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Learning curve: Storm's rookies figuring out WNBA

Every rookie goes through a learning curve, and that's no different in Seattle. Rookies Jewell Loyd, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Ramu Tokashiki have gone through a transition period, and are now turning the corner.

Barry Gossage

Seattle, WA -- It's been only 51 days since Jewell Loyd, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Ramu Tokashiki made their WNBA regular season debuts. While the number of days may be few, the amount of growth, change and experience that the three rookies have gone through is much greater.

"They are developing at a good pace," stated head coach Jenny Boucek when asked about the trios progress through the first 18 games of their careers. "They're putting in a lot of time before and after practice, getting in a lot of extra skill work with our assistant coaches. I think they're making great progress."

That progress is reflected both in their on-court confidence and on the stat sheet. At the start of the season, Loyd and Tokshiki were tasked with delivering a major portion of the Storm's scoring. Initially, however, both players struggled to even make a field goal.

Through her first seven games, Tokashiki, a four-time MVP in her native Japan, shot 8-29 from the floor and averaged just four points per game.

Loyd had similar struggles, scoring in double figures only once through her first eight games. In total Loyd made just 17-61 attempts from the floor, missing all 12 of her attempts from three-point range, averaging just 5.8 points per contest.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the two rookies turned the corner. On June 27th in San Antonio, Tokashiki reached double figures for the first time netting 14 points. The next night, her and Loyd each poured in 21 in Tulsa.

While the sudden improvement took many by surprise, it was far from unexpected from their coaches who knew it was only a matter of time before the two young players showed what they were capable of.

"Sometimes young players can be on a bit of an emotional roller coaster, but (Loyd, Tokashiki and Mosqueda-Lewis) have been very focused on the process of improving," said Boucek. "I like their hunger, their coachability and the attitude that they have."

After the game in San Antonio, Tokashiki averaged 10.7 points over the remaining 11 games before the All-Star break. She also hit 51.5% of her shot attempts from the floor and 82% from the charity stripe.

"I'm getting better day by day." Said Tokashiki. "I've been able to go one on one more. I'm feeling more confident. I'm just being myself and not holding back."

Loyd had a similar turnaround after the game in Tulsa. Over the next 10 games, the number one overall pick would average 11.1 points per game while making 42% of her shots from the floor and 95% of her free throws. She also found her stroke from behind the arc, hitting 7-16 attempts from deep.

"We knew that it was going to be a transition," said Loyd of her and her fellow rookies early season challenges. "We are finally starting to click and everything is really starting to come together."

The best examples of just how well things are starting to click were the late game performances of Loyd, Tokashiki and Mosqueda-Lewis in back to back games against the reigning champion Phoenix Mercury.

On July 10th in Seattle, fresh off a grueling three games in five days road trip, the Storm were outplayed in seemingly every way. Trailing by 23 with only 7:06 to play, Mosqueda-Lewis, Loyd and Tokashiki would enter the game and, along with Markeisha Gatling and then Storm guard Renee Montgomery, proceed to outscore the Mercury 26-18.

Included in the late game offensive barrage, was a career-high eight points from Mosqueda-Lewis, who hit 2-2 from the floor and used a myriad of ball fakes and crossovers, to draw contact and get to the free throw line where she was a perfect 4-4.

Two nights later, the two teams would meet again in Phoenix with the Mercury again taking a sizable 62-45 lead into the final quarter. The game seemed to be so in hand that Phoenix head coach Sandy Brondello had pulled starters, Brittney Griner, Candace Dupree and DeWanna Bonner from the game.

The move proved to be premature as just like in the previous meeting a lineup led by the three rookies would explode offensively forcing Brondello to put her stars back in.

The late push was again led by Mosqueda-Lewis, who set another new career high with nine points. The third overall pick, who had struggled to find playing time behind the likes of Jenna O'Hea, Alysha Clark and Renee Montgomery, had taken full advantage of the opportunity to show how she was developing.

"It's been good to get more playing time and a little more experience in a game setting," commented Mosqueda-Lewis regarding her performance. "All three of us are finding ourselves and getting more comfortable on the court."

As the Storm head into the second half of the season, the young nucleus of the franchise remains focused and are working to get better every day. So what are they most looking forward to over the remainder of their rookie season?

"Being at home!" Mosqueda-Lewis enthusiastically stated. "It is going to great to get the chance to have a schedule similar to what most other teams in the league have had already and it will give us more time to practice and prepare."

Through the first half of the season, the Storm had an average of just one and a half days between games while the league average was three. The lack of practice time was detrimental to the team developing and implanting its new system, but it didn't phase anyone on the roster. Least of all the three rookies.

"They have stuck to the process and (the fans) are seeing evidence of that."

Said Boucek: "They have a young energy and a lot of trust between each other, and they have a lot of fun playing with each other."

After a tough home loss to the East-leading New York Liberty in the final game before the All-Star break, Jewell Loyd was asked to describe how the first half of the season had been for her and her fellow rookies. Her answer embodied what the young core of the Storm is all about:

"We're still kids learning the game. We try to help each other out so we can continue to grow and also continue getting better every day."

The Seattle Storm may have struggled for wins in the first half of the season, but their three young rookies have each shown glimpses of why the franchises future is so bright.