Sami Whitcomb: 28-year-old rookie living WNBA dream with Seattle Storm

SEATTLE, WA - MAY 26: Sami Whitcomb
SEATTLE, WA - MAY 26: Sami Whitcomb /

Sami Whitcomb never let it become an obsession, choosing to view it more like a dream deferred.

After being the last player cut in tryouts by the Chicago Sky in 2010, Whitcomb didn’t know if she would ever get another shot at the WNBA.

She knew with each passing year younger talent would enter the league and roster sizes would inhibit some teams from taking chances.

Rather than focusing on getting to the WNBA, Whitcomb did what she’s done since first picking up a basketball at age 10. She put her head down and went to work.

From Germany to Slovakia to Australia, Whitcomb spent hours in far-flung gyms training to maximize her talent. She grew wiser, expanded her skill set and gained valuable experience.

Through it all, she never lost sight of her dream.

SEATTLE, WA – MAY 28: Sami Whitcomb
SEATTLE, WA – MAY 28: Sami Whitcomb /

The winding journey made it even more worthwhile when the 28-year-old guard received her second chance in the WNBA.

Down to the final day of training camp once again, Whitcomb braced for every outcome when Seattle Storm coach Jenny Boucek called Whitcomb into her office.

After telling her she made the team, Whitcomb took a deep breath and smiled.

“That was an incredibly amazing feeling,” Whitcomb told The Summitt in a phone interview earlier this month. “It was a bit of relief and surprise and just gratitude. All of that combined into one really special moment.”

Whitcomb is making the most of her opportunity.

On Friday night, she matched a league record for most 3-pointers in half by draining six in the Storm’s 87-81 win over the New York Liberty.

The 5-foot-10 Whitcomb finished with 22 points in just 15 minutes, hitting four straight 3-pointers in one second-half stretch and going 6 of 8 from distance.

“Sami earned her shot for a spot on our roster. There is no question about that,” Seattle Storm president and general manager Alisha Valavanis told The Summitt in a phone interview. “We have been really pleased with what Sami has brought to this team. She’s been a great fit in every way possible.”

SEATTLE, WA – May 03: Sami Whitcomb
SEATTLE, WA – May 03: Sami Whitcomb /

Whitcomb’s WNBA ascendance may seem like a sudden burst of fame, but it’s been a lifelong pursuit filled with twist and turns, milestones, roadblocks and personal fulfillment.

Growing up in Ventura, Calif., Whitcomb was the definition of a gym rat.

She’d go anywhere in the city any time of day to find a game—from the blacktop courts of the local junior college to the open gym at the rec center. Most of her runs came against guys and Whitcomb more than held her own to earn their respect.

After graduating from tradition-rich Buena High, Whitcomb played at the University of Washington when the program was in a downturn with players leaving and success fleeting.

Whitcomb remained loyal, leading the Huskies in scoring, rebounding, assists—and likely floor burns—during her senior season to earn All-Pac-10 honors.

After being cut from the Sky in 2010 right out of college, Whitcomb returned to UW as a video coordinator.

But the pull of playing remained too strong to ignore. She continually found herself searching for pickup games around the Seattle area and decided to pursue a professional career overseas.

Whitcomb started in Germany, leading the league in scoring and being named Guard of the Year. Along the way, her teams dealt with coaching issues and one of them went bankrupt and missed the playoffs.

Whitcomb’s move to Australia was not only a career-changer, but a life-changer.

Playing with Rockingham Flames in the state league and the Perth Lynx in the WNBL, Whitcomb has been a four-time All-Star, three time-scoring champion and named MVP of the Grand Final in three consecutive seasons.

Last season, she set WNBL all-time records in scoring (652 points) and 3-pointers made (105).

29 November 2009: Washington Huskies
29 November 2009: Washington Huskies /

Whitcomb’s success at Australia’s highest level thrust her back onto the WNBA radar with teams reaching out to her agent, Sammy Wloszczowski of Sports International Group.

“That was honestly probably a shocking moment because I hadn’t had any interest basically since I’d been cut and there were never even any whispers of maybe this or that,” Whitcomb said. “I felt like that was very out of the blue and unexpected. It was really exciting just to get the chance to come back and see if I could do that.”

Whitcomb fielded training camp offers from a few WNBA teams, but chose the Storm because it suited her playing style. Returning to the same city she attended college was an added perk.

“Speaking to the coaches and understanding what they may want from me, it just felt like a good fit,” Whitcomb said. “They like to shoot the ball and run and defend, and those are all things that suit my game. I have really enjoyed being back in Seattle again. I love the city and there was so much about it I enjoyed when I lived here before.”

Inviting Whitcomb into camp was a collaborative effort between Boucek and Valavanis as the Storm assessed its roster needs.

“Jenny brought her to my attention and we started having conversations and taking a much closer look,” Valavanis said. “We were really interested in seeing how her game would translate to the WNBA. The truth is she’s got the diversity in her game we really want. She is a prolific shooter with a great defensive focus.”

Whitcomb’s regular-season WNBA debut came only a few miles from her hometown as the Storm played the Los Angeles Sparks. Sitting courtside at Staples Center were two Laker legends.

“It was just kind of a cool moment to have Magic watching and Kobe there,” Whitcomb said. “It was just one of those moments where I kept thinking ‘Is this real?’ I grew up idolizing Kobe and now I was running up the court near him.”

Having taken an interest in Whitcomb from the moment he first watched her play in Australia, Wloszczowski hopes her story can crack the door open for others in a similar situation.

SEATTLE, WA – MAY 3: Sami Whitcomb
SEATTLE, WA – MAY 3: Sami Whitcomb /

“There is a little bit of a misconception that the only way you can achieve the dream of playing in the WNBA is by way of the draft at a certain age. Sami, to me, completely personifies with the right attitude and the right work ethic that you will get there eventually if you go about things the right way,” Wloszczowski said. “It’s exciting that other players Sami’s age now have a role model to look up to.”

Whitcomb has permanent residency in Australia and is in the process of becoming a citizen. She and her partner are building a house there. The potential to play for the Australian National team has crossed her mind.

“It is obviously difficult. They can only take one non-naturalized player and Leilani Mitchell is the starting point guard and a fantastic player,” Whitcomb said. “But if I can go to camps and gain some more experience with some of those main players than I will definitely do that.”

Throughout her quest to reach the WNBA, Whitcomb never wanted her self-worth to be defined by attaining that goal.

“Everyone knows that is the best league in the world and if you are striving to be great that is where you want to be. But more than anything, I just wanted to reach my full potential,” Whitcomb said. “I knew potentially that could mean in the WNBA. I felt like I worked really hard to be the best that I could be and I would be able to live with whatever happened.”

Whitcomb never expected to be a 28-year-old rookie. She is content to fill any role the Storm needs this season, whether that’s scoring outbursts like she had against the Liberty or subbing in for one critical possession on defense.

After such a long wait, Whitcomb is cherishing every minute of her inaugural WNBA season however they come.

“I love this game and it has taken me all over the world and obviously has given me so much,” she said. “I am not the only one to struggle to get here and I am just very grateful I am getting this opportunity.”