Why former UConn women’s basketball players are thriving with the WNBA’s Seattle Storm: ‘It’s a family’

Evina Westbrook became the seventh UConn women’s basketball player in history to be drafted by the Seattle Storm when she was selected in the second round of the WNBA draft earlier this month.

The Storm has long been a West Coast home for Huskies. Not only did the team feature two of the greatest to ever play the sport — Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart — but the franchise reflected UConn’s long winning history with a WNBA record four titles.

As practice began this week, four former Huskies are wearing Seattle green and yellow: Westbrook, Bird, Stewart and Gabby Williams.

“Seattle Huskies,” Stewart said on a Zoom media call Wednesday afternoon after the team’s third day of training camp.

The 2022 season will likely be Bird’s last after spending all 20 years of his WNBA career in Seattle. The 41-year-old led the team to the second round of the playoffs last year – falling to his former UConn teammate Diana Taurasi and the Phoenix Mercury – despite changing coaches mid-season and spending three weeks in Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics.

Stewart, who welcomed her first daughter days after helping Bird and Team USA win gold, is entering her sixth year in the WNBA after spending the offseason recovering from minor Achilles surgery. The four-time NCAA champion with the Huskies missed the final two games of the regular season and Seattle’s playoffs last fall with a foot injury.

Meanwhile, this summer will be the first in Seattle for Westbrook and Williams.

Williams was suspended from Chicago and then traded to Los Angeles last spring because of her commitment to play for the France team ahead of the Olympics. Seattle then traded fellow Los Angeles native, former Husky Katie Lou Samuelson, for Williams in the offseason. Williams is yet to join the Storm for training camp as she finishes the competition playing abroad in Hungary.

Westbrook’s addition to Seattle was made official in this year’s draft when she was selected No. 21 overall by the storm.

“I was personally thrilled that we were drafting Evina,” Stewart said. “I think she’s a player who can obviously influence the game on both sides. She’s smart. She’s kind of been through it all on and off the pitch, and just gives us a new presence that we need.

The fifth-year senior will be graduating from UConn in the coming weeks after completing her online classes while in Seattle.

Being drafted by Seattle was a dream come true for the Oregonian.

“I’m in an incredible position, not only to play with them (Bird and Stewart), but I’m also closest to home,” Westbrook said. “Just being around them on and off the pitch is honestly, it’s a blessing and just being on the same (pitch), playing with them and being their teammates, it’s is pretty awesome.”

Seattle coach Noelle Quinn said Westbrook played mostly as a point guard during the team’s early days of camp. Although it was a position Westbrook last played in her freshman and second seasons at Tennessee (she transferred to UConn before her junior year), Quinn and Bird were impressed with her versatility to play anywhere. which of the guard posts on both sides of the ball. .

“He’s a great guard, able to see over defenses,” Quinn said. “What’s great about E is that she’s able to play at all guard positions. So the versatility on the attacking side, but her ability to guard multiple positions and I think in our league, if you have, obviously not a skill set, but a specific skill set, a specific skill set is important, but players who have some versatility for their game stick to teams and find ways to be effective in our league.

Westbrook said adjusting to practices and scrimmages at the WNBA level has been difficult, but she appreciates the ability to learn from so many of the league’s all-time veterans.

“It’s been a huge adjustment so far,” Westbrook said. “I feel like in every exercise and everything we do, I’m doing it wrong or doing it wrong. But I had these two (Bird and Stewart) here with the other vets to help us all, because they’ve been there, they were beginners once, so they understand what it’s all about.

The 6-foot guard is undeterred by the new level of intensity and skill. She credits UConn and coach Geno Auriemma for preparing her for the professional world.

“We have the same type of pedigree coming from Connecticut, the coach (Auriemma) prepares us for everything we’ve been through, last year just a lot, but on the court it’s the same over the years. “, she said. . “I felt ready to go in. I just knew it was going to be a big change and it was. But it’s just about adapting every day and they told us that.

Bird and Stewart agree.

“The program, I know they haven’t won in a few years, but one thing they do is prepare people for the WNBA,” Bird said. “So you knew with a player like Evina she was going to be ready, hungry.

“Her ability to play multiple positions there, I think there’s so much in her game that hasn’t even been exploited that now that she’s a pro she’s going to start exploiting that, we let’s see some more of her so it’s exciting.

But more than priming talent on the court, the program also creates a lasting connection outside of basketball.

“There’s a UConn connection because regardless of who’s playing together or not, it’s a family and (we) just want to continue to help her in that process the way she helps us,” Stewart said.


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