Storm forward Lauren Jackson has some downtime, she likes to visit the Kangaroo
& Kiwi, an Aussie pub in north Seattle. Sure, the window looks out on busy
Aurora Avenue instead of a field of cows and sheep and bouncing kangaroos, but
otherwise it feels just like home to the 6'5" Aussie. There's Tooheys beer
in the cooler, meat pies on the menu and Aussie sporting events on the telly.
The pub's owner, Bradley Howe, grew up in Harden Murrumburrah, New South Wales,
about two hours from Jackson's native Albury. "We're both country
kids," says Jackson, "and country kids are a different breed."
explains why Jackson, 26, continues to defy basketball convention. Now in her
seventh year in the WNBA, the 2003 league MVP is playing the most productive
and joyful basketball of her career despite stress fractures in her left shin.
At the All-Star break Jackson was leading the league in scoring (22.4 points a
game, the highest average of her career), blocks (2.16) and double doubles (10)
and was ranked second in rebounding (9.3). She was also 12th in three-point
shooting, hitting at a 40.5% clip. " Lauren Jackson is not a prototype,
she's a freak," says Chicago Sky coach Bo Overton. "She's a post player
with a guard's body control and skill, who can shoot the three, drive and
handle the ball. There's no one like her."
might agree after learning the details of Jackson's off-season. When prudence
suggested she take time off to have surgery on stress fractures in both shins
that limited her to 30 minutes a game and caused her to sit out every other
practice last season, Jackson instead pounded the hardwood abroad for nearly
six months, collecting some coveted international hardware and six-figure
paychecks along the way. After stops in Brazil, South Korea and Russia, she
rejoined the Storm in May--20 pounds lighter, a step quicker and feeling, she
says, "10 times better physically than I have in a long time."
She still has two
fractures in her left shin. "I don't know if she got used to the pain or
what," says Storm trainer Kyla McDaniel, "but she hasn't
"I still have
days," says Jackson, "but as long as the fractures aren't getting any
worse, I'm not going to let them hold me back anymore. After last season I
decided I was either going to play all out in the off-season or not at all. A
little practice here, a little practice there was driving me crazy. I couldn't
get in a groove."
The first step in
getting her groove back came shortly after the Storm was eliminated in the
first round of the WNBA playoffs, when she joined the Australian national team
as it prepared for the women's world championships in S�o Paulo. Jackson led
her country to its first gold medal, defeating Russia on Sept. 23. "That
was amazing, and totally unexpected," says Jackson. "We've always been
the little sister to America."
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."
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."