Noel Quinn was thrilled to finally make Mercedes Russell’s long-awaited debut of the season on Friday, but coach Storm warned that the return of the starting position would not solve the set of problems plaguing Seattle.
“We can’t expect her or anyone else to put on Super Woman and save us,” Quinn said. “We have to do the work. We have to play better. … With that being said, it’s good to get her back.
“Cedes have been a huge part of what we’ve built here over the years. They helped us win two championships. But like I was saying, we can’t expect to come in and be dominant right away. That would be nice and I certainly hope you can do that, but realistically we have to We give her some time to get back into the swing of things.”
In her first game of the season, Russell played just 12 minutes off the bench and finished with more fouls (three) and more spins (three) than points (two) and rebounds (two) during. Loss 68-51 against the Dallas Wings Friday.
Admittedly, it was a rough start for the five-year veteran who had missed training camp and the previous eight games due to an undisclosed basketball injury that the team initially reported on April 17.
Russell declined to give any details about the injury other than to say, “Being a basketball player, I’ve had injuries before. It’s about being patient and taking the time to really get to know your body. Make sure you come back healthy and be positive through the whole experience.”
Russell returned to court last week and took part in Storm’s rehearsals prior to her debut. Quinn plans to slowly reintegrate it into the game plan as a reserve Behind veteran striker Jantel Lavenderwho started the past three games while center Ezi Magbegor was on WNBA health and safety protocols.
Initially, coaches placed Russell on playing 12 to 15 minutes of play, but Quinn is hoping to extend her time on the court.
“I was looking at the time limit and thinking maybe I could get another seven minutes out of it?” Quinn said with a smile. “As we adapt her and iterate her game, it will help her tremendously, especially in rebounding. That’s 8-12 offensive points.”
Last year, Russell had a breakout season averaging 7.3 points and reaching career highs in rebounds (6.1), field goal shooting percentage (61.7%) and assists (1.6).
After losing the target of free agent Stephanie Dolson, who picked New York over Seattle, Storm secured 26-year-old Russell, a restricted free agent, with a three-year, $480,000 deal on February 1.
said Russell, a former Tennessee Falls superstar who joined Storm in 2018 as a rookie free agent after he was released by New York, which selected her in the second round of the 2018 WNBA Draft. “Being in my fifth year, I think I made a place for myself in this league, which is tough. It’s tough. This year, the cuts around the league have been massive. We say we’re a league of 144, but the real number is probably 130 because many people aren’t able on the inclusion of 12.
“So just getting a place for myself in this league is only important because of this level of difficulty staying in the league and staying in the roster. I’m grateful. Seattle is a fantastic organization from top to bottom.”
Filling Russell’s center, Magbegor, a skinny 6-foot-4, 176-pound center, demonstrated the potential of a future star who could score 21 points, grab 11 rebounds, block seven shots and collect two steals.
However, Storm desperately needs Russell, who has a size (6-6 and 195 pounds) and a versatile skill set to match the best players in the low position.
“The last two weeks we’ve been calling it Mercedes Embiid because it really has the ability to control the game,” said goalkeeper Joel Lloyd, who likened Russell to Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid. “She has a guard mentality. She understands basketball very well. She has the ability to pass and see the ground.
“Her talent level is there. She’s getting better every year. She’s versatile. She’s healthy now and in great shape. She’s working her way back from her injury. She’s another guard on the ground with Sue (Bird).”
Russell provides a perspective on Seattle’s shaky 5-4 record ahead of the big showdown at 3 p.m. Sunday against Connecticut Sky, which has the second-best record in the WNBA at 8-3.
“We’ve had games with and without Stewie (Breanna Stewart) and games with and without Sue,” Russell said. “So, it’s been a roller coaster for us so far. We haven’t played a single game with our full roster of 11. I don’t think we’ve trained together with our roster of 11, which is crazy because we’re a month into the season now.
“I think we are honestly in a good position. He has been consistent throughout the league. Everyone wins. Everyone loses. No team really separated from the rest. We just need time to play with each other.”
Sue Bird, the WNBA All-Star Protector, returned to training on Saturday and is expected to start on Sunday. She has missed the past three games while in league health and safety protocols.
Magbegor is out of protocols and allowed to play Sunday.