My blogging has been at a virtual standstill for a while now. The first hit came when I took up writing for another online publication a few years ago, and then I took a promotion which required a lot more focus as I learned my new job. Lately the problem has been that I have gotten out from in front of the computer screen with regards to basketball and out onto the court. I have coached four boys teams from 2nd - 8th grade over the past five months. My last team is in their mid-winter break...though I do have practice in two hours. The amount of preparation, planning and mental/emotional effort that goes into coaching has essentially drained me of desire to write. I have found that I have so much to learn that I have little time to write about my opinions.
However I did want to take a moment to write some thoughts.
I think every Storm fan knew that changes were coming this year. Coach Agler essentially told us there would be changes after the first round loss to Phoenix last fall.
It is great that we have locked LJ, Sue, Tanisha and Camille into the franchise for a number of years. They are core to both the performance and personality of the team.
It is fantastic to draw a complimentary talent of Ann Wauters caliber to fill out the post rotation. Yes it helps ease the pre-Olympic absence of LJ, but ever more importantly it gives Seattle one of the strongest front courts in the league once LJ returns.
It is great that we get to keep a player like Katie Smith with her experience, skill, defense and winning attitude...she brings a lot to the team even when she doesn't score like she did when she was in her 20's.
I like the focus on youth with a #2 overall draft pick and an athletic, young forward like Victoria Dunlap joining the fold. The team was getting older and filling the bench with unused youth has done nothing for the organization on the court.
However, we do have to say goodbye to great personalities, and great players as a part of this change.
Le'Coe Willingham wasn't able to bring as much to the table as many hoped when she came over from Phoenix, but she filled her role well, made few mistakes and was simply fun. You could tell from the way her team acted around her, from the way she behaved on the sidelines and in the arena videos and you could tell from her interviews.
Swin Cash was a breath of fresh air for this franchise. It was so much fun to watch a player of her caliber come back from injury and play at a superior level again. Over her career she did what great players do. She won consistently because she was a true baller. When she came into the WNBA she had to convert from a post to a wing...and she did that spetacularly in Detroit. When she came back from injury and the Storm needed outside shooting she shot her best percentage from deep of her career. They will likely need something different from her in Chicago, and I guarantee that whatever it is they need, she will find a way to excel at it. That is just the kind of professional that she has always been. I teach my kids that character matters as much if not more than talent when they play for me. Swin Cash had both in big doses. I always ejoyed interviewing Swin. She was always thoughtful, respectful and honest in her answers. I don't remember ever getting the quick, canned response from Swin. What she said in reply did not always make great copy, but she always listened carefully to your questions, gave it fair consideration and shared something true.
She has simply been loved by Seattle fans since she first donned the uniform...not all fans, but certainly by most of them. Yes, she is lovely, but there are many players in the league that are lovely but don't generate the kind of support A-Rob has in Seattle. One of the prize possessions I keep from my year covering the Storm for SPM is my recording of the two Ashleys. At the 2010 media day, Ashley Robinson and Ashley Walker entranced the media crew with a natural, hysterical routine that could have earned them their own reality TV pilot. That moment epitomizes, for me, why Seattle loved A-Rob. Ashley is a joyous person. I know her a little better than the average Storm fan, but not nearly as well as those she is around every day. That said, I will go out on a limb an say that I believe she truly lives every moment with joy and that joy radiates from her. You would be hard pressed to spend time with her and not be infected by that aura of joy. It is not a feigned, goofy, happiness. It is true, heart felt, and infectious. I have met a few people like that in my life, but that is the feeling you get when you are near her.
Everyone knows she was offensively "challenged," and most would talk about her defensive presence. Having coached for a few years now, I see her defense differently than I did when she first came to the Storm. My opinion has improved as I have become more knowledgeable. Defense is tough and it requires constant effort and focus. Even the best players let their defense lapse simply because it can be so mentally and physically exhausting to play great defense. A-Rob was a good solid anchor, and I think became even better at that role after backing up Yolanda Griffith, one of the best defensive anchors the Storm have ever had. Coach Agler's defense is easy in concept...but brutal in execution. Every player has to move on every movement of the ball. You move a second or two late or to the wrong spot and a lane opens or a shot is freed up. You do that too often and you won't get up off the bench much.
Those things are not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things though. There will not be a lot of playing time behind Lauren Jackson, Ann Wauters and Camille Little in the post. The reason that saying goodbye to Ashley hurts is because her absence will mean that radiating joy will be missing. It will be missed in the locker room, on the bench, on the team bus, on the plane, at fan events and in the media sessions. That joy was a bright beacon...it reminded us that basketball is at its heart a game. Games should be fun...they should fill us with joy. Ashley's smile, her energy and her joy reminded us of that every time she was around. That is what I believe Storm fans will miss. That is what I believe the Storm players will miss. That is what I know I will miss.