Storm | Refreshed Jackson sees value of health
Seattle Times staff reporter
"Papa" remains in daily contact.
Maybe it's just a quick text or a phone message, but Shabtai von Kalmanovic enjoys checking in on his players, like Storm co-captain Lauren Jackson.
The Russian owner of Spartak Moscow Region has known Jackson since spring 2004, when she first played for his women's basketball team during a playoff series. This upcoming season he'll have the star for a full season, lacing her in more diamonds, five-star hotels and jet-set travel.
"He flew Beluga caviar in for breakfast," Jackson said. "He's unbelievable. I can safely say no other owner in any other country or even here calls us just to say 'Hi.' "
Jackson may talk about jewels and big paychecks for playing hoops, but for her it's not exactly about the money. The Aussie is still laid back. She drives a Jeep instead of a flashier car and plans to open a women's shelter when she retires.
Yet, the past three seasons have been trying, so Jackson welcomes a reward more lucrative than winning WNBA titles or Russian SuperLeague crowns. That was brought into sharp focus by her grandmother's death in 2004, right ankle surgery in 2005, hospitalization after a week's worth of vomiting in fall 2006 and ongoing stress fracture complications.
San Antonio at Storm
7 p.m. today
TV/Radio: None/KKNW (1150 AM)
Records: Storm 2-1,
San Antonio 3-2
Injuries: None for either team.
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"I didn't feel like I was myself because I hadn't been working on my game, and that made me feel worse," Jackson said of last summer's Storm season, during which she averaged a team-leading 19.5 points. "There was nothing I could do about it. It was the advice given to [coach Anne Donovan] and to me by the doctors. They wouldn't let me play otherwise. But now, I'm happy and healthy."
Jackson averaged a career-low 28.3 minutes last season as Donovan ran odd lineups strictly based on who could play, especially when Seattle post players suffered a rash of injuries in 2006. Jackson has played the past six months injury-free, however, taking her game to South Korea, Russia and America to make as much money as possible before retiring.
The Aussie doesn't know how her mental and physical health turned around. The rebirth happened in Seoul, where even on off days Jackson was in the gym with friends running sprints for kicks.
"We were just being crazy and that's what made me say, 'I really love this game,' " said Jackson, who had an interpreter but enjoyed not communicating. "It brought the passion back, and there was no drama."
Three games into the WNBA season, Jackson is averaging 33.6 minutes and ranks second in scoring (23.3) in the league. Her lone clunker was in San Antonio last week, but even with the entire team playing poorly, Jackson finished with a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
The Storm (2-1) faces the Silver Stars (3-2) tonight at KeyArena after a seven-day layoff.
"For so long I've felt like I could get better, and now I feel like I'm able to work on that," said Jackson, who said losing about 10 pounds has helped her speed. "I can shoot after practice whenever I want. I'm doing things I haven't been able to do for a very long time. And I'm fit enough to do it."
Donovan has relished Jackson's newfound health, returning to a 2005 experiment of playing the traditional power forward at the small forward position. At 6 feet 5, Jackson can cause matchup problems on the wing and allow the Storm to play a huge lineup with a combination of Janell Burse (6-5), Wendy Palmer (6-2) or Ashley Robinson (6-4) inside.
The Storm spent the past week working on getting Jackson acquainted with the position, turning an often harmonic session into a fragmented staccato as Donovan gave Jackson critiques.
"Last time I tried it was a complete disaster," said Jackson, a career 34.8 percent three-point shooter. "It's not something I really want to be doing, but if Anne believes in me, I'll try my hardest.
"I feel more comfortable floating. Now I have to learn all the plays again from the three-spot, and I feel like I'm going to mess up a lot. But I believe I'm better than I was in 2005 and have more confidence in myself."
Longtime onlookers believe that's just Jackson doubting her talent.
"Lauren is going to have a huge advantage because there's no three that can guard her," said former teammate Adia Barnes, currently a Storm radio broadcaster. "Before it was hard for her, but she can handle it now. It's just repetition. And she already does things that threes do, she just doesn't realize it."
It's part of a changing role Jackson sees herself forming into during her seventh season. With shooters at every position, she can play decoy when others are hot.
A fine compromise, as long as the Storm wins. A possibility, considering the year she's having so far.
"I'm in a really good place emotionally right now," Jackson said. "It isn't just because of basketball. All of the pieces have fallen into place."
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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