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Seattle Storm showcase talent from Australia

Lauren Jackson, drafted in 2001, started Seattle’s Australian trend.  (Associated Press)
Lauren Jackson, drafted in 2001, started Seattle’s Australian trend. (Associated Press)

SEATTLE – Forgive Australians Abby Bishop and Lauren Jackson if they looked at rookie Alison Lacey strangely.

The trio hails from Australia, Lacey born in Canberra, where Bishop and Jackson played pro ball. But something was missing.

“I’ve definitely lost my Australian accent,” said Lacey, the Storm’s first-round draft pick. “Hearing Lauren and Abby talk, I’m so embarrassed – it’s gone.”

Lacey traveled to America as an exchange student and stayed when she was offered a basketball scholarship to Iowa State. Living in Ames, she became a little Midwestern.

Meanwhile, Bishop followed the path Jackson had taken. Trained at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra and playing in Australia’s national league, Bishop, a 6-foot-3 forward, is part of the continued pipeline of WNBA players from down under.

“Everybody in Australia would love to play in the WNBA,” said Bishop, who signed a free-agent contract. “There’s only a few Aussies playing in the league, so for me to come here and get a chance to prove myself is huge. I’m up for the challenge. I’ve been working hard in the gym and getting prepared.”

Depending on how the roster forms by Friday’s deadline, the Storm could be a microcosm of the WNBA in terms of the background of its players. In addition to the three Australians, the Storm have three players from the University of Connecticut and two from Tennessee on its roster.

During the 2009 season, there were 10 players from Tennessee, nine from UConn and seven from Australia.

“Lauren has been the ambassador of that (growth),” Connecticut alum Swin Cash said of Jackson following Michelle Timms (Phoenix) and Tully Bevilaqua (Indiana) as the third Aussie into the league. “The level of play that she brings, she’s helped her teammates get better.”

Drafted by Seattle with the No. 1 overall pick in 2001, Jackson’s impact probably wasn’t felt more in her native country than this past year. A back injury, and the death of her Russian team owner, led to her staying in Canberra, where she led the Capitals to the WNBL championship with Bishop by her side.

Games had to be moved to large venues to accommodate fans, and lines afterward for autographs were hours long, according to former Washington guard Nicole Romeo, who also played for the Capitals.

Jackson’s popularity and vocal nature helped push Australia to improve its facilities and other resources to develop its players. Yet she warns the program still lags behind America.

“The program has changed a lot with Carrie Graf at the helm,” Jackson said of the former Storm assistant coach who is the Australian national team coach. “It’s a different vibe, a different era and it’s going to be good.

“We have a lot of great young talent coming through. With the WNBA and all the leagues around the world, that has definitely made players become better.”

The Australians’ style of play also fits the WNBA. Jackson, who is 6-5, can shoot 3-pointers and drive the lane. Bishop and Lacey exemplify Australians’ knack to play team ball, compensating for any lack of athleticism with hard work.

“And they’re fun,” said Storm guard and Tennessee alum Loree Moore, something Storm fans already know after having seen six Aussies in Seattle uniforms. “On an intellectual level, they’re reading and reacting to things rather than have set plays. They get a feel for the game and roll with it. Their style of play is quick. It’s fun to see their mentality and approach to games and learn from that.”

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