During the first week of training camp Shavonte Zellous, the Storm’s biggest offseason acquisition, has settled into a familiar and comfortable role with her new team.
“What I bring is tenacity,” the 5-foot-10 veteran guard said. “Anybody that plays against me and plays with me knows what they’re getting.
“I’m not going to let you do what you want to do. I’m aggressive. I talk smack, but that’s a part of the game to get you out of your game.”
While Storm veteran Alysha Clark remains overseas with her French team Lyon ASVEL Feminin that advanced to the EuroCup Finals, Zellous has slid into her role as the team’s resident defensive stopper.
“From the moment Z got here, she started taking that leadership role,” guard Jewell Loyd said. “Because we don’t have everyone back (from playing overseas), she has to talk. She has to lead. You can see right away that she wants to get better and she wants to win. She’s super focused.
“We need that toughness and some physicality. Normally, that’s AC for us, but it’s good that we’ve got somebody else now who can bring that. With her and AC on the court, that could (upset) some people.”
During her 11-year career, Zellous has built a reputation as a defensive stalwart since she was the No. 11 pick in the WNBA draft taken by the now-defunct Detroit Shock in 2009.
She was most productive during a 5½-year stint in Indiana (2010-15) where she helped the Fever to a WNBA title in 2012 and a trip to the Finals in 2015.
Zellous also claimed league All-Star and Most Improved Player honors in 2013 while averaging a career-high 14.7 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists.
A free agent in 2016, Zellous signed with the New York Liberty, which posted a 21-13 record her first year and 22-12 in 2017.
Under first-year coach Katie Smith, the Liberty finished 7-27 during a difficult season of transition in 2018.
Zellous started 22 games and averaged 8.2 points, 3.1 rebounds and career-high 3.0 assists before suffering a season-ending right-ankle sprain during a game at Atlanta last July.
“It was kind of a first experience for me being injured like that,” Zellous said. “I was able to learn a lot just watching the game, picking up on things that you see from the outside. So it was a good and bad thing for me.”
The five-month layoff was also the first extended break from basketball for the 32-year-old Orlando native who returned to competition in January while playing in Israel.
In April, the Storm signed Zellous to a one-year deal that’s worth $65,000, according to High Post Hoops.
“This time in free agency, I really wanted to be with a veteran team that had the same goals and expectations that I have,” Zellous said. “I want to win. I want to be pushed. I want to be with a veteran crew that knows what it takes. That’s why I picked Seattle. Great leaders in Sue (Bird) and Dan (Hughes). Excellent talent. It just fits best for me and my skill set.
“Plus, I like the city. It was one of my favorite places play and now I get to see what it’s like to live here.”
Zellous reunites with Storm assistant Gary Kloppenburg, who had two stints (2008-11 and 2015-16) on the Fever coaching staff.
“Being with Coach Klop with Indiana helps me a lot because I’m used to his scheme and I’m used to his system,” she said. “Having AC with the first unit and I’m on the second unit, there shouldn’t be any drop-off in the defense.”
Zellous signed with Seattle before Breanna Stewart suffered an Achilles tendon injury that will force her to miss the 2019 season.
Even without the WNBA’s reigning MVP, the newest Storm player believes the defending league champions can contend for another title.
“I don’t think things change dramatically at all,” Zellous said. “I just think everybody has to do their part. Stewie is the MVP and can’t nobody do what Stewie does and everybody knows that. But I think what we can do is contribute what we can do and play to our strengths.
“With this team we have weapons all around the floor. … So yes, I think we’re still going to be just as successful if not more successful without Stewie.”
It will be interesting to see how Zellous operates within an offense that set a WNBA record for three-pointers last season considering she’s more adept at driving to the basket and drawing fouls than perimeter shots.
During her last full season, Zellous hit 135 of 164 free throws in 2017.
In comparison, Stewart was the only Storm to make at least 100 free throws last year.
“I’m an aggressive player,” Zellous said. “I love contact. That started my first year in Detroit. Just get to the basket. Get to the line.
“They told me, ‘We need you shooting at least 10 free throws a game.’ So my mindset was I need to get my behind in that paint and just be aggressive whether it’s for me or setting up my teammates.”
However, Zellous, a 30.2 percent three-point shooter during her career, struggles on the perimeter where she hit just 8 of 30 shots in 2018.
“Everyone on our team can shoot threes,” Loyd said. “It’s how we play with our spacing and it makes us hard to defend. I think she realizes that. We’re not telling her don’t shoot. We’re telling her to shoot. And she can shoot. We’re excited about that and I know she is too.”
Zellous added: “Last year New York needed me to be more of an aggressive player and get to the basket. That’s why my threes went down. But you best believe my threes will be up this year.”