With returning Stewart and Bird, Storm puts hold on first-round pick

Kitija Laksa was drafted in the first round Friday, but won't report to the Seattle Storm until 2021. Photo courtesy of South Florida Athletics.
Kitija Laksa was drafted in the first round Friday, but won’t report to the Seattle Storm until 2021. Photo courtesy of South Florida Athletics.

As the Seattle Storm prepares to welcome back two of their All-Stars from injury, they have put their first-round draft choice on hold.

The Storm selected South Florida guard Kitija Laksa with the 11th pick last night. But after the draft, coach Dan Hughes said she wouldn’t report to the team until next year. The decision was made with general manager and CEO Alisha Valavanis, and stemmed from the indefinite postponement of the WNBA season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I just think in this unique year, with us not quite knowing how this (pandemic delay) will play out, it makes complete sense to target a year in 2021….and we can evolve in that way,” Hughes said. “I’ve enjoyed getting to know her. She fits our culture well.”

Last season 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart and veteran leader Sue Bird sat out with an Achilles tear and a knee injury, respectively. Both are ready to play this year, as are two new acquisitions from February: guard Epiphanny Prince and forward Morgan Tuck. Seattle is also ready to activate 6-4 Australian forward Ezi Magbegor, whom they drafted in 2019 at position No. 12 and waited on, like Laksa.

“The plan is to play her this season,” Hughes said of Magbegor.

With Bird assumed to be retiring after the 2021 season and the Olympics, there might be more room for Laksa on the roster then. The Latvian standout spoke to media last night from her home, where it was 5 a.m. She said the Storm is a perfect fit for her.

“I’m very excited. I’m excited to just learn from them and see and learn how they see basketball,” Laksa said. “It’s an amazing feeling. I would have not expected that….all these pieces could not have fallen in a better place. I do believe Seattle Storm is the best team in the league, so I’ll stand by it and I’ll enjoy my time and hope for my opportunity to come and prove myself and be a part of the team and be a part of the upcoming season the next season.”

Hughes got to watch Laksa in 2018, as an assistant coach to the U.S. National Team, when they played Latvia. He said he was impressed by several factors.

“She moves without the ball unbelievably, has a knack for reading screens, and has a quick release on her shot,” Hughes said.

This past season he saw Connecticut successfully defend Laksa in conference play. A short time later, in their second match up, it was a different story.

“You could see how she had worked between those games to make sure she could get off her shots,” Hughes said.

Joyner Holmes will bring athleticism and skill to the Seattle Storm, her new coach says. Photo courtesy of Texas Athletics.
Joyner Holmes will bring athleticism and skill to the Seattle Storm, her new coach says. Photo courtesy of Texas Athletics.

Seattle took Texas forward Joyner Holmes in the second round, with their 19th pick. Hughes said he and his staff were “high on Joyner.”

“When you see her play, you see someone that is kind of unique,” he said. “She has a pro body, and she moves really quickly and strongly. She has a face-up game and a back-to-the-basket game. She brings a great deal of athleticism and a lot of skill.”

Holmes said she is looking forward to playing for the 2018 WNBA champions, and to being away from her home state for the first time.

“Being drafted has always been a dream of mine,” she said. “In Seattle, I’m going to be able to learn from a lot of good people. It’s going to be different from Dallas, including the weather.”

Holmes has been working out at home, and said that when training camp does commence, she’ll work on her psychological approach to the game.

“I’m focusing on the mental piece,” she said. “I get physically and emotionally caught up in the game. My biggest problem in college was being consistent, so my goal now is to always be consistent.”

With their third-round pick the Storm took Duke guard Haley Goreckik, for whom Hughes had high praise.

“Haley is one of the most productive players in America in the college game,” he said. “She has high skill. We really like that, and with all that skill, there’s also a toughness about her.”

Also returning for Seattle this season is forward Alysha Clark, guard Jewell Loyd, forward Natasha Howard, forward Crystal Langhorne, guard Sami Whitcomb, guard Jordin Canada and center Mercedes Russell.