Utah’s grinding defensive style is paying off for Michelle Plouffe at Storm training camp. Drafted in the second-round by Seattle in April, Plouffe filled an early training-camp necessity in Storm coach Brian Agler needing bodies to fill out practices sans his main starters and All-Star Sue Bird due to overseas playing commitments.
But with the veteran backcourt duo in Bird and Tanisha Wright in camp with veteran post Camille Little and seasoned overseas C Angel Robinson, who signed a free-agent contract, Plouffe is still being considered for the regular-season 12-player roster.
Agler had a second round of cuts on Tuesday, releasing his third-round draft pick in F Mikaela Ruef (Stanford) and camp invitee PG Victoria McFarland (Ole Miss).
Depth in the post is the Storm’s biggest need. WNBA legend Tina Thompson retired, franchise C Lauren Jackson (knee) is injured and reliable fan-favorite C Ashley Robinson suffered a likely career-ending Achilles injury.
Seattle will be undersized with Little (6-foot-2) and trade acquisition Crystal Langhorne (6-2) likely starting inside. Although it’s really not much different than last season with Thompson (6-2), the Storm was at a significant disadvantage and was last in the WNBA in allowing opponents to average 42.5 rebounds.
“What’s the difference? We’re all going to have the same exact mentality,” Little said of playing alongside Langhorne. The pair were adversaries in college, Little leading North Carolina to the Final Four while Langhorne won a national championship at Maryland (2006).
“We’re going to be tough and have no excuses,” Little continued. “But it is different to play with her, I’ve played against her for so long. We have time to build some chemistry and it’ll blossom into a good tandem.”
Plouffe, a 6-3 post, could also help turnaround Seattle’s rebounding struggles and retain the organization’s signature defensive aggression. She competed in the 2012 Olympics for Canada and had a solid senior season for the Utes, even though the team plodded through a 12-19 finish.
Plouffe averaged 18.4 points and 10.4 rebounds. She was ranked second in the Pac-12 with 3.5 steals, and ended her career with 2,100 points and a school-record 1,115 rebounds, earning All-Pac-12 and conference defensive team honors.
“Michelle has done real well with her post defense,” Agler said. “She didn’t play real well Saturday (in a closed scrimmage against the Australian national team), but she had a good practice (Monday). She’s long, mobile and versatile. We like that kind of player.”
Plouffe is in a camp battle with Angel Robinson, who’s 6-5. That’s if Agler doesn’t opt to retain the current 12-player roster — the league’s maximum for the season. Then there’s the waiver wire where Agler and his staff could find a better fit than both players to help the post rotation.
“Angel’s in a tough situation because we can’t stop things just for her,” said Agler of Robinson, whose first practice was Monday due to reaching the playoff finals with her Spanish-league team. Plouffe arrived on-time.
“What I like about Angel is how quickly she’s picked some things up,” Agler continued. “Even though she’s not there, yet, she’s picked up some things well and she’s very mobile.”
The Storm plays the Chinese national team on Thursday. It’s another opportunity for Plouffe to apply what she’s learning to a real-time game situation. But in addition to Robinson, 27, having overseas experience, this is her third attempt to make a WNBA roster. She understands the work needed to get that coveted spot.
Seattle hosts its only exhibition game on Sunday against a Los Angeles team bloated with size inside. Seattle must have its roster finalized by May 15.
“It’s in practice, how we can proceed,” Agler said of a driving factor in evaluating the roster and trying to prepare for the regular-season. “Sometimes you get too many people out here and you can’t get the reps you need for your veteran players. So, they’re doing well but we have to look at the makeup of our roster and see who’s going to fit.”