Guru's WNBA Report: Saint Joseph's Star Chatilla van Grinsven Bids to Rise With the Sun as a Rookie in Connecticut
UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Though the big tests are still ahead, former Saint Joseph’s senior star Chatilla van Grinsven is so far fitting nicely the first few days into the WNBA training camp routine of the defending regular season Eastern Conference Connecticut Sun here at the Mohegan Sun casino-entertainment complex following the completion of her collegiate career with the Hawks.
“It’s funny, I said to our coach that this is where my college career ended (in Connecticut) and this is where my next chapter starts with a pro career,” van Grinsven said with a smile at Tuesday’s media session at the Mohegan Sun Area.
“But I’m definitely excited to be here. I know this Connecticut team has a lot of history we can definitely be proud of and I’m very proud to be part of this training camp team.”
Her coach, making her first tour of duty with the Sun is Hall of Famer Anne Donovan after four previous stints at Indiana, Charlotte, Seattle, where she guided the Storm to the 2004 championship over Connecticut, and New York, whom the Sun will face Saturday night here in the first of three exhibition games.
Donovan, who also coached the Philadelphia Rage in the short-lived third and final season of the former American Basketball League in the front end of the 1998-99 third go-round, had returned to the collegiate ranks from New York to coach at Seton Hall the last two seasons.
The former Old Dominion all-American and all-time shot blocker in either the AIAW or NCAA eras also starred on the United States Olympic team winning two gold medals in 2004 and 2008.
Then in the middle of last winter the Sun surprisingly let go Mike Thibault, who had coached Connecticut all previous ten seasons after the Mohegan Indian tribe bought the franchise that used to be the Orlando Miracle.
The same group, incideentally, is one of the bidders for a casino site on Market Street in Philadelphia.
Thibault was quickly grabbed up by the folks down in Washington, seeking a major turnaround to the Mystics misfortunes the last two seasons.
The Connecticut opening came at the time the Big East was imploding with Seton Hall, Villanova and the other five Catholic members of the conference joining the exits of Rutgers, Louisville, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame.
With the outlook a bit murky, the approach from the Sun was too good to turn down and so Donovan and the franchise eventually came to a deal.
“With her being a post player, I take in every word she tells me and try to improve on everything she tells me in practice,” van Grinsven said of Donovan. “I definitely soak in everything she tells me and I’m happy to have her as my coach.”
A native of the Netherlands who played only one year at Saint Joseph’s following her transfer from Colorado State to join her older sister Samira, the 6-foot-3 forward finished as Big Five player of the year with team-leading averages of 14.9 points per game and 10.4 rebounds a game as she helped lead the Hawks to an Atlantic 10 title in March and first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2000.
That showing was short lived as the Hawks got edged an hour away from here by Vanderbilt in a first-round game at eventual NCAA champion Connecticut.
In another WNBA configuration at another time in the league’s 17-year history, including this summer, draft day last month could have been an exciting time for van Grinsven.
However, with expenses what they are in the pro league in recent seasons, her name was not called by the time all three rounds concluded.
The big news of the day for the locals here was the drafting of UConn star Kelly Faris, a 5-foot-11 guard forward whom the Sun took in the first round with the 11th overall pick.
But van Grinsven was not left out of the WNBA mix for long. Several teams called with training camp deals but just as Donovan jumped at the chance to be with one of the classier operations in the 12-team league, van Grinsven decided to seek her pro future here.
In a conversation with the Guru prior to media day – the Guru and Donovan go way back in time from her playing days – Donovan had said she did not see van Grinsven in person last season while coaching the Pirates.
But she was impressed with what she saw on film and noted, “I like her blue collar approach.”
Asked how the change is going from her brief one-year time on Hawk Hill, van Grinsven quickly replied, “It’s definitely a change. Everything is a lot faster, a lot stronger. But I am fully enjoying every single moment of it. I feel blessed to be here and I’m excited to compete with the best women in the world.”
Van Grinsven arrives at a time the Sun need some shoring up off the bench and maybe more with three players gone from last season’s roster.
The biggest of the losses is former UConn great Asjha Jones, a member of last year’s Olympic gold medalists who is taking a break to heal from several injuries in recent seasons.
Jessica Moore, another post player who also played at UConn, is not coming back, while Danielle McCray tore her Achilles tendon early last month and will need all summer to heal.
Kelsey Griffin, the former Nebraska star, is being counted on to do the basic filling of the void left by Jones.
Griffin said of van Grinsven’s play so far, “She’s doing good. She’s holding her own. She’s a great person to be around. She’s making the most out of her camp. It will be interesting to see what happens.”
Veteran Mistie Bass, the former Duke star whose father is former Philadelphia rocker Chubby Checker of “The Twist” renown, said she was impressed with van Grinsven’s athleticism.
Of course the big name in the front court is former UConn great Tina Charles, the 2010 graduate and center who was the MVP of the league last season.
Other newcomers in the mix of overall hopefuls are forward-center Ashley Walker, a 2009 graduate of California who has impressed the local media who attend portions of practice here.
Johanna Leedham, a guard-forward who played on the English Olympic team last summer, did her college work in this state at Franklin Pierce, graduating in 2010 as the all-time scorer in Division II with 3,050 points, and fifth highest across all NCAA Divisions.
LaToya Williams signed a training camp deal as a 6-4 center, as did 5-10 guard and free agent Natasha Lacy. Recently graduated South Florida guard Andrea Smith was taken in the draft in the third round 35th overall while Leedham was a third-round pick in the 2010 draft but has never suited up for the Sun, who owned her rights.
Talking more about her experience so far, van Grinsven said she looked to her former associate head coach Susan Moran, the all-time Hawks great who has been on Cindy Griffin’s staff, for some advice off Moran’s earlier years on the New York Liberty roster after graduating as the all-time Saint Joseph’s scorer.
“She had some experience and told me what to expect, how training camp works, which is helpful, and she’s a good role model for me, especially coming from Saint Joe’s,” van Grinsven said.
“I look up to her as a coach and player and hope to learn more from her in the future.”
As for anything surprising her, the former Saint Joseph’s star said, “I knew the speed of the game was a lot faster and that’s something we have to adjust to the first five minutes in practice.
“So we have to adjust to that as rookies, but the second day the practices went a lot better and we adjusted to everything we had to adjust to. I think we’re kind of on a roll right now.”
Van Grisven is one of two recent Big Five stars in WNBA training camps.
Shey Peddy, the former Temple standout who was van Grinsven’s predecessor for Big Five honors a year ago and was the final cut of the Chicago Sky, the home of recently drafted overall No. 2 pick Elena Delle Donne out of Delaware, is on the camp roster in Washington.
Asked how van Grinsven’s first few days have gone, Donovan responded, “Chatilla’s played great her, though we’ve only had two practices.
“She’s got great size, got great versatility, she’s able to bang inside, she’s able to step outside and knock down a jump shot. Incredibly hunger and eager, which is a quality you want to have when you come into this league as a rookie,” Donovan added.
“She’s got a shot. She really does.”