While there's still a long way to go to match the Mariners' current 14 year playoff drought, it has been four seasons since the Seattle Storm finished the season with a winning record. In recent campaigns, it's been ageless wonder Sue Bird and not a lot else. While Bird has had one of the most storied careers in the sport's history—two-time champion, nine-time All-Star, second all-time in WNBA assists, three Olympic gold medals for Team USA (almost assuredly four after this summer's Rio Games)—she can't do it alone. But the 2016 WNBA season looks like it could be that start of a youth revolution for the Storm.
After winning the WNBA Draft Lottery, the Storm used the #1 pick to select UConn center Breanna Stewart, a three-time consensus Player of the Year who won the national title in all four of her seasons with the Huskies. Stewart teams up with 2015 Rookie of the Year Jewell Loyd to give the Storm a much needed infusion of fresh blood.
See Bird and the young guns in action at KeyArena when Storm tip off the season’s home slate this Sunday (May 22) against the defending WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx.
For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we talked to Bird about her expectations for the season, teaming up with a fellow UConn Husky in Stewart, and the threat of the Zika virus hanging over this summer's Olympics.
Having not had a winning season in a few year, but with an influx of young talent, what are you expectations heading into the season?
Obviously we do have a lot of really young talent, not just Stewie and Jewell. Which are definitely the ones. But Tok [Ramu Tokashiki] as well, she had a great season last year and was on the All-Rookie Team. And overall, we just have a really good core group of young players.
And with that, I think that there’s gonna be a little bit of a learning curve, because this league is dominated by experience. If you have experience, it just gives you a leg up. So for our team, we’re just going to try and get better everyday, take it one game at a time, learn from it, and move on. Hopefully our chemistry picks up sooner rather than later, and we can get on a pretty good path.
As a veteran, do you approach the start of a new season differently than you did when you first came into the league?
To be honest, not a lot has changed in terms of how I approach training camp. Whether I was 21 or now that I’m 35, my role has pretty much been the same: to be the point guard, to run the team, to look for my scoring when I can, and just try to get everyone on the same page as quickly as possible.
WNBA training camps are super short, and you really gotta cram a lot in during a small period of time. So as far as I’m concerned, I came into this training camp with the same mindset which is really try to develop an identity, and try to get our chemistry going as quickly as possible.
What are some of the things you notice about Brenna Stewart’s game now that you get to see her play on a daily basis?
She just impacts the game in so many different ways. I think people are going to fall in love with the obvious stuff—her ability to score, her ability to block shots—but she really brings so much more to the game. And I’ve really seen that come out. She’s just an amazing talent. At her size, with the things she’s able to do, she’s going to be a great player for sure.
As a fellow UConn alum, I’m sure you’ve been following her for years. Does the UConn program have that sort of family connection that stretches across eras?
Yeah, for sure. There’s definitely something about UConn, the alumni, and the way we kind of stick together. It kind of crosses over generations: whether it’s players like Rebecca Lobo and Jennifer Rizzotti, or myself and my class, down to Dianna [Taurassi], down to Tina [Charles], down to Maya [Moore], and now Stewie. And now everybody in between. We really stick together and kind of always have an eye out [for each other]. It’s a really cool feeling.
It’s now the second season with Jenny Boucek as the Storm’s head coach. What do you enjoy about her coaching style?
Jenny is really cutting edge with a lot of the stuff she tries to do. She really looks at the analytics of things. She gears our schemes around analytics and also our personnel, what she knows we’re capable of doing. I think she’s at the forefront of where basketball is headed. She wants to be, she studies that.
How has the city of Seattle had an affect on you?
Truth be told, when it’s all said and done and I look back on this part of my life—from age 21 to when I retire—I played oversees for a lot of those years. So Seattle has really been my American home for all of my 20s and probably will end up being most of my 30s. In a lot of ways, I grew up here, and I don’t say that lightly. Because you obviously grow up somewhere when you’re a little kid, but it’s really those early 20s where you kinda figure out who you are. And I spend a large amount of that time in Seattle.
I really love the city. The fans here have always been great, very warm, and welcoming. In a lot of ways they’ve watched me grow up. I feel very connected to this fan base, this community, to the city as whole. When it’s all said and done, I don’t know if I’ll end up living anywhere 100 percent of the time, but I will 100 percent keep a home here in Seattle.
Do you have a plan for the end of your career at this point? You don't seem like someone ready to retire soon.
No. No plan.
Do you approach the WNBA season differently when it’s an Olympics year and you know you’ll be playing in the Games?
You don’t really approach them differently. You just realize that at some point you’re going to have to flip a switch and go from WNBA basketball to USA basketball. I think the experience of having done that before helps. You kind of know where to put your focuses when, but it doesn’t really change that much.
Has there been any talk among the players about the threat of the Zika virus during the Rio Olympics?
No, there hasn’t been much talk. Obviously we’re all aware of it. We’ve been told about it and kind of given all the bullet points as to what it is and what happens, but I think for the most part, we’re all just kinda taking it one day at a time and kind of dealing with the information as it comes and not trying to put the carriage before the horse. There are still a couple months before we go there, and a lot can happen.
Opening Night: Seattle Storm vs. Minnesota Lynx
May 22 at 4, KeyArena, $19–$155