Sunday, May 17, 2009

Jackson: 'I Couldn't Bear to Leave' Storm Star Explains Decision in Exclusive Interview

Even over the phone from nearly 8,000 miles away, the emotion in Lauren Jackson's voice was palpable as she described her decision to re-sign with the Seattle Storm on Monday. Having spent the last several months considering her options before reaching a final verdict after sitting down with her family back at home in Albury, Australia, Jackson came to realize that she simply could not leave Seattle.

"I love the Storm - I love playing there," Jackson said late Monday night in her only interview between signing her new contract and leaving for a vacation with her parents. "For different reasons, the opportunity came up to play somewhere else. It came down basically to me loving it in Seattle. I've said for a long time it's my home there in America. I couldn't bear to leave. I just wanted to come home and make the decision and be with my parents and my friends here and do it that way. It was easier for me."

Jackson also referred to potentially leaving the Storm as probably "The biggest mistake that I'd ever made," and reiterated what a special place Seattle has become for her.

"It came down basically to me loving it in Seattle. I've said for a long time it's my home there in America. I couldn't bear to leave."
Aaron Last/Storm Photos
"I'm really fortunate and I'm glad that I had this time to think about it and really put what I love about Seattle in perspective and how I would feel if I left," she said. "I think that I would have lost a huge part of me if I had gone from Seattle, so I'm just glad that I got this opportunity to have this time and realize how important it is."

Timing played a factor in Jackson's thought process. Entering the Storm's 10th Anniversary season, she thought back on the start of her own career, and her development as a player and a person that has in many ways been intertwined with the Storm's growth as a franchise.

"There's definitely a lot of nostalgia when I think about it, like when I first came over to Seattle and I was so scared and I just didn't know what to expect being away from home," Jackson recalled. "Looking back on it, I don't know how I've lasted this long overseas, but I guess that's just a part of growing up and loving what you do. Seattle definitely has been my home, and the 10th season coming up obviously was something that made me want to be there even more, because I feel like I've been part of that program and helped it grow for a long time."

If Jackson ever wavered in that thought, the Storm was there with timely reminders. "They pulled all the right strings," Jackson said in describing the Storm's recruiting efforts, from a video that was shot at the Kangaroo and Kiwi Aussie pub that helps her feel at home in Seattle to a video retrospective of her Storm career and culminating in the e-mails from Storm Season Ticket Holders that Head Coach Brian Agler brought with him when he visited with Jackson in Spain during the Euroleague Final Four.

"I was reading them the night before we played our final game in the Final Four," she said. "I was showing Diana (Taurasi) and Sue (Bird). It made me upset because I really care about being there so much and I never thought that people felt that way back.

"Getting those e-mails, I really had no idea how passionate people were about the Storm and me coming back. When I saw that, I think that was pretty much the clincher right there. It's hard to make a decision like that based on personal feelings, but when you've got the fans out there and people that really want you back and you can put things into perspective, it definitely changes things for you."

Specifically, Jackson was struck by the loyalty of Storm fans, and those who wrote that no matter her ultimate decision, they wanted her to be happy. She was also touched by the understanding shown by the Storm organization.

"Everyone's just been so supportive, which I couldn't believe really initially," said Jackson. "Just to be a part of that, it is like a family, you know? I think that's probably what made the most difference to me is all the support and understanding I had from everybody. It was great."

Jackson's relationship with Agler was also a factor. He made staying in contact with Jackson throughout the offseason a priority, visiting her in Europe on three different occasions. Agler had already won Jackson's loyalty with his support when she had to undergo ankle surgery following the Olympics. Agler stood up for his star in the face of misguided criticism that Jackson should have played through the debilitating injury.

"He was great," she said. "I had a huge amount of trust and respect for him then. I don't think a lot of people understood what was happening, but he was so supportive. I think since then I've been pretty much on his side. Then, of course he's a great coach and everything like that. He's definitely someone I would like to play under for a long time."

Her decision made and official, Jackson's thoughts have turned to excitement about the upcoming season. She feels healthy in the wake of the surgery she underwent last August, noting that the fact that she played fewer minutes for Spartak this season has left her feeling fresh and ready to go. Now, Jackson wants to continue to develop her game, and believes the Storm is the ideal situation to do that.

"I don't feel like I've played my best basketball since before the Olympics," she explained. "I'd love to get back there and get back to my peak performance and get back to myself. I'm really looking forward to that. It's great because I've got the right people around me and people who I know can help me get better and make me get better."

Jackson watched with great interest as Agler built the Storm's roster this offseason, strengthening the frontcourt by getting Jackson's best friend Suzy Batkovic to return to the WNBA - "I'm so stoked" to play with her, said Jackson - and bringing back center Janell Burse after a one-year absence. With Shannon Johnson adding a veteran presence to the Storm's backcourt, Jackson feels strongly that good things are ahead for the team.

"I think it's going to be a great year for us," she said. "Special things can happen this year. We have all the right pieces. I think we're going to have a strong, more confident lineup in terms of how good are bigs are. Having Sue and Shannon Johnson, it's going to be amazing. I think we've got a lot to look forward to this year. I can't wait to be a part of it."

One telling answer came when Jackson was asked what she is most looking forward to from the upcoming season. "Everything, I guess," she answered.

"I'm really looking forward to it," Jackson added. "Yeah, I can't wait. It's going to be a lot of fun. It's going to be an exciting season for sure, and I'm happy that I'm going to be in Seattle. I'm really glad. "

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