Westbrook a versatile addition to Storm, which also boast UConn's Bird, Stewart, Williams
Twenty years ago Tuesday, the Seattle Storm of the WNBA drafted UConn great Sue Bird with the first overall pick, bringing with it a whirlwind of change for Bird, whose first impression of the city was that she didn't really appreciate the West Coast weather.
"I just remember thinking, 'Dang, Seattle's far,' and it is. That hasn't changed," Bird said on a Zoom video conference Tuesday following the Storm's training camp session. "My first two weeks it was just getting adjusted. I was really lucky Michelle Marciniak was a veteran on the team. Right when I got to town she gave me a call and was like, 'Hey, let's go grab breakfast. I'll show you around.'
"They were like 'This is where the grocery store is. This is where things are.' I just remember getting in my car and driving around and just esentially getting lost. Trying to get lost so I could learn my way around."
The 41-year-old Bird, who has spent her entire career in Seattle, winning four WNBA titles and five Olympic gold medals since her arrival, is now part of the welcome wagon for players new to the Storm. This year, that group includes UConn guard Evina Westbrook, whom the Storm chose in the second round of the draft, 21st overall.
Westbrook joins former UConn All-Americans Bird, Breanna Stewart and Gabby Williams in Seattle, with Williams being traded to the Storm from the Los Angeles Sparks in February.
Westbrook joined Bird and Stewart on the Zoom conference to discuss, in part, what it's like for the four former UConn players to be together on a different coast.
"(Wednesday is) our first day off so tonight we'll all get together, the whole team, watch the NBA games and just hang out so we can get to know each other off the court," Bird said. "And yeah, if they need to know where the grocery store is, I can tell them."
"I was personally excited for us to draft Evina," Stewart said. "I think she's a player that can obviously affect the game on both ends. She's smart. She's kind of been through it all on and off the court, just gives us a new presence that we need. There is a UConn connection, no matter if we played together (in college) or not. It's a family. Just wanting to continue to help her along in this process as she helps us."
Westbrook, 23, hails from Salem, Oregon, about four hours south of Seattle, meaning she's already used to the weather. A 6-foot-guard, Westbrook played 66 career games at UConn after transferring from Tennessee. She finished her four years between the two schools with 1,338 points.
Westbrook said that to come from UConn's practice facility back in Storrs, where Bird and Stewart's accomplishments are plastered all over every wall, to being on the same team with them is "crazy, honestly."
"I'm in an amazing situation," Westbrook said. "Not only just to play with them but I'm also the closest I've ever been to home. Just to be around (the other former UConn alums) on and off the court, honestly it's a blessing. ... It's been a huge adjustment so far. I feel like every drill or everything we're doing, I'm messing it up, but I got these two right here along with the other vets helping all of us out."
The Storm begin their preseason schedule Saturday at home against the Sparks and another UConn rookie in Olivia Nelson-Ododa. Seattle begins its regular season at home on May 6 with a meeting against the Minnesota Lynx.
Westbrook is one of seven rookies trying to make the 11-player roster.
Storm head coach Noelle Quinn was complimentary Tuesday in speaking of Westbrook, whose versatility to compete at any guard position, including the point, is a definite plus.
"What's very great about E is that she's able to know every spot, every guard spot," Quinn said. "So the versatility on the offensive end, but her ability to guard multiple positions ... I think in our league, specific skill set is important but I think that players that have some versatility to their game stick on teams and find ways to be effective in our league."