Revamped Storm welcome Skylar Diggins-Smith, Nneka Ogwumike

Nneka Ogwumike: 'I felt like I fit best' in Seattle (1:24)

Nneka Ogwumike joins "NBA Today" to discuss why the Seattle Storm's history influenced her free agency decision. (1:24)

Meeting the Seattle media for the first time on Monday after signing with the Seattle Storm earlier this month, All-Stars Skylar Diggins-Smith and Nneka Ogwumike made it clear they expect the Storm to compete for a championship with their arrival after the team finished 11-29 during a rebuilding 2023 season.

"Hopefully just continuing that legacy of bringing a great product on the floor to compete for the championship," said Diggins-Smith. "I'll put that out there since we didn't say that word. That's everybody's goal, and I think it's how we go about things and habits that we create that will help us get closer to that."

Seattle's 2023 lottery campaign was the first for the team since 2015, which resulted in the No. 1 pick the Storm used on Breanna Stewart. Seattle made the playoffs seven consecutive seasons, winning WNBA championships in 2018 and 2020 as well as the 2021 Commissioner's Cup, before the retirement of Sue Bird and Stewart's departure for the New York Liberty sent the team into a one-year rebuild.

Taking advantage of free agency this time around, the Storm filled the holes left by the losses of Bird and Stewart with stars at both positions: Ogwumike, the league's MVP in 2016 and an eight-time All-Star, and six-time All-WNBA pick Diggins-Smith.

Really, Seattle general manager Talisa Rhea said, the Storm's offseason started last September when the WNBA's leading scorer Jewell Loyd signed a two-year contract extension. That put Loyd in position to help recruit other stars to play with her in Seattle.

"I connected with one person very early in the process, and that was Jewell," Diggins-Smith said. "If I wasn't talking to Jewell, I was talking to Nneka. Those were the two players that I talked to the most. ... I want to be around winners. I think it's really important at this point of my career to be around people that know me, and [Nneka] knows me and I know her."

Loyd and Diggins-Smith played together during Diggins-Smith's final season and Loyd's first at Notre Dame, and Diggins-Smith recalled a teenaged Loyd coming down from Chicago to compete in pickup games in South Bend as a sophomore in high school. Diggins-Smith and Ogwumike have known each other even longer, referencing discussions about attending the same college before Diggins-Smith stayed home at Notre Dame and Ogwumike went to Stanford.

Between All-Star Games and USA Basketball -- with Loyd and Ogwumike playing together during the 2018 FIBA World Cup, while Diggins-Smith and Loyd were both part of the 2020 Olympic team, both of which won gold medals -- a mutual respect evolved between the three stars.

"I think it's important to really highlight what Sky said about wanting to play with Jewell," Ogwumike said. "I had conversations about playing with Jewell. We didn't know if it was going to be in Seattle or not. And me and Skylar, we've always been talking since we were kids about 'We're going to end up on the same team someday.'

"I think when you have three people who are selfless like that, three people who are dangerously disciplined like that and respect the game and you have a coach (Noelle Quinn) that also embodies all of those characteristics, you can expect good basketball played the right way."

Particularly in a league loaded with other super teams -- a label Diggins-Smith and Ogwumike were unwilling to commit to, but fits given the accolades they bring to Seattle -- in the two-time defending champion Las Vegas Aces and the Commissioner's Cup-winning Liberty, that may not result in a fifth WNBA title for the Storm. However, Ogwumike emphasized the process of competing for a championship as more important than setting one as a goal.

"I personally, even the years I've competed and won," said Ogwumike, who won the 2016 title with the Los Angeles Sparks, "that wasn't something that we necessarily talked about was winning because I think a lot of teams come in and they say, 'We want to win a championship.' It's important for people to hear that Skylar said 'Compete.' Talisa said 'Compete.' That's what you have to come in and do every single day."

The result is going to be the result, but it's all about the process and to compete is the continuity of that. That's what we saw in Vegas. They were competing every single day. ... That's something that I know that I do, Jewell does, Sky, Noey, everyone down the line. That's what I want to be a part of."

It's also no coincidence that the top two free agents on the market to change teams chose to come to Seattle the same offseason the franchise is set to open what will become just the second dedicated WNBA practice facility, joining the Aces in having a building solely for their use year-round.

Diggins-Smith and Ogwumike have both seen the other side of the league's growing facilities gap, having previously played for independent franchises that shared public facilities. They had the opportunity to tour the Storm's building, still under construction and nearing opening in time for the start of training camp in April.

"When I took my visit here and I walked in -- let me tell you, they were working in there," Ogwumike said. "They were like, 'This is going to get done.' I felt the energy of its completion, I felt the energy of the investment, I felt the energy of the engagement. And then also just kind of being around people that are like, 'This is yours and this is what you deserve.'

"It was a feeling that I hadn't felt before. And I think that when I was able to see it and I was able to hear Talisa talk about, I realized that it was something that should be a priority on my list because we're elite athletes. ... I honestly never thought that I was going to play in a facility that was my own."

Although Diggins-Smith shared an NBA practice facility while playing for the Phoenix Mercury, she lamented that access came with restrictions in terms of when players could use the court that won't be an issue in Seattle.

"It's very thoughtful, I'll just say, in how it's built. What we need, what I need at this stage in my life," said Diggins-Smith, who gave birth to her second child last year. "The one-stop shop where you don't have to share it with an NBA or G League affiliate team. You come in and it really does feel like yours. Resources -- you say things like veteran and experienced, that means, 'You're old, Sky.' We need all those resources and this team had the best of the best, top to bottom."

During the two weeks since Ogwumike followed Diggins-Smith in signing with the Storm, the organization has been preparing to fit the pieces together on the court. Diggins-Smith said she'd been on the phone with Quinn every other day while reviewing tape of the Seattle offense. And Quinn shared with Ogwumike during the recruiting process how she might be used.

With two new All-Stars bringing higher expectations, the Storm can't wait to get started.

"I've been really excited this offseason with what I'm going to do," Quinn said with a smile.

"We going to have some fun," said Ogwumike.