Delayed draft arrivals are a theme for the Storm.
The team selected Latvian shooting guard Kitija Laksa with their first-round pick in the WNBA Draft on Friday, but she won’t join the team until 2021. For the 2019 draft, Seattle selected Australian center Ezi Magbegor, who’s expected to be available this season.
“In this unique year, with us not knowing how it’s going to play out, it makes complete sense to target a year (out) and we can evolve that way with it,” said Storm coach Dan Hughes of the WNBA season being suspended indefinitely due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Laksa didn’t wait to express enthusiasm about joining the Storm, however. She was awake nearly 21 hours to hear her name called at 5 a.m. in Latvia, where she is quarantined.
The 23-year-old played for her national team and professionally for TTT Riga this past season after three years for South Florida, where she suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2018. Her combined averages are 17.8 points and 3.2 rebounds per game.
“I don’t know if I should tell you about my excitement because it’s off the top,” said Laksa, who met Storm guard Sue Bird her freshman season at USF. “I think I will be ahead of many different rookies that will be in the league because I played on different types of levels and I know what it takes to be able to fit in. To be able to learn from the best. To listen to the coach and execute the things they ask. … I’m always hungry for basketball, and I’m very excited.”
With its second-round pick, the Storm selected Texas forward Joyner Holmes, and in the third-round the Storm picked Duke guard Haley Gorecki.
In addition to the draft picks, the Storm is expecting the return of No. 1 overall choices in Bird (2002) and Breanna Stewart (2016). The All-Stars suffered season-ending injuries last year, but the Storm still managed to earn a playoff berth.
Bird, who was part of ESPN’s broadcast team for the draft, welcomed her new teammate on national TV and reflected on when she played against Laksa’s national team.
“Quick release, great shooter, she can space the floor. It fits our style perfectly,” Bird said. “She had an injury, but she gave us a dose when we played Latvia against the USA team, so I know she’s legit. So welcome to Seattle.”
As expected, New York selected Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu with the No. 1 overall pick. Teammate Satou Sabally, a forward, went No. 2 overall to Dallas, making it the third time in WNBA draft history the top two picks were from the same college program. A third teammate, forward Ruth Hebard, was the No. 8 pick to the Chicago Sky while Oregon State guard Mikayla Pivec – a Seattle Times Player of the Year from Lynnwood High – was drafted by the Atlanta Dream in the third round.
WNBA training camps were due to open April 26, with the season opener scheduled for May 15.
“Our goal is to have a season when it is medically advisable and feasible,” Engelbert said Friday on a conference call. “Other than deferring training camp and the beginning of the season, we haven’t taken anything in our scenario plan off the table.”
The WNBA’s considerations range from playing in arenas without fans and condensing the 36-game schedule for the 12 teams to shifting the season to the fall.
One advantage is the built-in hiatus for the Tokyo Olympic Games no longer is needed since that event was moved to 2021 because of the pandemic. But six WNBA teams — Los Angeles, Minnesota, Phoenix, New York, Indiana and Washington — share facilities with NBA teams, which could complicate scheduling.
The Storm was slated to play its games at Alaska Airlines Arena due to the renovation of KeyArena.
But a delayed season won’t stop Hughes from prepping for his third season at the helm in Seattle. Despite the uncertainty, he’s keeping a daily routine that includes planning for training camp.
Hughes doesn’t expect to add any invitees because of the veteran roster that finished at 18-16 last season. And, he added, he would want at least 2½ weeks of practice before playing its season opener.
“It’s important during this time to have a routine,” Hughes said. “We have a unique situation because I’m trying to merge what we did in 2018 with what we learned about our players in 2019 and make that 2020. I’m going to continue to do that until we play.”