Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Guru's WNBA Report: Happy Talk Returns to the Connecticut Sun

By Mel Greenberg

UNCASVILLE, Conn. --
Talk to different teams in the WNBA and there might be a myriad of answers as to what are the keys to reaching the postseason and have success.

Everyone will say an injury/illness-free roster across the summer is near the top of the list and for Exhibit A this time around they point to the Minnesota Lynx, who won their second title in three seasons last October while finishing runnerup in the middle of that run.

Some will point to the way particular schedules will unfold in terms of offering some inherent rest and limited back-to-backs.

Experience is also important though some say one or two veterans to serve as leaders may still hold up if the youth is talented and can perform.

The Connecticut Sun, for years the gold standard as an organization, thought a re-boot last season could land the elusive title when 10-year veteran coach Mike Thibault was let go and Anne Donovan was lured back to the pros from a three-year stint at Seteon Hall.

With a track record of coaching Seattle to a WNBA title and having been a collegiate and Olympic star who also coached USA to the 2008 Gold Medal, Donovan was the one name who brought a bit more cache than Thibault.

He ended up being hird by the forlorn Washington Mystics amd guided them to a 17-17 record and a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

Hopes and dreams up here from a year ago dissipated quickly, however, when injuries made a shambles of the roster that was heavily brooding off the departure of Thibault.

"At the finish, we had seven players (healthy) and we made the best with what we had," Donovan aaid Tuesday at the Sun's annual media preview at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

The Sun limped to a 3-2 finish to produce the worst overall win-loss ledger in franchise history at 10-24.

But a jackpot came shining through the carnage over the winter when Connecticut landed the rights to the No. 1 pick of the four lottery slots and last month on draft day the organization cashed in their good fortune to grab Stanford all-American Chiney Ogwumike, whose older sister Nneka went No. 1 two years ago to the Los Angeles Sparks.

Judging by the crowd gathered around her interview location, when it comes to holding court, the younger Ogwumike is up to the task of becoming a media darling capable of challenging a successful collegiate women's coach an hour away nortwest of here who won his association-record ninth NCAA title last month and also owns some eateries here on casino property as well as at a few places elsewhere in the state.

"I feel really spoiled right now and that's a reason I want to play real well to give back to an organization that's given me so much already," Ogwumike said.

"I'm a fighter, I'm a warrior out there," Ogwumike said. "There are people with better post moves than me. They have a better shot. But at the end of the day I know I'm intense, I'm a fighter, I'm a warrior and that's one thing I don't think other people have -- that's what I carry myself on.

"So, I'm just going to be me out there, me in the lockerroom, me in my apartment, that's just who I am."

So how will that work the first time the Sun plays Los Angeles (Aug. 6 here)?

"Oh, everything goes out the water," she said of matching up against her sister. "Everything's out the window. Everything is going to break loose.

"But it will be another game and she'll just be another person on the scouting report -- unless she gives me an extra elbow or something and I'll just give it right back."

For the first time since the last media day, a glow permeated the arena as the long and winding road of the Sun season was equal to the gloom of the patrons upstairs who don't fare well at the gaming activity.

Former UConn star Tina Charles, who became one of the top centers in the league after going first in the 2010 draft, brooded the ouster of Thibault all summer and after management made several off-season moves to accomodate her, she became a focal point on draft day when she was dealt to the New York Liberty after ambushing the franchise at the last minute saying she wanted out.

One of the moves to placate Charles, who will appear twice next week in Liberty games here Sunday and in New York Thursday and then back here for a league opener on May 16, was the signing of free agent Katie Douglas.

The former Purdue star was drafted by the former Orlando franchise in 2001 and was part of the roster acquired when the franchise went to the Mohegans in 2003 and Douglas became a popular star in these parts.

But heading into the 2008 season Douglas was dealt to Indiana whom she played with through last season but didn't see much action in 2013 due to injuries.

Kara Lawson, the former Tennessee star who is also an ESPN analyst in the winter, also bemoaned the loss of Thibault and ended up being reunited with him with the Mystics as part of a three-way deal involving Atlanta.

The Sun got second-year pro Alex Bentley, a former Penn State star and one of the top WNBA rookies, from the Dream in the three-way deal that also involved Washington.

"I was really surprised at the trade," Bentley said. "But nevertheless, I'm really happy I'm here in Connecticut, for sure.

"I'm looking to bring whatever Anne needs me to bring," Bentley said. "She knows the type of player I am. She knows my strengths, my weaknesses, just like I do. Just listening to her and what she needs from me will be important so I know what to do on the court."

Bentley will play against her former Lady Lions backcourt mate in Narberth's Maggie Lucas, who is on the Phoenix Mercury roster.

"That's going to be a lot of fun, for sure. But there's a lot of Penn State girls in training camps right now," Bentley said.

The Charles deal also landed second-year pro Kelsey Bone, a former Texas A&M all-American, and last month's fourth overall pick in former Maryland all-American Alyssa Thomas, a native of Harrisburg.

"This is really great because my parents like to go to all my games so being here and in the Eastern Conference, travel won't be bad for them," Thomas said.

Tw other newcomers of note are DeNeshia Stallworth, a draft pick out of Kentucky, and free agent Yelena Leuchanka, a former West Virginia star with four seasons of WNBA experience.

Daniella McCray, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, is healthy and back.

Philadelphia Carver Engineering & Science high school grad Keisha Hampton, a former DePaul star, signed a training camp roster but was let go Wednesday as was former St. John's star Shenneika Smith.

That leaves 15 players on the roster -- some of the veterans are finishing up overseas -- the rest of whom are training camp signee Kelly Cain, and returning players such as second year pro Kelly Faris, a former UConn star as is fifth-year pro Kalana Greene, fifth-year pro Kelsey Griffin out of Nebraska, fourth-year pro Kayla Pedersen out of Stanford, fifth-year pro Allison Hightower, out of LSU, and sixth-year pro Renee Montgomery, another former UConn great.

There were complaints last summer that Donovan's practices were too long, amidst other criticisms.

Douglas noted againat that attitude, "I can understand people were used to Coach "T" but as a professional you have to adjust and do your job."

Donovan in a speech at Neumann University outside Philadelphia accepting an award last October, said there hadn't been a lot of trust in the Sun lockerroom leading to bad chemistry.

On Tuesday, she said the trust was back.

As far as dealing Charles away causing fan disapproval -- it didn't -- Donovan said, "Tina made that easy for us."

As to the charges of the way she ran the ship, Donovan, noting energy at practice sparked by the newcomers, said, "I am not doing anything different than I did last year, so ask these players.

"I'm doing things the same way I did at Charlotte, I did at Seattle."

Donovan also noted that the practices will be more important than the games in determining the final roster, especially spots 9-12, which is an expansion of one per the Collective Bargaining Agreement signed by the players with the WNBA over the winter.

Meanwhile, New York will actually be accessible in both exhibition games involving the Sun prior to the organization's media day May 13 at the MSG Training Center in Tarrytown, N.Y., the same day of the Chicago-Washington game at Delaware.

That's it for the moment but the Guru will possibly be back here for Sunday's game and/or in New York Thursday morning for the Liberty's first of the season return to Madison Square Garden.

New York spent the last three summers for the most part playing in the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., while the Garden underwent a series of extensive renovations.

-- Mel








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