a 19-37 record during her tenure.
Burke is also reuniting with Jordin Canada, her former UCLA teammate, which is a reunion the two had unwittingly speculated about on social media before Seattle made a draft-day trade for Burke on April 15.
“A couple of months ago, before she got traded, someone mentioned me and her in a clip on Instagram,” Canada said. “She reposted it and said my favorite PG, I miss playing with you. I said the same.
“It’s crazy how things come full circle. I’m happy to be back with KB. We’ve had great chemistry at UCLA and I know we’re going to have great chemistry here.”
And Burke, a Burbank, Calif. native, is relieved about being closer to home, joining what she describes as an “elite” organization and regaining a bit of normalcy after a chaotic offseason abroad in which she contracted COVID-19 while playing for the Italian team Sassari.
“It’s been pretty tough,” Burke said Thursday during a Zoom call following her first practice with the Storm. “The past eight months I’ve been playing in Italy, so I’ve been away from my family. This is the longest I’ve been away from my family so it’s been pretty hard. Also having COVID was pretty challenging, but the fact that I was able to pick back up after having COVID and just staying consistent.
“I didn’t know I was going to catch it. I was doing everything that was said like wearing a mask and washing your hands. You never know what happens. I just stuck to being who I am on and off the court and then just staying positive.”
At least a half dozen times during a 10-minute interview, Burke used the word “crazy” to describe her three-year journey from UCLA to the Storm.
The former UCLA star, who made four NCAA tournament appearances with the Bruins, was drafted No. 22 overall in the second round in 2019 by the Dallas Wings.
Burke was cut on the final day of training camp and picked up before the start of the season by Indiana, where she worked her way into the lineup while starting 11 of 22 games last year.
“KB did a great job for us, especially with Tiffany Mitchell out,” said Storm forward Candice Dupree, who played the past two years in Indiana. “Her numbers show what she can do. I know she’s been working on shooting the long ball a lot better and on her ball handling. … I’m interested to see how much she’s grown in those areas from last year.”
Burke averaged 7.2 points and 18.3 minutes, but whether she starts with the Storm will depend on her ability to defend and rebound for a team looking to replace defensive ace Alysha Clark.
“I’d like to put her in a lane where it’s about her defense and it’s about her rebounding and the scoring is an added feature,” coach Dan Hughes said. “She has potential to really help our matchup situations in our lineups. I love it when she makes shots. I’m always going to love that, but the truth is I think she can be defensively game to game and that would really help this team.”
Burke is expected to play in Saturday’s exhibition at Phoenix and will likely be given every opportunity to start the May 15 regular-season opener against the Las Vegas Aces considering newcomers Katie Lou Samuelson and Mikiah ‘Kiki’ Herbert Harrigan still have not reported to training camp.
The Storm is also considering veteran training-camp invites Stephanie Talbot and Tamera Young and second-round draft pick N’dea Jones for the vacancy at small forward.
“We’re in a situation where we haven’t seen Katie Lou,” Hughes said. “We have some people competing well here. (Burke) is in that group. We’ll have to make a decision a little closer to getting our entire team together. But she’d be in that loop.”
During Thursday’s practice, Burke made an immediate positive first impression with her physicality and ability to rebound.
“First and foremost, she’s very coachable (and) personality-wise I think she fits the team great,” Canada said. “On the court, she’s very long. She can get into the passing lanes.
“Offensively, she attacks the glass. She’s a good passer. She loves to drive to the basket. She gives us a lot of different looks. She’s an all-around player so I think she’s going to fit right in with our system once she gets the flow of everything. I think she’s going to be a great value to our team so I’m excited to have her.”
It was a ringing endorsement from one of Burke’s closest friends and former high-school rival.
“She got in a little bit of an altercation with one of my teammates her freshman year, which was my sophomore year and from there, we just didn’t get along,” Canada said. “I didn’t like her at all. When she committed to UCLA, I talked to my coach and was like ‘Why would you bring her on the team? I don’t like her.’ She was like, ‘She’s very sweet once you get to know her.’ Ever since she came to UCLA, we’ve been (friends). It’s been a lot of good memories.”
It’s a funny story, but Burke’s tale about learning how she joined the Storm tops them all.
“When draft night happened, I was playing overseas in Italy and the time difference kind of threw me off,” she said. “I was asleep as the draft was going on. When I was asleep, I got a call from coach Marianne Stanley from Indiana. I didn’t pick up because my mind and body was asleep.
“Nine hours later, I’m getting all of these notifications on my phone. My phone is going off like crazy. I’m half asleep and I’m seeing all of these notifications on congrats you’re going to the Seattle Storm. I’m just like what is going on?”
The Storm swapped Aaliyah Wilson, who was taken No. 11 overall in the first round, for Burke on draft night.
“It’s funny because the first text message I see is from Jordin and she’s like ‘Hello there teammate.’” Burke said. “It was kind of overwhelming. This is all new for me.
“The experience, it was crazy. But I was super happy. Super overwhelmed. Super excited. I remember that day so vividly. It was like waking up and like, ‘what is happening?’ It was a lot that day.”
— Breanna Stewart is going through the WNBA health and safety protocol, which requires six consecutive days of negative COVID-19 tests before starting practice, and is scheduled to join the Storm next week.