It will be a tale of two seasons for the Seattle Storm and the entire WNBA this summer. There are seasons before and after the three week break for the Olympic games in London.
Seattle will spend the first 19 games without all-star post Lauren Jackson. She's already training with team Australia. Point guard Sue Bird will also leave in a few weeks to prepare with the United States squad.
Bird spoke of the challenges for the Storm as they get ready to tip off the 2012 basketball schedule.
Shekinna Stricklen, the number two draft pick, is excited to start her first season with the Seattle Storm. (Bill Swartz/710 ESPN Seattle)
"The one thing to be said about this break is every team will have to deal with it, and it's just a matter of who will not let it bother them the most. The one thing unique to us is we have Lauren, a new player joining us, and getting into the mix of things."
Storm coach Brian Agler told me he looks at the first half as the most important part of the season. "We aren't going to have our full roster, and we play a lot of road games. Winning on the road in this league isn't easy."
Making the year more difficult, a majority of the Storm's home games take place after the Olympic break.
In Seattle's favor is the veteran leadership of Bird, Katie Smith, and Camille Little, as well as newcomer Tina Thompson. The first draft pick in WNBA history, Thompson is looking forward to not being booed by Storm fans at Key Arena.
"I run into a few of the Storm "crazies" at Starbucks and the grocery store, and I've been getting the same couple of lines from them," Thompson laughed. "Oh, I've hated you for so long! It feels so good to love you and cheer for you."
The Storm traded away all star Swin Cash during the off-season. They used the number two draft pick on University of Tennessee All-American Shekinna Stricklen. She is also looking forward to her first home game in a Seattle uniform.
"I watched a few Storm games on television. I know the fans here are great. It's a lot like Tennessee where they really support you."
Stricklen is a mobile, versatile 6'2" athlete who can guard the post, or cover a small guard on the perimeter. She's not afraid to ask the older players for help to learn the pro game.
"The vets have all been encouraging and helping me very well. There were a lot of rookies in training camp, but they've been very patient with us."
The Storm will host the Los Angeles Sparks at 7 p.m. Friday night at KeyArena. The same teams battle again next Tuesday evening in southern California.