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April 17, 2020

Kitija Laksa

New York, New York

Q. It has been only 17 months since that knee injury. How surreal is this? How amazed are you by just what's happened and being drafted 11th overall in the WNBA Draft?
KITIJA LAKSA: It's definitely a crazy feeling. I mean, a dream come true. Couldn't have gone any better, couldn't have gone and joined a better team. I'm very excited. Definitely a very, very good feeling right now. Even at 5:00 a.m. though.

Q. How is your knee now? Is it something you're still rehabbing, working back into shape, or are you 100 percent now?
KITIJA LAKSA: Yes, of course. I feel like my knee will be something I will be taking care of my whole career, but I do feel good about it. I started playing in December, and I felt good. Of course there were some ups and downs, but along the way everything was good, everything felt good, everything felt right. Right now just keeping everything in check in these crazy times in the world, and I keep working on my game, my rehab, my knee, my body, everything is connected. So I'm just very excited about the opportunity right now.

Q. Can you tell me a couple things, are you quarantined, and why didn't you join the broadcast? And then your decision to come a year later to come to Seattle?
KITIJA LAKSA: Well, yes, I'm safe, I'm safe at home quarantining, just staying safe and not really engaging in anything and not really going anywhere, just doing my best not to go outside of my house and just entertaining myself.

I decided to forego and kind of take my name out of the draft just because of my injury last year, so I'm very excited and very thankful to be here this year.

Were there any other questions?

Q. Yeah, the decision to come to Seattle late. They said that you're going to join in 2021 instead of this season, so is that because you just started playing in December, or what's the reasoning behind that for you?
KITIJA LAKSA: That was not my decision, that was the team's decision, and all together we made that decision, so for us right now I'm just enjoying my draft night, and we're going to connect and talk about what the future holds for me and the team later on.

Q. I know it's a general question, but what has it been like going back home? What was the experience like playing back in your town there? A lot of people haven't seen you play for a while. Has anything changed much in your game? Have you improved in certain areas?
KITIJA LAKSA: I mean, as the time goes, I get even better. I keep working on my game, keep working on everything, so I do feel very, very good about it. I enjoyed my year at home, just to -- first of all, just to rehab my knee and get back on the basketball court. Obviously the part where I stepped on the court back, it was just amazing. Hard to describe it. After a long recovery, after a long injury, the feeling is great, and being at home in front of my family and the support I got here was amazing, and I'm very thankful for that.

I enjoyed my first year in professional basketball here in Europe, so it was a great experience and will definitely help me in WNBA or whatever, whatever the future holds.

Q. Your game in college was so elite from the three-point line; your free throw shooting was north of 96 percent in your last full year playing, and the next step, I remember talking to you about it a few years ago, was about getting to the rim. So I'm wondering, in the time since we've been able to see you stateside, how has that evolved and how much a part of your game is that now?
KITIJA LAKSA: You're right, everything you said. I believe we talked about this previously. Well, yeah, obviously the shot is my main weapon, but I've been working on the overall game, just being able to attack off the dribble, use the pick-and-rolls better, just set my team up, find the open player and open pass. I feel like I worked on my basketball IQ and the way to win a basketball game, and obviously I can't only talk about offense. I was actually a little afraid about my defense, just coming off the injury when people just say, it'll be hard, the lateral movements, just sliding your feet. But me and my trainer have worked really hard on it. I actually feel better, more confident and quicker than I've ever been, and I mean, I'm excited. I'm excited to return to the States. I've missed it. I've missed America. I've missed the basketball there, just the people and friends I left in the States, so I'm very excited for the opportunity.

Q. I just wanted to see what your buildup was this morning; how did you watch the draft and what did you do leading up to it since you had pretty much a real long wait to watch it since it was about 2:00, 3:00 in the morning when you got selected?
KITIJA LAKSA: Yeah, thank you. It was a long day for me. Woke up pretty early, worked out, had a couple errands to run before heading back home and just meeting up with my family, my mom, my dad, my brother was here, my sister-in-law, my nephew, so we just spent the day together at home, had a nice lunch, had a nice dinner, just enjoyed each other's company and waited for the draft. Needed to do some things to just set up and be ready for the draft, some media stuff and things like that. It really has been a very, very long day. What is it, like -- I've been up like the last 22, 21 hours, so I am tired, but I'm happy. I'm happy that I'm a part of the Seattle Storm. It's definitely been worth it.

Q. Satou Sabally said on ESPN tonight that her getting drafted so high really is a good thing for European basketball, and in your case, too, especially since you have a lot of former teammates at USF and a lot of people at USF looking up to you as someone from Europe. What do you think you being drafted tonight kind of helps with European basketball and helps getting them noticed?
KITIJA LAKSA: I mean, it does mean a lot. As Satou said, just means a lot for the whole European basketball, for showing us that it is possible. That it doesn't really matter -- you walk out straight from a U.S. college like she did, or I had my three years of basketball in the States and I came back, played a year professionally and I was able to be a first-round pick. Hopefully that paves the way for younger kids to just look up and dream bigger and dream about the WNBA, that it is an opportunity and a possibility for us Europeans, as well, because we do look up to a lot of players. I have, when I was a kid. So hopefully that's something others can do in the future.

Q. You look at some of your new teammates and you see Breanna Stewart and you see Sue Bird. Obviously you won't be with them until 2021, but just kind of your initial thoughts to being able to play with two WNBA stars?
KITIJA LAKSA: I mean, I'm very excited. I'm excited to just learn from them and see and learn how they see basketball just -- it's an amazing feeling. I would have not expected that, and I don't think it -- all these pieces could have fallen in a better place. I do believe Seattle Storm is the best team in the league, so I'll stand by it and I'll enjoy my time and hope for my opportunity to come and prove myself and be a part of the team and be a part of the upcoming season the next season.

Q. I'd like to ask you if your early experience could help you in your WNBA career.
KITIJA LAKSA: My earlier experience? Yes, definitely. I mean, I feel like I will take advantage of the fact that I played in college in the USA. I played for my national team last year. I participated in a couple European championships, in a World Cup, played one of the best players in the world already, and the fact that I played in Euroleague this past season with my professional team was -- altogether it was a great experience and something that will always follow me. So just basing my basketball skills on all of that and all the experience putting all that together will definitely help me fit in the team.

Q. Obviously you played international basketball this last season. What was that experience like, and what areas did you find the most success in and what areas do you still want to improve upon?
KITIJA LAKSA: I mean, I've always said there's always room for improvement no matter what, and it doesn't really matter in what like subject or topic. I'm always very hungry to get better, to get back in the gym when all of this is over and I can actually work out normally as I'm used to. The previous experience taught me -- not taught me but I would say showed me how the European professional basketball works, and you're at the highest level you can get in Europe, and most of the top players in the world play in Euroleague, so it was a great experience that I won't take for granted. I'm level going to learn from it, and maybe my season over here was not the best one or something I would be the most proud of, but it definitely was an experience I learned a lot, and just seeing and being a part of this team helped me just to probably fit in in another team in the future in professional basketball.

Q. To get back to your injury for a minute, you had All-American aspirations heading into your senior season, you guys were poised to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament this year. Just what was that feeling like when you went down that night in the third game of that season?
KITIJA LAKSA: I mean, it's still a memory, very sick memory that I have and that I will probably carry for a very long time. I obviously had high expectations for that season, but as I said, I put that in the past, and I'm not really focusing on the injury no more or the season that could have, would have happened. I'm glad that that year just -- I learned a lot of different things while staying the fourth year at USF, just seeing the basketball from the other side I would say, seeing how the team and just college sports work in general, so there was a lot I can take out of that that I learned. So I'm happy that I decided to go pro this past season. Unfortunately it got cut short, but it is what it is. We're all working on it, trying to do our best to get sports back.

Q. Have you been in contact with Coach [Jose] Fernandez this past year since leaving USF?
KITIJA LAKSA: Yes, a little bit. We've been messaging each other for a little bit, and he congratulated me tonight, as well. Very thankful for the opportunity he gave me at USF. I wouldn't have been the player I am right now if it wasn't for the system over there and the opportunities I got at South Florida.

Q. Given that your experience playing internationally, I know the basketball in Latvia was a little bit different than how it's going to be in the WNBA, but I just want to know, what kind of skills did you learn in Latvia that you can carry over to the WNBA, and how is the transition going to be different for you?
KITIJA LAKSA: As I said before, I feel like I have taken a lot of different types of basketball previously with my experiences in college, with my national team, now with the professional team, and I think I will be ahead of maybe different rookies that will get in the league because I've played in different kind of levels, and I know what it takes to just be able to fit in, be able to learn from the best and be able to listen to the coach and just execute the things that they ask from us.

I don't think I will have problems with all of that. I think I'm coachable, and I'm just always hungry for basketball, so I'm very excited.

Q. And your future teammate will be Sue Bird. There's a picture of you two from a couple of years ago. How excited are you to play with her?
KITIJA LAKSA: I mean, I don't know if I should tell you about my excitement because it's off the charts. I cannot explain how excited I am about it. Yes, the picture was taken my freshman year, and it's crazy. It's crazy how it works. I'm very excited. I'm thankful for the opportunity. I can't wait. I can't wait.

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