Two weeks ago, Gabby Williams and Briann January claimed a three-game sweep for the Hungarian League title, which came on the heels of winning the prestigious EuroLeague championship. 

After a five- or six-day break, they flew to Seattle last week and had their first of three practices with the Storm on Monday before Friday’s 7 p.m. regular-season opener against the Minnesota Lynx at Climate Pledge Arena. 

“That’s the WNBA,” January said with a smile. “It’s quick turnarounds for many players. You get used to it. (The Storm were) sending us the playbook. As professionals, you’ve got to be prepared when you get here. 

“I feel like Gabby and I have done a great job of doing that, just being up on the plays and what they’re about and trying to fit in and flow as much as we can.” 

Seattle guard Sue Bird has a laugh between plays as the Seattle Storm take on the Washington Mystics at KeyArena in Seattle, Sunday, July 8, 2018. Bird hit two scoring milestones during the game – she broke 6,000 points and became the franchise all-time leading scorer. 206909

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How quickly Williams and January acclimate themselves to Seattle will likely determine how the Storm fare during a critical early portion of the season with nine of their first 11 games at home. 

“It’s been amazing having them here,” Storm coach Noelle Quinn said. “You notice right away the energy, intensity and communication has picked up. They’ve stepped in the building and injected another level of everything. It’s been very positive.  

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“Our systems aren’t easy to pick up, and they’ve done that. … So, we want them to get comfortable and confident and settle in because we need them.” 

The newest additions just might be the final two missing pieces of a championship puzzle for the Storm, who hope to add a fifth WNBA title to their trophy case. 

Williams, a 5-foot-11 forward, is expected to bolster the defense and start in a lineup that includes WNBA All-Stars Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd as well as center Mercedes Russell. 

“When you play with players like this and a group like this, they’ve been together for however long, it’s not hard to put that last puzzle piece in,” Williams said. “It’s not hard for me to figure out what I need to do and how I can help. I just have to do what I do. I don’t have to do anything outside of what I’m asked. They’re not experimenting with me. Just go in and do what you do.” 

But then, that’s what’s so intriguing about Williams. No one knows which version of Williams will emerge for the Storm.  

Will it be the former Connecticut Huskies star taken No. 4 overall in the 2018 WNBA draft who never found a suitable role or position during three seasons with the Chicago Sky? Admittedly, it was “a strange time” in which she averaged 6.8 points and 3.4 rebounds while starting 36 of 89 games before being suspended for the 2021 season and traded to the Los Angeles Sparks. 

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Or will it be the dominant athletic wing who won EuroLeague Defensive Player of the Years honors in 2021, led France to a bronze medal at the 2021 Summer Olympics and guided Sopron Basket to its first EuroLeague title on April 10 while claiming the EuroLeague Finals MVP? 

“Man, I’m having fun,” Williams said. “I forgot what it was like a little bit. I haven’t been a part of an atmosphere like this in I don’t know how long, if ever. I’m trying to grasp, soak everything in and learn as much as I can. I’m having a lot of fun.

“I’m not saying it’s the first time I’ve ever had fun playing basketball. But this kind of atmosphere, it’s just different for me to be on a winning program in the WNBA with professionals and legends. I think that’s why I’m having so much fun because I forgot what it was like. My experience in the W was a lot different. Immediately these past two practices have been a lot of fun for me.” 

It’s been 598 days since Williams played in the WNBA. 

The layoff wasn’t planned or voluntary, but in hindsight she made the best of a “difficult and weird situation” and used the time away to develop a reliable three-point shot, hone her defensive skill set and rediscover her confidence. 

“It’s amazing what somebody can do when they’re playing their correct position,” January said, noting Williams played point guard at Chicago and center with Connecticut. “Nothing against those other teams because they had to fill their needs and fortunately for them they had a player like Gabby who can fill the gaps.  

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“But she never really got to play her position. It’s been amazing to see her flourish.” 

January, who signed a one-year deal worth $140,000 with the Storm on Feb. 2, was with Williams in a Bordeaux, France, airport when she learned about the trade with the Sparks that sent her to Seattle in exchange for Katie Lou Samuelson and the No. 9 overall pick in the 2022 WNBA draft. 

“Somebody sent her a tweet and we were like ‘No way,’” January said. “I yelled in the middle of the airport. Everybody was looking at me like I was crazy because it was like 6 a.m. I was super excited.”

Williams is hoping to revive her once-promising WNBA career, while the 35-year-old January wants one last chance at a title before retiring. 

The Spokane native declined offers with other teams for a chance to play closer to home for the first time in her career. Moving to Seattle also means the 14-year veteran will back up Bird and come off the bench for the first time since 2010. 

“We’re here to win a championship,” she said. “This being my last WNBA season, I’m bringing everything I can. I will show up in whatever capacity this team needs.”

Last season, January averaged 7.0 points, 3.1 assists and 1.8 turnovers while shooting a career best 42.5% on field goals and 38% on three-pointers in 29 games for the Connecticut Sun.  

“My first impression, it’s really nice here,” January said. “It’s easy when you’re stepping on the court with high-level players. You have a lot of people that draw a lot of attention, so it makes my job a lot easier when you’re on the court with them.  

“Now we have to go out and play.”

Note

  • Storm center Mercedes Russell, who missed training camp due to an unspecified injury, is expected to sit out the first three to five weeks of the season. Third-year veteran Ezi Magbegor is expected to start Friday’s opener.