Storm F Ashley Walker (pictured right by the Associated Press) returned to training camp this week singing the same praises of Israel that Simone Edwards and Tanisha Wright sang before her. Walker played for Maccabi Ashdod and was named MVP of the Israeli D-I League.
“I loved it, loved it, loved it!” said Walker, who averaged 20.0 points and 8.1 boards during the overseas regular season. “It’s one of the countries that’s really Americanized, so it’s easy for us to get around. They all speak English or really want to speak English, so we don’t get lost – everybody is really helpful. There’s great food and it’s not like you’re going into the cold, I lived off the bay, so it was really cool.”
It also helped that Walker briefly roomed with childhood friend/competitor Courtney Paris (Chicago). Paris and her twin Ashley (Phoenix) played until December. The trio hails from Northern California.
“It was crazy that we all ended up there,” Walker said.
Walker used competition to further her transition from power forward to small forward. She played limited minutes on the wing as a rookie for the Storm in 2009, using practice to get used to the new role.
But Walker got more ball-handling skills than she expected overseas, playing point guard for a game when her team leader injured their wrist. The team won the game.
“I was primarily playing the four, but guarding all three’s (wings),” Walker said. “There’s no true fours over there anyway, we’re all tweeners. So, I really got to work on that and my coach just let me play — be really free. I just really got comfortable, but it was weird calling plays and getting myself into position.”
On the wing at Storm camp, Walker used her 6-foot-1 size to cause matchup problems against China’s national team in scrimmages on Wednesday in Portland and against the male practice squad. She’s also dropped about 15-pounds, helping improve her quickness.
Walker remains bothered by a right big-toe injury suffered in July 2009. The first of a string of Storm players to suffer injuries last season, she now wears a custom shank and insole in her sneakers to help keep pressure off the stress reaction. Walker said it’ll take about a year for it to completely heal.
“I can run on it,” she said. “But I can’t bend it like a normal toe. It’s an injury you really don’t want to have as an athlete. It kind of sucks, but I deal with it day-to-day. Some days are better than others. I’m an athlete; it’s my job, so it doesn’t matter if I get a broken toe.”
Style also has taken a backseat due to the injury, however.
“I can’t wear a lot of flat shoes anymore,” Walker said. “It has to be a tennis shoe. It can’t be Vans or Converse. Even some heels bother it, too. I’m just now getting to wear heels, which I’m very excited about.”
Walker, who averaged 1.8 points and 1.8 boards in 13 games last summer, is competing for a roster spot against drat picks like Tanisha Smith and training camp invitees like Aja Parham. The first player from California to be drafted, Walker has experience with coach Brian Agler system as an advantage.
Yet players have to show their versatility quickly and fit into the grand scheme of the roster – which includes salary camp limitations. The Storm is off today and Agler said his staff will discuss camp thus far, possibly making roster cuts.
Invitees Laura Kurz and Lindsey Wilson have joined camp while stars Swin Cash (Saturday) and Lauren Jackson (Sunday) are expected this weekend. Australian Abby Bishop will also arrive on Sunday.
PG Sue Bird and invitee Svetlana Abrosimova could report by Monday’s Media Day since the Russian Cup concluded Wednesday. Bird’s Moscow Spartak was swept by Abrosimova’s UMMC Ekaterinburg in a best-of-five series.
Teams can only hold 15 players at camp at one time, so a cut would have to be made in order to clear room for Bird and Abrosimova. There are currently 11 players in camp.