- Associated Press - Thursday, June 2, 2011

SEATTLE (AP) - Along with being a two-time WNBA champion and recognition as one of the best women’s players in the world, something else changed for Lauren Jackson in the offseason.

She grew an inch.

Actually, Jackson says she’s always been 6 feet 6. Now at age 30, she finally feels comfortable admitting she’s really 6-6 and not 6-5 as was always listed _ not that she needed the extra inch.

“I’ve been 6-foot-6 my whole life. I tried to shorten me. I’m a good 6-6. My mum would always say to me, ‘Say 6-6,’ I would say, ‘Nope.’” Jackson said. “I didn’t want to be 6-6. I thought I was freakishly tall enough. I’m definitely 6-foot-6 and have been since I was a good 17 years old.”

Jackson is back for her 11th season playing in the U.S., but no longer carrying the stigma of playing for possibly the most talented team in the WNBA that continually failed when the playoffs arrived.

That label departed last September when Seattle swept the Atlanta Dream in three games to win the Storm’s second WNBA title. When Seattle won its first title in 2004, with Jackson and Sue Bird still in the early stages of their professional careers, it was expected that Seattle would become a mainstay among the league’s elite.

It took a half-dozen years, but Seattle finally reached that pinnacle again. And unlike that first time when the Storm overhauled much of its roster after title No. 1, it’s many of the same faces looking to become the league’s first back-to-back champs since the Los Angeles Sparks in 2000 and 2001.

“A lot of teams that are trying to repeat can get caught up in that. You can get caught up in ‘Oh, what’s going to happen the first time we lose at home,’ if it happens. Is it the end of the world? No,” Bird said. “There have been plenty of championship teams that have lost at home. I can go down the list of things we accomplished last year …. The beauty of this team, you saw it last year, we’re very mature, in part because of our age, but also the experiences we’ve all had individually and also as a team. With that does come some sense of maturity.”

That doesn’t mean coach Brian Agler didn’t do some tweaking in the offseason. Most notably, he pulled together a three-team trade to get Katie Smith and bring Seattle one of the most versatile veterans in the league.

Smith and Agler first were together in the American Basketball League in the late 1990s in Columbus, where Smith was a college star at Ohio State. It took help from Washington and Indiana, but the duo are again together with Smith looking for the third title of her WNBA career.

“She still has that same passion to compete and wants to win. Now, it’s a little different. You don’t have such a heavy load. We have so many weapons that are out there,” Seattle forward Swin Cash said. “She can come do her thing and if you forget, she’s going to burn you for 20. I think that’s what makes people scared about this team, is having her here.”

While Jackson is always the focal point, Bird, Cash and Smith will get plenty of attention as well and be important in carrying at least some of the load. So, too, is the continued improvement of guard Tanisha Wright and forward Camille Little, especially with the loss of Svetlana Abrosimova and Jana Vesla.

There’s also a bit of urgency, knowing that next year Jackson will not be around for more than half the season as she trains with the Australian national team in the hopes of finally capturing Olympic gold. Bird is also likely to face Olympic responsibilities in 2012.

“We had a lot of lessons last year. Obviously, we saw that if we work together and stick to the game plan, and everyone plays their role within our system, it works, and it can produce a championship at the end,” Cash said. “Hopefully, we’re individually a little bit better and that will translate into collectively as a team. The core is still here, but five, six players don’t make up a team. We need everyone to fill in those voids. … We have the people here who can do that.”

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