By Colin Davenport
Seattle, WA -- On April 16th, 2014, Alisha Valavanis was serving as the assistant athletic director for development at UC Berkley. Twelve months later, she was celebrating completing her first WNBA Draft in the company of 300+ Storm fans in Seattle.
The draft was the exclamation point, on what has been one of the strangest, most incredible and fastest changeovers of a franchise in the history of American professional sports; a changeover that Valavanis found herself at the center of.
When it was announced before the 2014 season that Karen Bryant, the Storm's COO and first ever employee was stepping down to pursue other endeavors, an all-out search was launched to find someone who could fill the void Bryant was leaving.
Fans anxiously waited to learn who would be leading the organization, while journalists and commentators, speculated if the Storm could survive without the leadership of Bryant. Those questions would soon be put to rest when Valavanis was announced as Bryant's replacement.
Chosen due to her vast basketball experience, Valavanis, along with her twin sister Alexa, played four years at Chico State where Alisha set the school record for three pointers made at 139. When she completed her playing career, she entered the coaching ranks as an assistant at her alma mater, before heading to Pacific as an associate head coach.
In her time at Pacific, Valavanis was placed in charge of the team's defense as well as guard development. Her duties, however, extended beyond the court as she served as the leader of the team's booster club -- and created new marketing campaigns to increase interest in the program. In 2011, in what would be her final stop before Seattle, Valavanis, joined the athletic department at Cal.
Her impressive credentials and background in marketing women's basketball were ideal for the Storm COO position. Valavanis' time as a player and coach -- with experience of developing defensive schemes -- meant she would complement Storm general manager and head coach, Brian Agler's, focus on hard nose defense.
Valavanis' knowledge of scouting and player development, made her ideal for finding elite prospects even later in the draft, a position the Storm had found themselves in for a decade.
Then everything changed.
The Storm, a team who for ten straight seasons always found a way to win, finally ran out of steam. The aging roster that had been hastily put together, after the leagues drawn out collective bargaining negotiations, was simply no match for the rest of the Western Conference.
As a result, the Storm limped to league tying worst 12-22 record. While the team won the #1 pick in the lottery, it was for what was considered, possibly, the worst draft class in history. Nevertheless, Valavanis and Force 10 seized the opportunity -- and announced, that the franchise was going to enter a full blown rebuild, which would take between two to three years to complete.
Soon after, Agler left to take over the vacant coaching position in Los Angeles. His unforeseen departure left the Storm entering free agency with no head coach or general manager. Within days however, Jenny Boucek, the Storm's long-time associate head coach was named to the head coaching job and Valavanis was promoted to the general manager role.
With Valavanis now in charge of the basketball personnel decisions, and Boucek wanting to create a roster focused on long, athletic, offensive minded players, the rebuild began in earnest. Starters Camille Little and Shekinna Stricklen were traded for Renee Montgomery and the #3 and #16 draft picks.
Tanisha Wright and Noelle Quinn left via free agency, while Temeka Johnson was waived and Nicole Powell retired. By the spring only five of the eleven players, who had been on the 2014 opening night roster, remained. And on top of that, Sue Bird and Alysha Clark, were the only two players left who had been with the organization for more than a season.
The moves weren't done, though, as the Storm traded the #16 pick to the Mystics in exchange for Quanitra Hollingsworth and the #20 pick. Then Australian Olympian Abby Bishop, a member of the 2010 Storm championship team was signed to a two-year deal, followed by Tennessee guard Meighan Simmons and Japanese star Ramu Tokashiki, who were signed to training camp contracts.
Valavanis was living up to her promise, to rebuild and deliver Boucek, the young, long and athletic players she wanted. With all of the moves, it seemed likely it would take the full two to three years to return the team to playoff contention.
Then the possibly the biggest bombshells in the history of the WNBA draft hit in the same week.
First, Minnesota redshirt sophomore Amanda Zahui B. declared for the draft. The Gophers star, with extensive international experience playing for her native Sweden, was coming off one of the most dominant seasons any post player has ever had in the NCAA.
It was a miracle. The Storm, who until Zahui B. made the announcement, were in possession of a pick without a clear-cut player to select, now had a franchise center in their grasps. This player could fill the massive void left by the absence of Lauren Jackson.
Then the second bombshell, espnW's National Player of the Year Jewell Loyd, only twenty-four hours removed from competing in the national championship game, also declared for the draft. It was as if the Storm had won the lottery...three times in one offseason.
This brings us back to draft day. Having been brought on by the organization less than a year earlier to serve as the COO of a defensive minded, veteran heavy roster, Valvanis, found herself as the general manager of a team in the midst of a youth movement focused on offense.
In possession of both the first and third picks Valavanis, the college shooting guard with her schools three-point record, selected Jewell Loyd, the best shooting guard in the country, and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis the NCAA's all-time leading three-pointer shooter.
It seems only fitting, that the players selected to lead the second generation of Storm basketball, share on-court characteristics with the woman, who has already reshaped the entire franchise for the better. It is only the beginning of the journey, but so far Alisha Valavanis is proving herself to be the perfect person to lead the storied franchise into its next chapter.