“Young and hungry” Connecticut Sun open camp with energy and a new attitude
The 2013 edition of the Connecticut Sun was one the team, its coaches and management would rather forget: a 10-24 record, injuries and discord, all adding up to a disappointed fan base and massive changes to the roster in the offseason.
“We knew during the course of last season there were changes that needed to be made,” said general manager Chris Sienko about the season. “So once we were able to make those changes, based upon the conditions of the CBA, we acted.”
Act they did, with only seven returning players on the training camp roster: Renee Montgomery, Kalana Greene, Kelsey Griffin, Allison Hightower, Kayla Pedersen, and Kelly Faris (Danielle McCray returns from injury as well).
The returnees talked about last season with surprising candor.
Pedersen commented that “it’s fun to be here. Right now we have a lot of youth, a lot of energy, and its refreshing. I mean coming to practice everyday isn’t a chore; that’s something that hasn’t been there in the past.”
“I’m really excited about this year,” added Griffin, “last year was definitely a grind. More of a grind than any season I’d been in Connecticut, even though statistically I was having one of my best seasons.”
It is experience like Katie Douglas, returning for a second tour of duty with the Sun after being a member of the Indiana Fever, young veterans like Alex Bentley, and rookies, including Chiney Ogwumike and Alyssa Thomas, that have changed the attitude around the team into an upbeat, excited group with not just basketball skills, but big personalities.
Greene may have coined a slogan for the team’s season when she said “it is nothing but up from here; everyone’s positive, everyone’s working hard. A lot of great personalities and everyone’s ready to play, excited to play. Young and hungry, that should be our slogan for the year. Well, except for KT (Douglas) being old.”
The offseason acquisition of Douglas is big for the franchise. Putting her alongside Montgomery and Hightower will give the Sun a solid group of guards.
A veteran with eight more years of experience than the next veteran on the team (Griffin), the former defensive player of the year hopes to bring that defensive intensity back to a Sun team that finished eight out of twelve teams in team defense.
“I’m expecting us to play hard each and every night,” said Douglas. “I’m expecting us to compete on every possession, and have our identity on the defensive end. I come from a defensive-oriented team, so I’m definitely going to bring that experience and trademark here.”
Even though Douglas signed before the trade of All-Star center Tina Charles, Douglas indicated she is not concerned about the roster change.
“I know what this organization stands for, I know what they’re about and I’m confident they’ll put the pieces in place for us to contend for a championship. I was disappointed but I was extremely optimistic and positive they would get what they could and we would move forward. It’s part of professional sports.”
Along with center Kelsey Bone, who is not in camp yet, Maryland All-American forward Alyssa Thomas came with the Charles trade. Thomas has started camp at the small forward or three position, and while quiet, her excitement at being in the WNBA was clearly evident.
“You dream of this is a kid, and now it’s a reality, said Thomas. “I just want to compete and work hard for this team. In just a couple of days the chemistry has been great, and everybody is looking out for each other. I expect nothing but the best for this team.”
Number one draft choice Ogwumike has the most expectations in front of her obviously, after an outstanding senior season that saw her win the Wooden Award as college basketball player of the year. Ogwumike knows her effort and enthusiasm are keys to her success.
“If there’s one thing I know it’s if I go out there and play as hard as I can, I’ll be fine,” she said. “Obviously, I want to win a championship. Some consider us to be a rebuilding team, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have the ambition to win.”
Assistant coach Jen Gillom commented that head coach Anne Donovan, “hasn’t stopped smiling since we’ve been here,” and practice was so much fun “I didn’t want it to end.”
After last year, playing with joy and having fun on the court are two things Sienko wants his team to have this season.
“It’s a very positive group with great personalities and that’s a big plus for us,” he said. “Ultimately, people are going to see us hustling up and down the court, and smiling and laughing earning victories. That in turn gets them enthused about the product on the floor.”
It all begins Sunday, May 4, at 1 pm ET at Mohegan Sun Arena, when Connecticut hosts Bill Laimbeer’s New York Liberty and former Sun Charles.
“It seems like we’re all getting well acquainted and learning each other’s game really quickly,” said Bentley. “We’re excited for our first game on Sunday.”
While Bentley showed excitement, Ogwumike was a bit more cautious but no less excited.
“We’re trying to work on our chemistry right now, and once our chemistry is there, it’s about unleashing our competitive spirit, consistently, against every opponent, no matter who they are.”