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We get to the Furtado Center a little after the practice had begun. There are about 50 fans seated around two sides of the practice floor. There are actually two full courts in the practice space with several baskets around the perimeter of each. The team is doing passing drills as we come in. Kamila and Alessandra are still absent. We had seen on the WNBA web site that Amber Hall, Linda Miles and Robin Threatt-Elliott were waived yesterday. What kind of effect does that have on the remaining players? I think we see the results – more about that later.

Coach runs the players through several different types of drills. One of them seems hard to keep track of – a rotating 3 person scrimmage where a fourth player on the side who would come in after a made basket to replace one of the active players. The losers at the end of the time had to run sprints. This is always the carrot – whoever loses a scrimmage, misses free throws, whatever, has to run the floor. For instance, the players start a free throw drill where they have to make 5 in a row to complete the drill. If they miss one, not only do they have to start over, but they also get to run. Throughout the practice, this drill is repeated several times, hit 3 in a row, hit 5 in a row, first to 5, etc. Everyone “gets” to run sooner or later.

At different times, the guards split off from the forwards/centers and each group does shot and approach drills – 15 footers and threes, layups and 10 footers – constantly on the move. All of the players are working hard. Coach Dunn is floating between the groups giving direction. Coaches James and Kloppenburg lead some of the split off groups, and give follow up “good cop” advice after Coach Dunn lets one of the players know when she has screwed up.

After about 30 or 40 minutes, we realize that Lauren isn’t on the floor. She comes out later with the trainer and stays on the sideline for the rest of the practice. They are working on her right knee. Do we go ahead and start freaking out now?

The rest of the team starts a scrimmage that goes a full 40 minutes. Daniel, the conditioning coach, and two of the other staff members act as refs. They do call some fouls (the players aren’t holding back). When Semeka complains about one call, Coach says (are you sitting down for this?), “The referee is always right.” The players laugh about that one.

Whether it is because they are vying for a limited number of roster spots (having been acutely reminded of this by yesterday’s waivers), or because they are just this competitive, the players are really going to it. They look better than they did against Portland just two days earlier.

At the end of the practice, the players mingle with the fans to sign autographs and answer questions. We talk to Lauren and find out that the WNBA ball is smaller than she is used to. She says that by the beginning of the season she will be “firing.” We also ask her about whether the WNBA uniform is bothering her since it is not a body-suit style like the standard Australian uniform. She said that no, it isn’t a problem. The practice uniforms worn by the Australian teams are similar to the WNBA uniform. We do notice, however, that she is wearing what appears to be her Capitals uniform under her practice uniform. She also assures us that the knee injury that kept her out of the practice is nothing to worry about. This is the first time we have been able to meet with LJ and we are both impressed by her. She is very personable and soft-spoken, if not a little put off at all the attention.

We also talk to Coach Dunn. She tells us that Kamila is expected in on the 19th and will begin by walking through practices for the first four or five so that she can get some rest after her international play. We ask her about whether the players get any real rest since most of them play overseas. She says that it is a concern, but that all the teams have to deal with it, so it isn’t a huge disadvantage for the Storm. Alessandra is expected at the end of the month.

Jamie is a little “bitter” that Hec Ed was renovated AFTER she graduated, she says with a smile when we ask her about playing there the other night. It was the first time she had been back to the UW arena.

This has been a great event. It has given us a whole new appreciation for how hard these players are working. They were scrambling for loose balls, fighting for rebounds, and yelling when things went wrong or right (especially Semeka). This is definitely an event that we would recommend to anyone who is on the fence about this game and these players. You will be a convert after you’ve seen these players up close.

 

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