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Sue Hen Turned the Legend She Wanted: ‘There Was No Actual Path’

Sue Hen peeked upcourt as she caught the outlet move. Her Seattle Storm teammate Natasha Howard had streaked forward of her like a large receiver, as she normally did at any time when Hen was working the offense in transition. Howard realized that she was open beneath the basket and braced herself. Hen, she knew, would discover her like all the time. She simply did not know the way.

Hen slithered into the lane, drawing a defender. Then, with out trying, she whipped the ball over her head and into Howard’s awaiting palms.

“My fingers had been all the time prepared for Sue when she handed me the ball,” mentioned Howard, now with the Liberty. She added: “That proper there, it is like: ‘Wow, OK, Sue. You bought eyes behind your head.’”

Hen counts the move amongst her favourite assists in her 19 seasons with the Storm. She has loads of passes to select from: Hen is the WNBA’s profession chief in assists.

“I’ve just a little little bit of a Rain Man mind so maintain on a second,” she had mentioned as she tried to select her favourite help. After a second, she cited the no-look move to Howard, in 2018, and a between-the-legs move to a trailing Lauren Jackson within the 2003 All-Star Recreation. She wasn’t completed.

“Oh, there’s additionally one other one to Lauren,” Hen mentioned. “It was within the playoffs in opposition to Minnesota. I feel it was like 2012 and we had been down 3. We would have liked a 3, and it wasn’t a elaborate help by any means, however we ran a play to perfection. I hit Lauren. She hits the shot.”

These are the sorts of assists that Hen constructed her repute on. “The timing round an excellent move is so the particular person you are passing to does not have to alter something that they are doing,” Hen mentioned.

At 41 years previous, Hen is inside weeks of the tip of her WNBA profession. In June, she introduced that she would retire on the finish of the season, although most individuals had anticipated as a lot. On the finish of the 2021 season, followers chanted “yet another yr!” at an emotional chicken and stored up the marketing campaign with hashtags on social media for months by the low season. In January, Hen nodded to the marketing campaign in an Instagram submit and wrote “OK.”

Her résumé had room for yet another season, however simply barely. She is a 13-time All-Star and has gained 4 championships. She topped Ticha Penicheiro’s profession help report of two,599 5 years in the past and now has 3,222 regular-season assists in a league-record 578 video games.

Because the assists have piled up, Hen has advanced as a passer.

“Once in a while, it may be fancy,” Hen mentioned. “Once in a while, you do need to look the protection off, however for me, it is simply all the time about making an attempt to learn the protection and be one step forward, so you will discover that particular person.

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve positively used the no-look extra, and after I do a no-look these days, I am not making an attempt to appear to be Magic Johnson did or one thing like that. I am actually simply making an attempt to look off the protection. I am simply making an attempt to get them to assume my eyes are trying someplace else, in order that I could make the play.”

No different participant is as synced with the league’s infancy and progress, its historical past and current, as Hen, the consummate ground basic who excelled by consistency by delivering the ball to the correct particular person on the proper time in the correct spot, yr after yr, decade after decade.

“She is the WNBA,” mentioned Crystal Langhorne, who transformed 161 of Hen’s passes into buckets, the fourth-most of any teammate behind Jackson (624), Breanna Stewart (345) and Jewell Loyd (217), in keeping with the Elias Sports activities bureau. “It will be loopy with a league the place she’s not there anymore. Sue is the prototype.”

Listening to these kinds of compliments has been one of many nice and sudden byproducts of asserting her retirement, Hen mentioned.

“You simply all the time knew what to anticipate from me,” Hen mentioned. “Everybody knew in the event that they turned on a Storm recreation, what they had been going to see. So, it is type of laborious to think about it not being there, as a result of it has been there for 20 years.”

Hen entered the WNBA in its sixth season as the highest total decide within the 2002 draft, carrying heavy expectations into Seattle after two NCAA ladies’s basketball championships at Connecticut.

She made her first professional help to Adia Barnes, now the ladies’s basketball coach at Arizona. Barnes, 45, final performed professionally 12 years in the past and spent a number of years as a broadcaster earlier than teaching, all whereas Hen continued stacking one help after one other.

“I completely forgot that,” Barnes mentioned of Hen’s first help, laughing. “I made the shot, in order that was a great factor. I do not bear in mind it, however you possibly can act like I do. Make it sound good, please.”

Barnes does recall Hen’s steadiness from the start. The couple typically roomed on the highway.

“She was only a true level guard, and I feel what separated Sue is, she’s a connector, so that you needed to play together with her.”

Barnes gained a championship in 2004 with Hen and Jackson, who grew to become a dynamic pick-and-roll pairing, and Hen and Jackson gained one other in 2010. They left defenses helpless. If a defender ducked underneath a Jackson display, Hen may bury a 3. In the event that they doubled Hen, Jackson may drive to the rim or come out for an open jumper. The ball sometimes arrived on time.

“There was actually no means to assist it,” Barnes mentioned. “It was simply very, very, very laborious to protect they usually made it look seamless.”

Hen mentioned her consciousness of angles and spacing was all the time on, even when strolling by a mall.

“You are all the time transferring in a means, seeing issues in means that’s much like being on the courtroom,” Hen mentioned. “Clearly, you are not in a recreation, so you are not having to maneuver quick or do issues with urgency, however I feel you simply all the time transfer that means when you will have that sort of imaginative and prescient. That sounds insane. It is truly not.”

Teammates would spot Hen carrying binders and notebooks to check the sport. “You do not actually need to ask how she does it,” Howard mentioned. “She simply does it.”

Receiving a move from Hen impressed confidence, Langhorne mentioned. Right here was one of many recreation’s greats, entrusting her with the ball and to make the correct play.

“Even after I was engaged on my 3s and I wasn’t as assured, if I knew Sue kicked it again to me, I used to be like: ‘Oh, yeah, shoot it. She’s giving it to you for a purpose,’” Langhorne mentioned. “Which I by no means even actually mentioned out loud earlier than.”

Accidents compelled Jackson to depart the WNBA in 2012. Hen discovered her subsequent submit companion in Stewart, one other Connecticut product who Seattle took with the primary total decide in 2016. The 2 gained championships in 2018 and 2020.

“She is aware of the place everybody is meant to be earlier than typically we even do,” Stewart mentioned. “She is aware of which block I would like to get the ball on or which move goes to get by and which is not. Typically, while you’re on the basketball courtroom, a participant makes a lower after which the move comes, and typically with Sue, the move comes after which the participant makes the lower as a result of she’s seeing the protection typically faster than us.”

Hen mentioned Penicheiro, who retired in 2012, and the Chicago Sky’s Courtney Vandersloot are among the many level guards she has most loved watching as a result of “they’re actually enjoyable.” Vandersloot just lately handed Lindsay Whalen to turn out to be third on the WNBA’s profession assists checklist. She’s the energetic participant closest to tying Hen — and he or she’s nonetheless greater than 800 assists away.

Hen broke Penicheiro’s report together with her 2,600th help to a reducing Carolyn Swords in 2017.

“It was truly a fairly good move, and he or she deserves it. And data are supposed to be damaged, and if anyone breaks your report, you need it to be a participant like Sue Hen,” Penicheiro mentioned.

“All people loves Sue,” she added. “If she was an ass, it might be simpler to go in opposition to her and attempt to stick it to her, however she’s too good and I’m, too.”

Even one help from Hen is a second to recollect. 13 gamers acquired one help from Hen, in keeping with Elias. The checklist consists of Courtney Paris, who regarded Hen as one among her favourite gamers rising up and spent most of her WNBA profession on alert as an opponent who had the unenviable job of making an attempt to play workforce protection in opposition to her.

“The second you go to assist, she’s going to search out the smallest piece of area to get the ball to whoever must get it,” Paris mentioned.

Paris joined the Storm in 2018 and didn’t play typically in her two seasons in Seattle as her enjoying profession wound down. Paris didn’t bear in mind the kind of move she acquired from Hen or how she scored, however she recalled being excited over the sequence.

“It was a full circle second from watching her after I was a youthful participant,” Paris mentioned.

Ashley Walker, one other member of the one-assist from Hen membership, who performed with Seattle in 2009, was equally appreciative.

“She’s one of many pioneers,” Walker mentioned. “She’s somebody that folks look as much as, and he or she did it with such grace, such confidence. And it is simply superb to know that I am part of that have and I truly get an opportunity to say: ‘I caught a move from Sue Hen. What did you do?’”

Hen has additionally made her mark throughout the postseason together with her assists. She set a playoff report with 14 assists in a 2004 Western Convention finals recreation in opposition to Sacramento, then broke it with 16 in Recreation 1 of the 2020 finals in opposition to Las Vegas. Vandersloot broke that postseason report final yr, with 18 assists in opposition to Connecticut.

The chapter is closing on one of many WNBA’s most memorable careers. Hen mentioned she achieved all the pieces she needed to within the league, establishing targets within the second.

“The straightforward analogy right here is, who does all people chase within the NBA? Michael Jordan,” Hen mentioned. “As a result of Michael Jordan performed a full profession. He gained six rings. So, six rings grew to become the usual. In our league, after I bought into the league, that did not actually exist.”

She continued: “There was no actual path to observe, as a result of no person had that 20-year profession but. So, I actually did not know what to dream, and so to sit down right here now with all of the championships I’ve, I simply really feel actually glad.”

Now a younger participant — Hen named Arike Ogunbowale of the Dallas Wings for instance — can mannequin the milestones within the careers of gamers reminiscent of Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi.

Many, after all, will have a look at Hen’s illustrious profession.

“I feel there’s something that motivates you in that means, however on the similar time, forging your individual path, I loved that as nicely,” Hen mentioned. “I am undecided. Possibly having one thing to chase is best. Possibly there’s extra strain.”

What do you think?

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