SPOKANE – As if they didn’t know it before, the Seattle Storm came to understand they weren’t the only game in town on Saturday – at about 8 a.m.
That’s when the National Anthem blared over loudspeakers outside their rooms at the Davenport Hotel and the first of Hoopfest’s 11,000-odd 3-on-3 games began on the streets of downtown Spokane.
“Actually, there was a guy on the P.A. about 7,” said Storm forward Adia Barnes. “There was a lot of noise out there.”
With nearly 24,000 participants, Hoopfest is the largest 3-on-3 tournament in the country – taking up 45 city blocks and a dozen downtown parking lots. This year, teams in the coed brackets were doing battle on Sprague Avenue in front of the Davenport.
“I watched a couple of games this morning,” said the Storm’s Sheri Sam. “It’s fun. When I was a kid, we didn’t have anything like that. There were some girls out there holding their own with the boys and a lot of good players. And it’s so big!
“You can tell this community cares about the game. Giving kids an opportunity like this to play is great. For some of them, I’m sure it’s the highlight of the year.”
Just what Lauren Jackson needed – another road game.
Even a brief excursion to Spokane is a little more extra wear and tear on the Storm center, whose basketball pedal has been floored for more than a year now. After earning MVP honors during the last WNBA season, Jackson returned home to play in Australia, then accepted a lucrative offer to play in Russia before returning to Seattle. Ahead looms the August commitment to Australia’s Olympic team, then the resumption of the WNBA season.
“I think we’re all concerned about that,” said Storm coach Anne Donovan. “Lauren hasn’t taken a break from the game since she was very young. She’s playing 12 months of the year and that’s bound to take some toll. Then again, she’s only 23 and she’s been doing it since she was 15.”
Jackson, her achy shins notwithstanding, isn’t overly concerned.
“We’ll see,” she said. “My legs may start to feel it. But I feel like I need to play year-round.”
Said Donovan, “Hopefully she’ll get to rest at some point – but it’s not going to be during our season.”
On the other hand…
It’s not as if Jackson appears to be slowing down any. The 6-foot-5 center has been Seattle’s leading scorer in all five games leading up to Saturday’s game against New York, after leading the team only twice in the first six games of the season.
“In the first six games, the Minnesota game (Seattle’s season opener) was unbelievable, and then I think she struggled a little bit to find her groove,” Donovan said. “I think the expanded lane had something to do with it. Now she’s back in her groove, but that doesn’t mean she has to score 25 for us to win. It’s good news for us that Lauren can average 19 – a little less than last year – and we’re still winning.”
The Liberty, reeling with six straight losses coming to Spokane, was without forward Crystal Robinson, who suffered a fractured finger on her right hand during the second half of Tuesday’s loss to the Los Angeles Sparks. Robinson is expected to miss 3-4 weeks.
Rookie Shameka Christon replaced Robinson in the starting lineup.