Boundless in Seattle: Bird, Rookies Ready To Welcome New Era For Storm
At the turn of the century, a new era of Seattle Storm basketball was born. Seattle drafted Lauren Jackson, who would go on to win three WNBA MVPs, with the first overall pick in 2001, and Sue Bird, arguably the game's greatest point guard ever, was taken with the top pick the following year. Together, those two highly coveted draft selections helped guide the Storm to more than a decade of success, culminating in 11 playoff appearances and two championships.
Fast forward to 2015 and the Storm find itself in a similar position. Gone are the days of Bird and Jackson leading the Storm on a charge through the Western Conference. Now, Seattle is welcoming in two other much-hyped draftees and the organization has its eye on a re-brand of sorts.
The Storm drafted Notre Dame standout Jewell Loyd with the first pick in the 2015 WNBA Draft and then selected UConn sharpshooter Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis at No. 3. And while Loyd and Mosqueda-Lewis don’t exactly mirror the 2001 and 2002 selections of Jackson and Bird, they both were valued as top picks under the current front office and by former head coach Brian Agler.
“Kaleena [Mosqueda-Lewis] was somebody that I really liked that if I was still there I had great interest,” said Agler, who is now the head coach of the Sparks, but presided over Seattle winning the draft lottery in August. “So, not only did they get her, they got Jewell Loyd as well.”
The scenario that played out for Seattle to get both Loyd, the espnW National Player of the Year, and Mosqueda-Lewis, who hit the most 3-pointers of any player in NCAA history, is a story within itself. The Storm already had the No. 1 overall pick when they traded for the No. 3 selection with Connecticut in an attempt to get younger. Months after that move was completed, Loyd and another talented underclassmen, Minnesota's Amanda Zahui B., made news by declaring early for the draft and in turn changed the entire makeup of the top of the draft. Just like that, Seattle found itself in a position to draft two players with No. 1 overall pick potential.
"Anytime that you decide that you’re going to go a different direction and try to get young talent and do somewhat of a rebuilding situation, for you to get back in that championship hunt, you’ve got to catch some breaks," Agler said. "And they caught a break this year."
The parallels of this year's Storm roster and the teams of the early 2000s is not lost on one player that is at the heart of the matter.
“Obviously, Lauren [Jackson] and I both being 20, 21 when we started with the Storm,” said Bird, “and able to kind of stay together for so many years, you can kind of see a parallel with [Loyd and Mosqueda-Lewis].”
The two rookies are set to join a Seattle team that has made it clear that they’re beginning a youth overhaul after a decade-long run with Bird and Jackson. As they get settled in to life in the WNBA, though, they’ll benefit from the ability to feed off the knowledge that Bird has for the WNBA game and life as a professional athlete.
“For myself being an older player,” Bird said, “it’s really an opportunity to help them, to kind of groom them a little bit and just be a voice for them. I guess not a voice for them, but somebody they can come to if they have questions and I can help them along and that kind of a thing. I think a relationship like that kind of naturally develops, but I know Kaleena [Mosqueda –Lewis] from Connecticut, and I’ve been getting to know Jewell pretty quickly, and they’re really good people, and that’s always a nice bonus.”
The ability to learn from one of the best to ever play the game is something that both Loyd and Mosqueda-Lewis appear to value. Both commented on draft night about their willingness to come in and learn, and they’ve hit the ground running. The two participated in USA Basketball Women’s National Team training camp this week. That experience gave them their first chance to take the court as teammates with Bird.
“She’s been a great mentor so far,” Loyd said of Bird. “She’s also just helped me learn the game a little better – the tricks and stuff that she learns and knows, so she’ll probably just pass that on to me. So, anything I can learn from her I’m willing to learn from her. If she’s willing to teach, I’m willing to learn.”
“Sue’s been playing in the league for 13 years now,” added Mosqueda-Lewis. “I think that she just has so much knowledge and she’s willing to help me and Jewell out as much as she can and pass on everything. So, I’m excited to learn from her and for her to help us in any way that she can.”
As for Bird, she’s embracing the new direction the Storm is taking. After years of being an older, more dominant team in the Western Conference, she knows that time is now over. An infusion of youth is on the way, but as she moves towards the end of her career, Bird is confident that it’s the right path for the Storm.
“We’ve been the oldest team a lot of years,” Bird said. “So I think it’s going to be good to have young players, to have new players.
“I’m glad that I can be here on the tail end of my career and the beginning of theirs to kind of show them the ropes a little bit. I have lived it. I do know what’s ahead for them, and I can kind of help them.”
Agler, who led the Storm to the WNBA Championship in 2010, thinks adding Loyd and Mosqueda-Lewis already has the franchise in a good position.
“They’re ahead of schedule,” Agler said. “They may not say they aren’t worried about making the playoffs this year or not, I know the people there and they’re competitors.”