Tuesday, June 24, 2003
Abrosimova back on track for Lynx
By Pam Schmid Star Tribune
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The bothersome back? Better. The faulty
free-throw shooting? Fixed.
Svetlana Abrosimova, right, steals a rebound from Charlotte's Shalonda Enis.
The problems that dogged Svetlana Abrosimova last season appear
over -- right?
"Don't say that!'' the 6-foot-2 Lynx forward retorted, only
half in jest, upon hearing the optimistic assessment.
Abrosimova will not let positive thoughts burst her bubble of
caution this season.
After enduring two WNBA seasons while beset by foot and back
problems, Abrosimova grants that she feels healthy again.
Consequently, her versatility on the court is back on display this
season -- she's gliding down the court in transition; draining
feathery 3-pointers; lunging after loose balls and leaping for
Abrosimova has thrived under the offensive system of first-year
WNBA coach Suzie McConnell Serio, who shifted Abrosimova during the
preseason from small forward to power forward and has since decided
to keep her there.
"She does so many things well,'' McConnell Serio said. "She's
a player who always makes things happen on the floor, offensively
Yet uncertainty lingers for the former Connecticut star. Asked
whether she feels she's at her healthiest since the Lynx drafted
her two years ago, Abrosimova demurred.
"See, you cannot say that,'' she said, shaking her head,
"because last year at this point, I felt great, too. My foot
didn't bother me, my back didn't bother me. I felt great. It's the
same way now. I don't know how my back is going to handle the
Her caution reflects reality -- and a different mindset from a
year ago, when she was averaging 16.8 points over the first eight
games of the season. Her lower back periodically had plagued her
since college, but she banished thoughts that it might be
vulnerable and didn't exercise it or rest it before the season
By the time it began bothering her -- about three weeks into the
season -- Abrosimova could do little about it.
She couldn't chase after loose balls because it hurt to bend.
Her range grew shorter, so she took fewer 3-point shots. She
tried to adjust by using her legs more, and pushing with her hands,
but it all felt so different.
"I didn't feel like that was me out there,'' she said.
A one-game layoff didn't help, and Abrosimova's minutes and
productivity tailed off. Over the final 24 games, she averaged 8.5
points while shooting only 33 percent from the field. Her
frustration carried over to free throws; after shooting 72.7
percent from the line her rookie season, she shot only 48 percent
"Because I wasn't healthy, and I knew the team depended on me,
and we kept losing,'' she said, "altogether it was just
Overcoming hardship isn't new to Abrosimova, who as a shy
17-year-old traveled 8,000 miles to Storrs, Conn., speaking
rudimentary English and using a Huskies media guide she barely
understood as her base of knowledge.
"I wanted to get high education,'' she said. "None of my
family members got it, so I was the only one who could.''
The opportunity came thanks to basketball, a sport thrust upon
her as a tall first-grader, when she was selected to attend a
special basketball school.
What she lacked in skills she more than made up for in
competitive zeal -- evident by the frequent fights she started while
scrambling for the ball. Her coaches liked her drive and began
working with her more.
Abrosimova's parents knew next to nothing about the sport. So
her mother, Ludmila, went to the library and checked out a book of
translated stories about NBA stars such as Isiah Thomas and Moses
Malone. They set up a basketball net in the family's high-ceilinged
living room, and allowed Svetlana to break mirrors and phones while
working on her shot.
Abrosimova was a rising star by her teenage years, playing on
Russia's junior national team with players two years older. At age 16, she was named MVP of the European Championships for players 18 and younger.
Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma watched her play on videotape
and offered her a scholarship. Although her Russian coach promised
Abrosimova she never would play on another national team if she
left the country, she called his bluff and packed her bags.
At UConn, basketball was the only easy thing for Abrosimova
early on. She had few friends and spent all her time off the court
studying -- a page of text taking up to two hours to translate.
"Nobody could help me,'' she said. "Math, chemistry, physics --
all that stuff was easy. But sociology! American students, they
didn't even go to class, it was so easy. For me, I couldn't
Not until her junior year did Abrosimova begin to come out of
her shell -- growing out her pixie hair cut and jawing off at
Auriemma in increasingly frequent intervals.
"She began getting sarcastic -- throwing things back at him,''
said Lynx forward Tamika Williams, who played with Abrosimova at
UConn. "She'd say 'Yo' a lot -- a lot of slang, New York-type
thing. We thought: 'She's American now.' ''
A torn ligament in her left foot slowed Abrosimova's progress as
a WNBA rookie. Then came her nagging back problems a year ago.
Now, Abrosimova can point to her newfound caution as a reason to
hope for her first injury-free season. Because she knows she no
longer can trust her back, knows it could go bad at any minute,
she's actually respecting it.
Last season, she went straight from playing overseas to the WNBA
-- and refused to rest her back until she had no choice. This season
-- aside from the ankle she tweaked in practice last week -- she
feels fresh and recovered, having taken a full month off after an
eight-month season in Italy.
A less grueling training camp also has helped this season, as
have practices that beat up her body less. Unlike last year, she
also spends a boring -- but crucial -- hour each day performing back
exercises to improve her core strength.
"It's not easy doing the same stuff over and over,'' she said.
"But now I'm smart. I'm getting smarter.''
So far, so good.
"I always thought she was a great player,'' McConnell Serio
said. "But now that I'm coaching her, I have an even greater
appreciation for what she does.''