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How Lauren Got Her Groove Back (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday July 17, 2007 12:28PM; Updated: Wednesday July 18, 2007 1:40PM
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By Kelli Anderson

Lauren Jackson of the Seattle Storm.
Lauren Jackson of the Seattle Storm.
Robert Beck/SI
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After taking three months off, Jackson joined Samsung Bichumi in Seoul for four months as its one foreigner. "It was fantastic that no one else on my team spoke English," says Jackson, who averaged a league-record 30.2 points. "It was very easy to just play basketball and not have any drama."

Jackson's next stop was Moscow, where she was paid six figures for a one-month stint with Spartak Moscow Region, a team that already had three U.S. Olympians -- Storm point guard Sue Bird, Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi and Houston Comets forward Tina Thompson. Jackson moved in with her good friends Bird and Taurasi, sharing a luxurious manse courtesy of the Spartak owner, who also lavished his foreign stars with diamond earrings, expensive dinners and salaries that were quadruple their WNBA take. "This house had everything you could ever imagine -- a pool, a spa, five bathrooms, an enormous living room," says Jackson. "Then you go to the window and it's overlooking a nuclear power plant. It was so Russian. It was awesome."

A day after Jackson and her mates sewed up the Russian Superleague title, she was on a plane back to Seattle, far wealthier -- in her five months in Korea and Russia she made "as much as I have in my entire career in America," says Jackson -- and happier than when she left in August. "When she's on the floor now, she just floats," says Storm assistant coach Shelley Patterson. "There's a real lightness to her."

"I had always felt a step slow in the past," says Jackson. "Now my rebounding is better, my defense is better. A lot of things are better."

Curiously, Jackson is having her career season for a team that has struggled with inconsistency and strife. Though a number of players from the 2004 championship team remain, including Finals MVP Betty Lennox and Bird, the Storm has underachieved in recent years, with two straight first-round playoff exits. Through the first six weeks of this season, Seattle was a .500 team. Coach and director of player personnel Anne Donovan has been criticized by fans and media -- and, according to reports in The Seattle Times, by players as well -- for her personnel and bench decisions. When asked how she was handling the criticism during a June 25 phone interview with a Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter, Donovan briefly broke into tears.

All of this "had a huge impact on not just Anne but everyone," says Jackson. "Every day we wondered, What are they going to say next? Who will they point the finger at next? But since then, we've regrouped really well. We realize we can't blame others, we can't point fingers. As horrible as that was, the outcome was what a lot of people were looking for -- we're playing together now."

The Storm won four of its last six entering the All-Star break and was within two games of West leader San Antonio. The team may be finally clicking, but one other dark cloud still looms. Because of a lack of a new arena deal, Clay Bennett, who chairs the ownership group of the Sonics-Storm organization, may move the two franchises to his native Oklahoma City next summer.

Jackson is signed through the 2008 season but says she won't be heading anywhere. "I want to stay here," she says of Seattle. "The thought of not having a team here, or not being able to end my WNBA career here, is really sad. It definitely weighs on my head because I know this could be my last year in the league." She says there are a few other teams she would consider playing for, "but it's hard to pick and choose where you go in this league."

Where Jackson, who keeps her watch set to local time in Sydney, will find her home away from home next summer remains to be seen. But there's one thing we now know: The country kid from Albury can thrive in any time zone.

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