Storm steadily luring in top Australian players

Australian superstar Lauren Jackson (left) is the best known of a long string of Aussie players for the Seattle Storm. (Photo Courtesy Seattle Storm)
Australian superstar Lauren Jackson (left) is only the best known of a long string of Aussie players for the Seattle Storm. (Photo Courtesy Seattle Storm)

Katrina Hibbert wasn’t aware at the time that she had made history by scoring the first points for the Seattle Storm on May 31, 2000.

“I really didn’t know that was the case until Tully Bevilaqua a few years ago told me I was [the answer to] a trivia question,” Hibbert said.

But beyond that first basket, Hibbert would have a second notable claim to the history books that wasn’t clear at the time — the Melbourne native was the first in what would become a long-line of Australian players to don a Storm uniform.

Since the league’s founding in 1997, a total of 27 Australian players have played in the WNBA. Of those, nine have played for the Storm, second only to the Phoenix Mercury, who have had 10 since their inaugural season in 1997.

So what has drawn so many Australian players to Seattle over the last 15 seasons?

For four of the nine, including Hibbert and three-time MVP and seven-time All-Star Lauren Jackson, it was as simple as getting drafted by the team.

“[Then head coach] Lin Dunn was a bit of a savior and picked me up and gave me a chance,” Hibbert said. “Obviously, being from Australia those opportunities are very limited from that distance.”

Abby Bishop, who appeared in 16 games with the Storm during its 2010 championship season, took a different route, signing with the team after playing in the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) of Australia.

Abby Bishop (Photo courtesy of the Seattle Storm)
Abby Bishop (Photo courtesy of the Seattle Storm)

“I had always dreamt of playing in the WNBA, so when an opportunity came up, I couldn’t turn it down,” Bishop said in an email.

Bishop cited the presence of Jackson — the only Australian player named to the league’s Top 15 of all-time list in 2011 — as a key factor in drawing other Australian players to the Storm.

“I think Lauren Jackson paved the way for Aussies in Seattle,” Bishop said. “[Head coach] Brian [Agler] obviously has a lot of trust is Aussie basketball players, and in saying that I think in general we have a great reputation for being good people, and I know that’s really important these days.”

For  who played for the Storm in 2003 and 2004 and is one of four Australian Storm players (including current Storm guard Jenna O’Hea) that had previous WNBA experience before coming to Seattle, it was also a matter of getting an opportunity to play.

The fact the Storm has continued to draw in Australian talent is no surprise to Hibbert, who will be bringing the boys and girls high school basketball teams she now coaches at a private school in Melbourne to Seattle in December 2015 as part of a tour of the United States to share her appreciation of the city.

“I think the mentality and the lifestyle of Seattle is similar to that of some of our bigger cities in Australia, so we kind of blend in quite well there,” Hibbert said.

While Tully Bevilaqua, a native of Merredin, in Western Australia, said while the rigors of travel are a downside, it’s something you get over quickly, and the number of players to have a good experience in Seattle has set a positive precedent for others.

“Australians all talk to each other, and I think everyone’s that’s been there has had nothing but good things to say about [playing in Seattle],” Bevilaqua said. “So there’s that initial attraction there because of the positivity of former Australian players that have played there.”

With the Australian women’s national basketball team reaching the medal stand at the last five Olympic games, there’s no shortage of talent from the country.

“Australians are known for just being hard workers, being easy going, and I think that’s an attraction as well for coaches,” Bevilaqua said.

Bishop said she’s hopeful that more Australians will be making the jump to the WNBA in the years to come.

“The up and coming talent we have is exciting, we are getting better as basketball players, and I think people are starting to realize how valuable having Aussies in that league are, Bishop said. “I hope we will see more and more Aussies in the WNBA in the near future. “

Click on the map below to take a look at where each of the nine Storm players from Australia are from, and what they did while they were in Seattle.