Brian Agler, the Storm’s coach and general manager, cashed in on the salary cap space cleared with a big trade in January to announce the signing of Belgium star C Ann Wauters on Monday. Wauters, 31, was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2000 but didn’t play in the WNBA the past two years in order to start a family.
Wauters currently plays in Spain with Storm C Lauren Jackson – a convenient pairing since one reason Agler had the organization spend big on international recruiting was to find a replacement for Jackson during the 2012 London Olympics. A native of Australia, Jackson will miss training camp and the first half of the WNBA season in order to prepare and participate in the Games. She signed a contract to return in August, or as quickly as possible should the Aussies win gold.
That left the Storm with a gap in the middle, not to mention holes on the wing and bench after trading veteran forwards Swin Cash and Le’coe Willingham to Chicago in exchange for the No. 2 overall draft pick. At 6-foot-4, Wauters is a noted scorer and solid defender. Her best WNBA season was in 2008, averaging 14.7 points and 7.5 rebounds for San Antonio as it reached the WNBA Finals.
Wauters opted in 2010 not to return to the WNBA after helping the Silver Stars reach the postseason, again, in 2009. She told fans it was to spend time with family at home. A Belgium paper later reported she was pregnant along with her partner Lot Wielfaert, who also played hoops but had to retire due to knee injuries. Wauters gave birth to a son.
“I have decided not to return to the WNBA this summer but believe me when I say that this was not an easy decision,” Wauters said in a statement released by the team. “I have always loved being in San Antonio with my amazing teammates, great coaching staff and the best fans in the League in a exciting city. So why not return? I have been playing professional basketball for 12 years now and I feel like I haven’t taken the time to enjoy life with my family. So it’s time for me to take a break and spend a summer in Belgium.”
Wauters currently leads Ros Casares Valencia in scoring (14.9) and rebounds (8). They won the Group A regular-season title last week and are preparing for EuroLeague playoffs.
Agler and Karen Bryant, the team’s president and CEO, were in Europe to sign Wauters and Tanisha Wright in Israel last week. The Cash-Willingham trade created about $200,000 in cap room. With max salaries at $105,000, there’s still room for Seattle to make another big deal, most likely signing Wauters to a multiyear max contract.
Wauters previously stated she only wanted to return to the WNBA if she had a chance to win a WNBA championship.
The Wauters signing also gives the Storm some options in the April draft with the second-overall selection. Although NCAA-leading scorer Elena Delle Donne (who plays like Jackson with handles like PG Sue Bird) will not enter the WNBA draft, the Storm could draft a quality perimeter player for the future — another goal of Agler’s during the busy offseason.
Seattle also needs to re-sign Bird, which is basically a formality.
“I’ve always loved Seattle as a city,” Wauters said in a released statement. “To be able to play on such an incredible team in front of such loyal fans is a real privilege.”
*PHOTO CREDIT: C Ann Wauters smiles, provided by Ciudad Ros Casares.