The dash of a tough WNBA player from San Antonio to Seattle

SEATTLE — When Seattle Storm starters Sue Bird and Ezi Magbegor joined reserve Stephanie Talbot in COVID-19 health and safety protocols early Friday, the team rushed to sign replacement Kiana Williams and get guarding him from his San Antonio home in Seattle before the 7 p.m. whistleblowing that night.

WNBA hardship rules allow teams to sign a short-term replacement whenever the roster drops below 10 active players, so replacements are commonplace as teams typically only keep 11 on their roster. list instead of a maximum of 12.

However, this season’s issues with 10 WNBA players already entering health and safety protocols have introduced a new class of tough replacements for players entering protocols after testing positive for COVID-19. Because health and safety absences are more difficult to predict, this means a quick turnaround to sign a replacement, often based on logistics.

Seattle alone added three different players – including Kaela Davis twice – as protocols called for tough substitutions. On May 14, the Storm signed Raina Perez when Epiphanny Prince and Breanna Stewart entered the protocols hours before the team played the Mercury in Perez’s hometown of Phoenix.

After Friday’s 79-71 overtime victory over the New York Liberty, Stewart and teammate Jewell Loyd lamented the difficulty of replacing players in health and safety protocols.

“As a team, we really tried to navigate health and safety protocols and try to be safe and do the right thing,” Stewart told reporters. “Especially to find out all about it on match day and be told, ‘We’re going to keep playing, just find a struggling player. And Seattle is the furthest city in the country that anyone can get to.”

Loyd added: “If we had a G League, that would help. If we had practice players in our system, and you could take advantage of that. (Where) they’re actually here in the market, they’re not traveling and then I have to play a game. I mean, it’s ridiculous.”

While Seattle has been the team hardest hit by health and safety protocols so far this season, with COVID-19 rates plateauing at a much higher level than last summer, it’s clear that the storm will not be the last. And that means more players like Williams will be asked to travel from home to a WNBA field on the same day.

So what is life like for struggling WNBA players as the league deals with COVID-19 in a new way this season? No one has made the trip to join a team quite like Williams, who slogged through ESPN.com for a busy 15 hours from when she got the call from her agent to when she finally checked into her hotel. after Friday’s game.

From my house in San Antonio to play in Seattle

10:20 CT: Williams first hears from his agent about the opportunity with the Storm.

“He told me to pack a bag and I was going to play a game tonight in Seattle,” Williams said. “I hung up with him on the phone and started packing.”

Unsure how long she’ll be with the Storm — which depends on how quickly players test out protocols — Williams throws as many clothes as possible into the one suitcase she brought along with a backpack. Despite the rush, Williams didn’t forget anything.

“I have my toothbrush, my shower gel, I have everything I need,” she said. “At the end of the day, if I need clothes, it’s nothing for me to go shopping. I love shopping.”

11:00 : Williams is heading to the Austin airport.

“Unfortunately San Antonio is a smaller airport so there were no flights that would get me to the game in time,” she said. “So I had to drive an hour to Austin and took a direct flight.”

Because she spends the winter playing internationally – she spent last season with the Adelaide Lightning of the Australian WNBL – and hopes to spend her summer in the WNBA (she was with the Phoenix Mercury before being canceled during training camp), Williams lives with her parents. His mother was off on Friday and was able to drive Williams to the airport.

“She brought my car back, so hopefully she’s taking care of my baby,” Williams said, referring to the car.

12 p.m. CT: Williams is dealing with what she described as the hardest part of her trip: clearing TSA security at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

“Austin airport is terrible in the sense that there is no TSA PreCheck (line),” she said. “I have all of that and they don’t have those lines available, so I waited in line for maybe 30 minutes. I wasn’t even kidding.”

1pm CT: Williams grabs a sandwich – her only meal on the trip – before boarding the four-hour Alaska Airlines flight. She also had snacks at the arena, she said: “But I was really out of adrenaline on Friday night.”

4:30 p.m. PT: Williams’ flight arrives at the gates of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport about two and a half hours before tipping.

5:00 p.m. PT: Williams collects her bag from baggage claim. Storm general manager Talisa Rhea is there to pick her up for the 16-mile journey to Climate Pledge Arena in rush hour traffic, perhaps a little muted by people leaving early before the weekend. end of three days.

5:30 p.m. PT: Williams arrives at the arena, takes a shower, and heads to the field to warm up.

7:00 p.m. PT: Williams played four minutes off the bench as one of Seattle’s eight active players in the team’s 79-71 overtime win over New York, dishing out a pair of assists.

Given that Williams couldn’t practice or make a shootout before playing in a game, it helped that she spent part of last season with the Storm, who drafted her from Stanford at second. round. Williams saw action in 10 games as a rookie. Aside from coach Noelle Quinn changing some of the terminology, she found the system easy to pick up.

11:30 p.m. PT: After going to dinner with other players, Williams checks into her hotel room in Seattle.

“It was quite a long day for me,” she said – a huge understatement.

When the NBA faced COVID-19 outbreaks at the height of Omicron’s winter surge, the league changed its hardship rules to allow for rosters that are already much larger — NBA teams can have up to 17 players, including two on bilateral contracts. , maximum of 12 from the WNBA – to develop quickly.

Notably, the NBA exempted hardship contracts from calculating team salary, meaning teams didn’t have to choose between handling luxury tax payments and adding needed players. Although the financial factor is not as important with the WNBA’s strict salary cap, there is an impact. The salary paid to players under difficult contracts could finally blow the storm over the ceiling and prevent the team from adding a 12th player at the end of the season.

Williams played 14 minutes and had five points, three assists and two rebounds as part of the Storm’s nine-man rotation in Sunday’s 92-61 win over New York. And she enjoyed the experience.

“Honestly, it was nothing difficult,” Williams said of Friday’s trip. “I love Seattle. They drafted me. This will always be my home.”

About Kimberly Alley

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