Lauren Jackson missed a few open shots during a practice last week, which she considered unacceptable. So, after the 21/2-hour practice, she stayed on to hoist up dozens more from those places, to correct perceived flaws, and to continue her obvious vendetta against complacency.
It stretches the imagination to hear that Jackson is in her 10th season with the WNBA Seattle Storm, having turned 29 last week.
She’s been the two-time league MVP, but is not content with her game or with the team’s performance.
Injuries and five consecutive first-round playoff flameouts have left Jackson and the Storm motivated for a return to title contention. They start the battle back in today’s 6 p.m. season-opener against Los Angeles at KeyArena.
Dripping sweat from the exertion after finally wrapping up her workout recently, the 6-foot-5 Jackson explained the extra effort.
“In practice, when you miss some shots, you’ve got to get more reps in,” she said. “I know what I’ve got to do to keep getting better and to be where I want to be.”
Even now? In the 10th season? “Absolutely ... I’ve still got a bit of fire in the belly.”
Jackson plays in leagues around the world all year, and expects to have played in about 100 games by the time this year is over. With her global opportunities, she could have passed on the WNBA, especially considering the physical demands, but continues to come back to Seattle.
“I’ve been here since the (franchise’s) second year, was a first-round draft pick, and I feel a responsibility to this team and this city,” she said. “I have a sense of loyalty. This team has been very loyal to me, and they deserve to have that back.”
Wait a second, Lauren, you’re an all-star level professional athlete, you’re not supposed to say things like that.
“Ha ... well, I know, but I’m a woman, as well, and we’re built differently than men,” she said.
That she keeps returning provides an insight into her competitive makeup, said teammate Sue Bird.
“For her to stay loyal and keep coming back says volumes,” Bird said. “For non-Americans, some of them would rather just take their summers off. For Lauren, she can dominate any league in the world, but this is one where she gets pushed a little. She’s still a two-time MVP and first-team (WNBA) every year, but I think she likes the challenge.”
Jackson and Bird agree this has been the most competitive Storm preseason camp they’ve experienced, and speculate that there’s high motivation to get back into title contention.
“The injuries last season – actually, the last two seasons – were the problems,” Bird said. “We have had two teams, in my opinion, that could have fought for championships. So, to lose in the first round always leaves a bitter taste.”
Jackson and Bird say they’re healthy and eager.
Coach Brian Agler wants to keep it that way. When asked if there is a guiding theme for this season, he quickly answered: “Stay healthy.”
And while it may be difficult to “coach” health, Agler is trying.
“We’re trying to keep an eye on certain things,” he said. “People are training differently in the weight room and with the physical stuff. They’re doing a better job of resting when it’s time. We’ll help that along with how we practice and with days off here and there.”
Bird, too, sees the team having the talent and temperament of a contender.
“I think what you’re going to see, game in and game out, is a team that is going to be very difficult to score on,” Bird said. “Our backbone is going to be our defense. Offensively, we can play at any given pace at any given time. We can push the ball or slow it down if we have to. And, for the most part, we’re a veteran team, so you should see a lot of mature play and composure.”
And if the likes of Jackson and Bird can stay healthy, what you won’t see is a hint of complacency.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 email@example.com