In may 2020, Olivia had the opportunity to talk with Sami Whitcomb about her atypical and restless journey to the WNBA’s elite. Since this interview, Sami won a second title with the Seattle Storm and welcomed a baby boy with her wife Kate. Oh, one more thing… She is also not a member of the Storm anymore. Sami Whitcomb decided to accept the ambitious challenge of the New York Liberty during the free agency. A good reason to have another chat with her !
Sami, how is Nash ? Is he letting Kate and you sleep ?
Sami Whitcomb : Yes, he’s really good, thank you. He’s definitely sleeping more and longer throughout the night, that’s been really nice.
A few months ago, you told us that the plan was for the three of you to live adventures and experience everything together. Well, New York is quite the adventure ! How do you see things for you there as a family ?
Sami Whitcomb : It is an adventure, for sure. It’s still gonna be brand new for us. We’re really excited. I think we both were ready for a new challenge, a new opportunity and like you said, a new adventure for the three of us. We’re excited about being in a new city. We do know a few of the girls, obviously Natasha Howard from Seattle, Becca Allen, a fellow Australia local, so we do have some familiarity with a few of the players, but I think we’re juste excited about being together. I think we’re gonna love getting to find new cafes – we love coffee ! – new spots that we love, just getting to wake up everyday with something new to explore… We loved doing that in Seattle for the past few years, and I think we’ll really enjoy doing that now in a new city.
New York is my favorite place in the world, but I wouldn’t call it a family friendly city, especially in downtown Manhattan. It’s good that the team now plays in Brooklyn…
Sami Whitcomb : Yes, we’ll be based and we’ll live in Brooklyn, so that should be a little bit different, but it’s going to be part of the adventure to find the place that suits us as a family.
Many people were surprised by your decision to play for New York because there was this opportunity to repeat with Seattle, even with the financial choices they had to make. What was your process for this free agency and how did the idea to play for New York grew on you ?
Sami Whitcomb : The biggest thing coming in was opportunity, probably. I’ve done my first 4 years and it was sort of my rookie experience, you know. I think you’re kind of a rookie in the league for the first four years. I felt that even if I was older, it was like that. I tried to make the most of it, in termes of learning, growing and I felt like I had a great opportunity to do that in Seattle with the role taht I had there. I think, and I hope, that New York was offering something potentially larger in terms of role, of potential for growth at the stage that I’m at. Obviously, it’s something I’ll have to earn there. I just think the opportunity for that larger role is there in New York, in a way that it’s perhaps not in Seattle. I don’t mean that in a negative way but I just think that with the players, the roster, where NY is in comparison with Seattle, the feeling is higher for me, in terms of the growth and of the role. After 4 years, of trying to find myself in the league, to get confidence and to get confortable, figure out what I can do. I want to take that next step and challenge myself, I think it’s risky and a lot of people probably were surprised, but I want to keep getting better and figure out what I can be. I needed this challenge, I needed this change, this new opportunity, to discover what I’m capable of.
I think everyone knew it would be hard to keep the group together, but not a lot of people anticipated that you, Alysha and Natasha would leave at the same time. Was this outcome a surprise for you ?
Sami Whitcomb : I was a little bit suprised as well, but I didn’t really know what to expect going in. I didn’t know that there would be teams that value me highly, in terms of role and money. I was open to everything and I imagine the other girls were too. These opportunities came up and they were all enticing and exciting for our own separate reasons. I don’t wanna speak for anybody but I think we all loved our experience and our time in Seattle, but for different reasons we decided these new challenges, excited us. It has nothing do to with Seattle. Sometimes change is needed, it’s critical in terms of developing and getting better.
The free agency has been wild and exciting for the fans and the media. Now they know anything can happen, from superstars leaving to huge trades being done. Do you think the players were ready for that and are satisfied with this new dynamic ?
Sami Whitcomb : Yes, I think it’s exciting for the players as well. We saw it last year. There were some pretty big moves and I remember following it on Twitter and seeing everyone excited about Skylar Diggins-Smith going to Phoenix or Angel McCoughtry to Vegas, etc… It became similar to what you have in the NBA with really good players deciding to player with other fantastic players and the roster looking exciting and stacked… People are talking about it and there is an anticipation of the outcoming season, oh I wanna see her playing with her, I wanna see, how does this team deal with loosing this girl, stuff like this. You want people talking about the WNBA and I think movement and the ability for players to do that is great.
Is there a move or a signing that shocked you during this free agency ?
Sami Whitcomb : I think the one with Candace Parker probably comes on top. That’s a big one. I don’t know her and maybe if you know her this decision was less surprising, but it was surprising to me.
New York is a basketball city and there are always a lot of expectations and even pressure, because no team has won a championship there for a long time. Were you looking for that type of pressure ?
Sami Whitcomb : I’m happy that there are expections, I wanted that for the team, the group, the culture… You don’t want to go somewhere with no expectations to be good or at least moving in the right direction. Speaking with Walt, I understood the expectations were there because of who they signed, who they traded for, who they drafted the year before and what they are trying to build. That’s exciting to be part of. Expectations comes with a little bit of pressure but that’s part of it. I have experienced some pressure filled moments in my career. You thrive for it when you’re an athlete. It means more if you’re achieving something you worked for during the season, that’s really rewarding. Hopefully the pressure is motivating, inspiring and pushes us in a positive way, instead of wearing us down or taking away our focus.
In Seattle you were this spark, always delivering with your energy on both sides of the floor and your shooting. Did you already talk about your role with Walt Hopkins ?
Sami Whitcomb : That’s kind of the exciting part about going to a new team. It’s a clean slate, I can go there and be anything I wanna be. I can have a whatever role. It just feels that if I go there and work hard, anything can happen. The things you touched on, the shooting, the effort thing, are things that have always been the make up of my game. So hopefully those things continue, but I’d really like to build on those things to become a more dynamic and well rounded player. I don’t know about my minutes. That’s not something we specifically talked about. We talked more about how I would fit in what they are trying to build in New York.
You’re not coming here alone. Natasha was traded to New York and the Liberty signed the reigning MIP, Betnijah Laney. Did you know the team would be that agressive and ambitious when you signed ?
Sami Whitcomb : I played with Betnijah in Perth and I love her. Her development has been amazing, it was great to see. I’m really excited about playing with her again. I didn’t know they would pursue these players. I hoped they would and I knew they had some moves coming but you never know what’s gonna happen. I heard about the types of players they wanted, hardworkers and athletic players. I just didn’t know who they were targeting so it was pleasing to learn that Natasha and Betnijah would come. I also was already happy with the players they had.
There has been a lot of hype around Sabrina Ionescu and New York seems to have every intention to build around her. Unfortunately she got injured after a few games, but what do you think about her from what you saw in college and what you’ve heard about her personality ?
Sami Whitcomb : I watched Sabrina a lot in college. I really liked her competitive spirit. Obviously, she’s incredibly talented, but I also like how hard she works and how hard she wants to win. From what I’ve heard and seen, she’s an incredibly hard worker in training. She’s a work horse, which I love. She only played a few games in the league, but you saw flashes of what she’s capable of. She had impressive moments but also entire games where she was really good. I think that’s really exciting, she’s young and newish, but there is no reason not to expect that she’ll be getting better every single year.
I wanted to talk about your future team mate, Layshia Clarendon. First, that must be cool to know there will be another parent on the team. And what did you think about her powerful message about transgender athletes ?
Sami Whitcomb : I think it’s incredible and amazing that she was willing to step into that. She was brave enough to share her own journey and story with that. We need more people that are willing to do that. I’m honored she’s gonna be my team mate. I was really happy and proud that she was confortable enough to do that. It must have been a big step, for sure. It’s really exciting that she’s a parent as well. We’ve been messaging about our little babies, how we’re excited to have another parent on the team and how our partners hopefully can be able to share so mummy time together when we’ll be playing or training. It will be nice to have someone who really gets it outside of my wife and who can relate to that balancing act of being an athlete and trying to be a parent.
You’re still a fan favorite in France and a lot of people are rooting for you to suceed in New York. What are your fondest memories of your time in Montpellier ?
Sami Whitcomb : I loved my teammates. They were by far the best part about being there. Montpellier is a city I really enjoyed as well. I love the beach, being by the water, that was great. We had great fans as well and the fanbase was really really cool in France. The other cities we got to go to were also really cool, I really liked the French culture and all of those things. But for sure, my team mates for a couple of years, the first year in particular, it was just so special ! We still have our group chat and we always say it was a team like no other in terms of how all got along together and how we loved each other, our chemistry off the court and on the court, it was really fun. I have fond memories of that time.