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Thursday, April 18, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Storm

Dunn has eye on Bird as first pick in draft

Seattle Times staff reporter

There was a pause over the phone, while Connecticut guard Sue Bird searched for words to describe herself.

"I know on the basketball court I may play above normal and stuff," Bird said, then paused again. "But I'm a pretty typical, normal kid. I'm like the girl next door."

If only we all could be so normal.

"It's not that big a deal," she said.

Nope, by now national attention is like a worn pair of sneakers in Bird's life. Since people first started making a fuss about her in junior high, she's learned how to duck the hype.

Take this week. Bird lives off campus with UConn teammates Swin Cash, Asjha Jones and Tamika Williams. The foursome is expected to be selected high in the first round of tomorrow's WNBA draft, surpassing Georgia's record for the most players taken in the opening round of the same draft at three last April. Yet, instead of having midnight chats about the draft over Bird's specialty chocolate chip cookies, the UConn seniors have managed to ignore the subject.

Parades for the Huskies national title, appearances at the New York Stock Exchange, and last-minute schoolwork overshadow their future with the draft.

"I feel like we've all four done what we needed to do," Bird said. "Now it's up to the people who pick to make their decision.

"I'm really looking forward to finding out what happens Friday," she said.

Storm Coach Lin Dunn and her staff have scouted Bird since the UConn guard recovered from an ACL injury her freshman year. Bird's growth into an All-American point guard who averaged 14.4 points and 5.9 assists while leading her team to a 39-0 season is one reason Dunn has pegged Bird as a possible overall top draft pick.

Meeting Bird while she trained with the USA Basketball Women's National team in Colorado earlier this month made her even more intriguing to Dunn. Bird was the only college player on the team of WNBA stars.

"We just talked," said Dunn of the conversation in a hotel lobby. "She's just as lovely a person as she is a basketball player. Very poised. That's important. One of the things you think about with a pick is will they connect with the community and the media.

"All of the players we're considering will."

The Storm also is considering Cash, a 6-foot-2 forward, and Canadian Olympian Stacey Dales-Schuman, a 6-0 guard who led Oklahoma to the NCAA title game and married Chris Schuman April 13.

But from Internet chat rooms to the water cooler, talk is that Bird will be the No. 1 pick.

Drafting Bird, 22, would give the Storm three solid young players, including Australian Olympian Lauren Jackson, Tennessee alumna Semeka Randall.

It would also shake up the Storm's guard situation. Veteran Sonja Henning started all but four games for Seattle the past two seasons. Teammate Michelle Marciniak, a free agent added after training camp last summer, was being groomed for the starter's role late in the season. And Storm guard Michelle Edwards, who only played three games last summer due to a foot injury, retired yesterday.

Bird could knock both Henning and Marciniak out of their anticipated roles. The same thing happened to Marciniak last season when the Portland Fire drafted guard Jackie Stiles and cut Marciniak from its guard-heavy roster.

"You don't draft a Sue Bird to have her play off the bench, I know that," said Marciniak, who played against Bird in Colorado as part of the WNBA veteran team. "But I dropped my ego a couple of years ago. I'm for anything that helps this team win and I told Coach to draft her. I would love to play with Sue and help her make that transition — whether she takes my spot or not."

One transition Bird may have to make is handling losing. At least at first.

The Storm won six games in their first season. After Seattle drafted Jackson with the No. 1 overall pick last season, it finished 10-22. Without a strong center in a Western Conference with the likes of Lisa Leslie, Natalie Williams, and now Rebecca Lobo with Houston, Bird may be hard-pressed to lift the Storm into the playoffs.

It's a tough change for Bird, a native New Yorker who won two city titles and one national title at Christ the King (Queens) High School, and went on to win two NCAA titles at UConn, including the undefeated season finale.

"I don't plan on losing," Bird said. "I don't want to speak too soon because I don't know what it's like and it's a big adjustment going to the WNBA. But I'm going to do whatever I need to do to help my team. I'm looking forward to the challenge of it all."

Instinct is one of Bird's biggest assets. Huskies Coach Geno Auriemma has had to scream at Bird to shoot more during games. But when she did shoot, like against Penn State in the NCAA tournament's regional semifinal, Bird scored 24 points. In the title match she fed the white-hot Cash while scoring 14 points.

Bird may not be as physical as fellow Husky Jennifer Rizzotti (Cleveland), or as good a defender as another alumna Rita Williams (Indiana), but her all-around talent exceeds both.

"We feel we'd win more games with a player of that caliber," said Storm assistant coach Gary Kloppenburg. "She's an exciting passer, can penetrate and she doesn't lose much, you gotta like that about her."

Bird and her three teammates will be among the players in the NBA Entertainment studio for the 64-player draft in Secaucus, N. J., which will be aired on ESPN2 and NBA.com TV. If selected first, Bird would be the first American taken with the top pick since Chamique Holdsclaw in 1999.

Note

• The Storm waived forward Stacey Lovelace yesterday, and guard Michelle Edwards announced her retirement. Lovelace, 27, played the last two seasons with the Storm, averaging 3.9 points and 2.9 rebounds in 45 career games. She is rumored to be taking the season off to plan her wedding in August. Edwards, 36, missed 29 games last season with left foot pain. She had surgery during the offseason, but said she wanted to pursue opportunities off the court. Edwards played five seasons in the WNBA, two with Seattle and three with Cleveland. Her career averages were 7.6 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists.

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