- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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If you called Seattle's Camille Little a successful scavenger in the WNBA, she'd rightfully take it as a compliment. She specializes in picking up the loose ball here, the missed shot there, and trying to turn them into something valuable for the Storm.
"I'm not the first, second or even third option," Little said. "I get my shots where they fit in. I get rebounds and putbacks and steals. I don't get my number called a lot, but I get things done in a different way."
However, during this past winter, Little played in China. As the only American on the team, she had a very different role than she has in Seattle.
"They expect a lot out of you over there," Little said. "I go from being a role player here to being the top scorer on my team there. I get to take shots that I don't usually take. You work on pull-ups and one-on-one moves and how to score under pressure. How to make plays being called for you in the clutch."
And that could come in handy for the Storm this year, when preparation for the Summer Olympics for her native Australia will keep star Lauren Jackson away the first half of the season. Two other Storm veterans, Swin Cash and Le'coe Willingham, were traded to Chicago in the offseason.
For the Storm -- the 2010 WNBA champions who fell to Phoenix in the first round of the playoffs last year -- there will be some patchwork during the first two months of the season. Everyone might have to fill in various gaps. But Little said that the very nature of overseas play helps teams deal with these situations.
"Every offseason you go somewhere and usually play with people whom you've never played with before," Little said. "You have to make it work. You can apply that mindset to what we'll have to do here this season."
The Storm had a scrimmage with the Chinese national team Tuesday leading into a big women's hoops weekend in Seattle at KeyArena. Saturday, the U.S. national team -- including Seattle point guard Sue Bird -- faces the Chinese team in an exhibition. Then Sunday, the Storm host a preseason game with the Los Angeles Sparks.
Seattle coach Brian Agler credits the Storm's Force 10 ownership group, team president and CEO Karen Bryant, and the women's hoops fan base in the city for making weekends like this possible.
"Karen and our owners are really entrenched in the community," Agler said. "They've really nurtured the growth of the women's pro game here. They brought this weekend together with USA Basketball, and the Chinese and Japanese national teams coming to train here. And, of course, they also have brought the Pac-12 tournament to Seattle.
"The fans here are so passionate. I get a kick out of watching that -- if there's a player who used to play for the Storm and they come back with another team, they get an ovation when they're introduced. But once the ball goes up, the fans are all about the Storm."
One of the players who used to be the "enemy" to Storm fans -- veteran forward Tina Thompson -- is now in green. She's among the posts, along with Ann Wauters, whom Agler hopes fill the gaps left by Jackson's absence and the departures of Cash and Willingham.
"We're trying to make it to the playoffs for the ninth straight year," Agler said. "Ann gives us some of the size around the rim that you need. And Tina is proven in this league; we've always had a hard time defending her."
Wauters was the top pick in the WNBA draft in 2000 and will turn 32 in October. Thompson was the first pick in the inaugural WNBA draft in 1997; she turned 37 in February. Add in Katie Smith (38 in June), Bird (32 in October) and Jackson (her 31st birthday is Friday) and, yes, there is some question about whether the Storm are staying on the right side of being experienced but not -- for lack of a better way to put it -- too old.
"We had to start making the transition of building for the future but not falling off with how competitive we've been," Agler said of the mix he hopes to find this season.
The trade of Cash/Willingham to Chicago brought the No. 2 draft pick, which Seattle used to get Tennessee wing player Shekinna Stricklen. She's 6-foot-2 and versatile like Little, who -- along with seven-year pro Tanisha Wright -- will be a very good mentor for Stricklen.
"I haven't forgotten what it was like to be a rookie," Little said. "How tough, physical, and mentally draining it can be. And I've been around Brian a lot, so I give the younger players pointers about how to play for him and what he's looking for.
"Sometimes it's small things -- we can tell them, for instance, how to adjust quickly in certain situations with your footwork. Especially with a rookie like Shekinna, who will play, you want to give them as many pointers as you can so they can catch up with the speed of the game. You want them to have confidence and know they can play at this level."
Speaking of confidence, Little says that playing in China really did help her in that regard.
"My role there changes dramatically," Little said. "I worked on my range, and every time I had an opportunity to go one-on-one, I tried to take advantage of it. It's fun, and it also boosts your confidence level.
"Especially in a year like this, when Lauren won't be here in the beginning, we're going to need the scoring to be spread out more. Hopefully, I can carry over how I scored and played in China to here."
13dBonnie D. Ford