SEATTLE — “Hello, my name is …” sticker tags might have been appropriate at the opening of the Storm’s training camp considering all the fresh faces.
While it’s true that most of the newcomers who participated in practice Sunday at Seattle Pacific University’s Royal Brougham Pavilion aren’t likely to remain with the team for the regular-season opener May 25, one glance at the new-look Seattle team was a shocking reminder of what it lost during the offseason.
“There’s a lot of players who aren’t here,” second-year guard Jordin Canada said. “It’s kind of weird, but at the same time it’s good to see the new incoming players. It’s good to see what they have and what they can bring to the team.
“We’re missing a whole bunch of people, but they’ll be coming back. It’s just a different dynamic right now.”
The good news is six of the seven Storm returnees who aren’t in camp are expected to join the team in the next two weeks.
And the bad news is the WNBA defending champions got their first glimpse of life without reigning MVP Breanna Stewart, who is out with a season-ending Achilles injury.
“You don’t lose an MVP and not be impacted by it,” All-Star guard Sue Bird said. “Stewie is going to be around a little bit and we’ll be happy we get to see her face every now and then, but for the most part we have to focus on who we do have. Right now, it’s who we have in camp and we’re just trying to get better.”
The Storm understands it’s impossible to replace the 6-foot-4 forward who averaged 21.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.3 steals while starting all 42 games — including the postseason – last season.
“That’s not a loss just for Seattle, that’s a loss for basketball in general,” coach Dan Hughes said. “She’s coming along. She’s going to be back. That’s part of life. That journey that life takes you on.
“I know she’s got the toughness and the mentality to come out on the other side and be back and probably be even better down the road.”
Before then, the Storm is impatiently waiting for Jewell Loyd, Alysha Clark, Sami Whitcomb, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Courtney Paris to return after playing overseas with their foreign teams.
A year ago, Seattle had everyone with the exception of Paris at the start of training camp before compiling a league-best 26-8 record.
This year, a dozen players were absent from the first practice, including forward Natasha Howard who watched from the sideline.
Howard and Paris should return this week, but it’s uncertain if Loyd, Clark and Whitcomb will be able to participate in either of the Storm’s two exhibitions on May 15 and May 17.
“It’s very fortunate when you have a lot of training-camp players,” Hughes said. “You also got to find a way to be good as they come (back) in stages. But I think corporate knowledge is a helpful thing. They understand who their teammates are. They understand what you’re trying to do. You just pray that they come in healthy.”
A year ago, the Storm set WNBA 3-point records in a game (17) and a season (307) with one of the best perimeter attacks in league history.
It’s unlikely Seattle will match the 87.2 points per game of last season without Stewart and will need to discover a new winning formula.
“The journey this year is going to be unique in the same way that last year’s was,” Hughes said. “Last year was a team that we felt had talent, but honestly hadn’t had a winning season since 2011. This year’s journey will teach us some things because you’re taking away the best basketball player in the world from it.
“But if we pay attention to who we are this year and the uniqueness of this year, and if we pay attention to the road it takes us on, then we got enough good players. … It’s about us being in the moment. We owned 2018 and we’ve got to own 2019.”
Hughes, 64, will step away from the team Thursday in preparation for surgery next week to treat carcinoid cancer that was discovered during an emergency appendectomy in February.
Assistant Gary Kloppenburg will take over while Hughes is out and it’s unclear when he’ll return.
“We laid out a way that I think the players will keep right on going without me and be just fine,” Hughes said. “If we got a good system, and I think we do, and I know we got good players, whether I’m here or not doesn’t really matter. The coaches will take it right in stride.”
While most of the veterans were absent, the practice Sunday featured incoming free agent signee Shavonte Zellous, draft choices Anriel Howard and Macy Miller and four training camp additions (Gonzaga’s Zykera Rice, New Mexico State’s Brooke Salas, Texas Tech’s Recee Caldwell and Central Michigan’s Presley Hudson).
“Good Day 1,” Hughes said. “But it’s really important to move on to Day 2.”