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Saturday, April 20, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Storm

This Bird flies high; will Storm follow?

Seattle Times staff reporter

Gold streamers littered the Storm's training facility court.

Yesterday's draft party came and went, but the feeling that it won't be the only time the Storm is in celebratory mode this season hung in the air like the odor of the picked-over Krispy Kreme donuts on a far table.

Storm Coach/General Manager Lin Dunn made everyone a psychic, selecting Connecticut star Sue Bird with the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft. And with the move came visions of championship banners and all-star lineups.

"Our team got better when we started thinking about selecting Sue Bird," Dunn said.

Bird, a 5-foot-9 guard, is expected to make an immediate impact with the Storm.

Seattle finished 10-22 last season with almost a non-existent perimeter presence. The Storm shot 37.8 percent from the field and 31.1 percent from three-point range. Storm forward Lauren Jackson was its sole consistent offense, averaging 15.2 points and 6.7 rebounds a game.

Bird shot 50.5 percent from the field while leading UConn to a 39-0 season and NCAA title. A coach-smart player, with Bird the Storm has an answer for the standard Jackson double-team.

Kick it out to the rookie.

"And bam, she makes the outside shot," said Dunn, finally able to envision a perfectly executed offense. "Teams will pay for double-teaming Lauren Jackson."

Dunn learned just how valuable Bird is through the draft process. The Storm held the No. 1 pick for the second consecutive year and entertained trade offers more so than last season. As the draft grew closer, teams like New York, Washington, Detroit and Indiana bordered on offering their entire roster for the pick.

But the more they bargained the tighter Dunn made her grip on the pick.

"You've got to think, why do all these teams want this player so bad?" said Wally Walker, president and CEO of the Sonics and Storm. "Then you understand just how special she is."

Bird, 22, is the first guard taken with the top pick in the draft's six-year history and the first of four Huskies taken in the top six. Bird also is the first American drafted first since Chamique Holdsclaw in 1999, who also played at Bird's alma mater, Christ the King (Queens) High School in New York.

The national Player of the Year, Bird will sign a contract that pays her $57,500 this season.

"There was a lot of hype about the first pick, and a lot of people were saying it was going to be me," Bird said in a raspy voice from a sore throat and allergies or too many interviews. "But what if it's not? I'm going to feel like an idiot.

"It's a big relief because now I know, and I can start to visualize some things."

In the second round, the Storm selected Old Dominion center Lucienne Berthieu (19th overall) and Oregon State guard Felicia Ragland (28th) while picking up Louisiana Tech forward Takeisha Lewis (35th) in the third round. Seattle traded its fourth round pick last season.

Berthieu, 24, is predicted to be the next Semeka Randall, according to Dunn. Randall was a second-round steal when she sprung into the Storm's starting shooting guard role last summer. Berthieu is a 6-2 physical player who could start as a complement to Jackson inside.

Ragland, 22, was the first Pac-10 player selected and could squeeze her way onto the roster, since she led her league in scoring, averaging 20.1 points. Lewis, 22, is a good post player, but will probably have to gain experience overseas before she's ready for the WNBA.

Of the 32 third- and fourth-round picks last season, only nine made league rosters.

Bird immediately left the draft studios in New Jersey to attend awards ceremonies in Detroit then Kansas City this weekend. She's not sure when she'll make it to Seattle.

It'll be her second trip to the city. Her first stopover in 2000, when UConn defeated Washington 100-54 to open the renovated Edmundson Pavilion. Bird, recovering from an ACL injury her freshman season, didn't shine in the game, finishing 2 of 7 for seven points.

But that was then.

Now, she'll headline a young franchise with budding stars in Jackson, 20, and Randall, 23.

"I definitely heard about the rain," said Bird, who plans to attend her UConn graduation May 19. "I know (Lauren) is Australian. I'll have to figure out the rest when I get there. I'm going to do whatever my team needs."

Training camp starts April 29. The Storm opens its season May 30 against the New York Liberty.

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