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Wednesday, July 7, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Storm

Men at work for Storm

Seattle Times staff reporter

Tonight

Storm at Washington Mystics, 4 p.m., KJR (950 AM)

Psst. Wanna know a different way to get the elusive 18-to-35 male to attend a WNBA game? How about making them practice against the team.

"Everybody always asks, 'How good are they, really?' " said Jimmy Quigg, one of the Storm's male practice players. "I'll tell ya, I'm trying as hard as I can, and it's hard to keep up. The first day I almost passed out in my car from exhaustion.

"Kamila (Vodichkova) can set a screen better than anybody, Sue Bird's crossover will drop you on your butt and Lauren Jackson has thrown me to the ground a couple of times. It (upset) me that a girl could just destroy me, but it's an honor. They're really, really good. I don't even play pickup anymore because I'm so worn out."

Quigg is a curly-haired, 6-foot-3, 200-pound telecommunications lawyer who played basketball at Capital High School in Olympia. With the support of his employer, he skips lunch to join about 10 other men for practice against the Storm.

Their role — crash-test dummies.

The diverse group can be called "dummies" only in jest, though. They're actually fast learners, as they quickly band together to run opposing teams' offenses — taking on the roles of Sheryl Swoopes or Chamique Holdsclaw — in pursuit of challenging the Storm. By the end of the two-hour sessions, they're as exhausted as the team.

With a "thanks, fellas" from Storm coach Anne Donavan, they leave the practice facility with a free workout and occasional tickets to an upcoming game, where they watch from the stands to see how their impersonation fared. They check newspapers to keep up with the team's progress when the Storm leaves for road trips, such as its current three-game Eastern Conference tour that begins tonight at the MCI Center against the Washington Mystics (6-8).

Still ringing in the men's ears is the talk Donovan gave them when the Storm (10-4) limped home from Phoenix during training camp after a 39-point exhibition shellacking.

"I got all over them," said Donovan, who chuckled as she reflected on the reaming. "We were feeling good about ourselves, kicking their butt in practice every day, then we get beat by 39 points. They responded to that. They're a part of our successes and failures."

Mike Lawson, 36, remembered the scolding.

"She gathered all of us around and unleashed," said Lawson, who trains athletes for a living through his business Focus on the Game out of the Redmond Athletic Club. "Anne's 6-8. When she talks, we listen and she said, 'Bring your A game or go home.' Some guys were just going through the motions, a little awestruck because you see the players on billboards and buses. But after that everybody understood. We want to give them what they need."

The male stand-ins' experience runs from high school to overseas professionals, and their heights range from 6-3 to 6-6. They help give the players time to rest when scrimmaging five-on-five. That helps prevent injuries — probably a reason the Storm has changed its lineup only once this summer.

Yet it takes a special man to make it through the Storm's doors. Egos must be left at home. While Washington and Los Angeles have allowed men to dunk on the team, Donovan makes it known that her practices aren't highlight-reel demos.

"It's not for everybody," said Missy Bequette, the Storm's director of basketball operations and the final screener for male practice players. "Sometimes they're playing defense three-quarters of the time. Not many players want to do that. But they're very interested, and this is the demographic the league is trying to reach.

"For a lot of them, it reminds them of their college or high-school playing days, when they played actual team ball."

The Storm isn't the only WNBA team to practice against men. Minnesota practiced against the same squad the University of Minnesota women's team used.

The Houston Comets' male practice team, The Quest, traveled overseas to play in Yugoslavia and Italy. The Connecticut Sun played against high-school and college players. Washington, San Antonio and Sacramento are the only teams who haven't practiced against men during the regular season.

Do the men make a difference?

BETTY UDESEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Coach Anne Donovan (in dark top) gives the men practice players a tongue-lashing, too, if they don't give her Storm players a tough enough test.
Lauren Jackson, a 6-5 Australian, hadn't practiced against men until last season with the Storm and thinks it's the best way to sharpen skills. There are some drawbacks, though.

"I get so frustrated because you try to push them and they won't move," she said.

Said forward Sheri Sam, "Those are my boys. The things they do to help us are invaluable."

The spirited personalities of Jackson and her Storm teammates, mixed with the men's half-shelved egos, make eavesdropping during practices entertaining.

"Yeah! In your face!" Quigg screams on one of his rare post moves.

Storm assistants tease the men about taking their Viagra when they're really rolling.

Jackson is heralded as the best player in the world, and her team sits atop the WNBA. That's no fluke, and the men have the bruises to prove it.

"This is a man's game and they play just like we do. They do cheap things, too, like grab shirts and whatever to get by," said Lawson, a Boston native who grew up a Celtics fan.

"It's great to be a part of this franchise. Plus, I get something out of it, too. Anne is a wizard. I've been around the game a long time, and some of the things she sees amazes me, so I'm learning as much as I can."

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or jevans@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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