Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sun-Storm Game Thread

Final, Sun win, 80-76: Asjha Jones finished with 20 points, Amber Holt had 15 and the Sun held off Seattle late for their sixth straight win. The story, though, has to be Jamie Carey, who scored 12 points, hit the game-clinching free throws and made a steal to seal it, finishing off a clutch performance in place of the injured Lindsay Whalen.

Seattle's Sue Bird led all scorers with 24 points and Swin Cash added 16.

End of 3rd, Sun lead, 57-53: The Sun led by as many as 10 points following a mid-quarter flurry that included three 3s in roughly two minutes. But Seattle chipped into the deficit at the free throw and cut it to two points, 55-53, after a Bird jump shot with 1:22 left.

I knew the Sun have depth, but you don't really realize it until you see them cycle in player after player. This about the time they should wear down this Seattle team, but stay tuned.

End of 2nd, Sun lead, 36-35: Swin Cash hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer, erasing a 7-0 Sun run. Asjha Jones (11 points) has converted three and-one plays, including one on a jump shot, and is pacing the Sun down low. Sue Bird (11 points) is doing the same for Seattle, making a living on pull-up jump shots near the foul line.

The game has had a good flow to it, with teams either trading small runs or bucket-for-bucket. I guess it's what you would expect with first place teams. Seattle has been pretty successful with dishing back to the post players on pick-and-rolls, but just imagine if they had Lauren Jackson to pass to on those plays.

End of 1st, Sun lead, 19-18: After a 10-minute delay (ABC has to get its commercials in), both teams have come out strong. I'll say this: Amber Holt and Kerri Gardin, as their numbers in previous games indicated, just look like different players. Some ticky-tack calls have them both on the bench with two fouls, but they simply look more confident and willing to take charge.

Svetlana Abrosimova made her debut with 2:20 to play in the quarter and hit her first shot as a Sun with 17 seconds to play to make it 19-18. She entered the game with Tamika Raymond, putting five UConn players (Svet, Raymond, Barbara Turner, Sue Bird and Swin Cash) on the floor at one time.

Greetings from Mohegan Sun Arena, where a sellout crowd or close to one is expected to take in the homecoming of Sue Bird and Swin Cash and return of Svetlana Abrosimova. This will be a cheer fest.

Some figures from this series: The Sun took the previous meeting this season between the two teams, 74-67 at KeyArena on June 16. Former Storm forward Barbara Turner and Lauren Jackson got into it a little that night, but of course, Jackson isn't even with the team at the moment as she recovers from ankle surgery. The Sun are 5-2 all-time at home against Seattle, and beat the Storm here last year as well. Seattle moved into a virtual tie for first place after deadline last night with Los Angeles' 58-53 over San Antonio and is seeking its third straight win. The Sun, meanwhile, have won five straight, and can ensure they stay in first ahead of Detroit, which hosts Chicago today.

Here are today's starters and officials. I'll check back after the tip.

G Jamie Carey
G Amber Holt
F Kerri Gardin
F Asjha Jones
C Tamika Whitmore

G Sue Bird
G Tanisha Wight
F Camille Little
F Sheryl Swoopes
C Yolanda Griffith

Officials: Daryl Humphrey, Denise Brooks, Josh Tiven

(A quick note: With the Sun already assured their sixth straight playoff berth, here are some key dates to know for the postseason. The regular season finishes up on the Saturday, Sept. 13 for the Sun and the 14th for whoever is left, with match-ups and dates set to be released Monday, Sept. 15. The playoffs officially begin Thursday, Sept. 18, with the higher seeds playing game one of their best-of-three first-round series on the road.)

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Svet's in the house ... along with Sue, Swin and the Storm

Do I have enough S's in that headline? Geez.

Well, the Sun set up a walk-through practice today at Connecticut College. They shot, watched tape, stretched and shot some more. The session was particularly helpful for Erin Phillips and Svetlana Abrosimova, who got a chance to walk through more of the Sun's plays. Abrosimova will debut tomorrow against Seattle (1 p.m., ABC), though don't expect her to play a ton of minutes before she gets accustomed to the Sun's system. Lindsay Whalen is not expected to play with a sprained right ankle, but more on that later.

The fact that Abrosimova is even here is somewhat surprising considering she ended her season overseas in Russia intent on not playing in the WNBA this season — for anyone.

"I wanted to take this year off, and kind of re-think," she said. "And another part of me wanted to actually stop playing in the WNBA. I felt like one team was enough, I played there for seven years. I felt like it was a good career and I wanted to keep continuing to play in Europe."

But she engaged in talks with Sun coach Mike Thibault, who even wanted her to come a month before the Olympics to train, mulled it over and decided in Beijing she would come for the Sun's stretch run.

"I had some time off from basketball, so I decided to do it," she said. "It’s a good team, in Connecticut, which is my second home in the States. That was my reason for coming back. I actually talked on the phone with Coach and the GM (Chris Sienko), and I always had the personal connection with Connecticut and I felt that Connecticut had a really good chance to be in the finals. I didn’t just want to go to a team that was trying to make the playoffs because I tried for seven years and we just couldn’t make it. I felt like this was the year."

Abrosimova made it to the playoffs twice with Minnesota in 2003 and 2004, but lost in the first round each year. There were other factors, too, some of which Thibault discussed earlier this week.

"When you go to a team and you meet the team and you know seven players out of 12, it’s not bad at all," said Abrosimova, who played with Asjha Jones and Tamika Raymond at UConn and with Jones and Sandrine Gruda this past season in Russia. "When you’re in a situation where you missed two months of the year, I needed it."

When asked if Jones and Raymond made a sales pitch to her, Abrosimova said, "They didn’t have to. I played with Asjha in Russia. It’s always been, ‘Come to Connecticut, come to Connecticut.’ Sue Bird did the same thing, but unfortunately, I chose them over Sue."

Thibault, on Svet: "We’ll see how the game goes, but she’s definitely going to play (today). I think it helped her to watch (Friday in Atlanta) and see how we played without having to be among all our plays. It might not be perfect, but our goal, like Erin, is to have her be ready by playoff time."

It was then suggested that Abrosimova is a quick study.

"She is," Thibault said. "She was already asking about certain plays, so she obviously watched the tape a couple times that I gave to her."

Some other notes and news from practice:

(1) Whalen is listed as day-to-day and isn't expected to play with a sprained right ankle. The league MVP candidate rolled it badly when she stepped on Jones' foot during an inbounds play Friday night, but said it's already starting to feel better. X-rays were negative and MRI results are expected to be released Sunday.

Jamie Carey is slated to start in her place.

“She’s day to day,” Thibault said of Whalen, who’s averaging 14.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.4 assists. “The swelling’s down. She feels a lot better. If it was a playoff game (today), she would probably tape it up real tight and try to play.

“It’s nice that we clinched,” he later added. “And the other people get their chance to get their minutes. That’s why we’ve had all these point guards (in Phillips, Carey and Ketia Swanier), for situations like this. Everybody goes through it somewhere with their team. We’ve been fortunate most of the year to not have to work our way through a lot of injuries.”

Whalen planned on receiving treatment for the injury through the night Saturday and today. She sprained her left ankle during the 2005 playoffs and required offseason surgery to repair damaged ligaments. But this isn’t nearly as severe, she said.

“It doesn’t feel terrible or anything,” Whalen said. “I’m obviously familiar with ankle injuries so I’ve definitely had worse. It’s one of those things. Step on somebody’s foot wrong, and that’s part of the game I guess. (But) I was worried.”

(2) Coincidentally, the first-place Sun (18-10) — and winners of five straight games — are facing a team dealing with its own missing star. Seattle forward Lauren Jackson underwent ankle surgery in Sydney, Australia, Thursday, and is expected to miss four to six weeks.

Storm coach Brian Agler has said he’s not expecting his leading scorer and rebounder to heal in time even for the playoffs, but he has a team (18-9) that still sits in second in the West after Thursday’s 66-49 win over Houston.

The Storm are 4-2 without Jackson, the reigning WNBA MVP.

“It’s sad in a lot of ways,” said former UConn star and Storm guard, Sue Bird, who scored 22 points Thursday. “For me personally, Lauren is one of my closest friends on the team, so to not have her not just on the court but off the court as well definitely sucks. ... But I think at times in previous seasons, we relied a little too much on Lauren. Everything we did was to get her the ball. This year really is just about setting each other up, equal opportunity.”

Said Swin Cash: "Everybody thinks we’re not going to make the playoffs, everybody’s just talking about we’re going to do without Lauren. But when something like this happens, opportunities open up for other people. We have so much scoring on this team, it comes down to how we focus on our defense and rebounding the basketball."

(3) For the second straight game, Cash won't be starting for Seattle. Agler said he’ll bring the 6-foot-1 forward off the bench as “we try to get her caught back up here.”

Cash reportedly received a cortisone shot in her back to relieve the pain from a herniated disk she’s played with since last season, and she spent the Olympic break working for NBC’s in-studio crew for women’s basketball. Cash’s agent told the Seattle Times surgery is a possibility, but Agler said the plan “at this point is to have it after the season.”

Agler has also said he would suspend and fine Cash for choosing to forgo practice during the break, but it appears he’s backed off benching her, most likely because they really need her. Seattle is 13-3 when she scores in double figures, and they need to make up points with Jackson out.

“That story (of the possibility of surgery) got exaggerated and it kind of sucks that it did because people are calling me, it’s on NBA TV that I’m getting surgery,” Cash said, adding there is no timetable for the decision. “But I’m just exploring all options. I want to get back to playing how I know I can play, and I’m just tired of having the aches and pains the last two years.

“I’m basically taking it one day at a time.”

Cash added that she doesn't plan on taking any more cortisone shots to relieve the pain.

"We’re going to support any decision that she makes," Agler said. "We know that she’s really fought through that this year, so I think the plan at this point is to have it after the season. But she’s dealing with a lot of issues right now with her back and she’s showed a lot of toughness this year. She hasn’t missed any games, and I know she’s been in a lot of pain."

As for her season as a whole, Cash has solid numbers (11.1 points, 5.6 rebounds) but she hasn't shot great (37.2 percent). Also being far from her family has been a difficult transition.

"Since probably middle school, my mom has always been able to come to games, so that’s one of the reasons I chose to go UConn, to stay on the East Coast and they played in the Big East and we had games at Pittsburgh or West Virginia," Cash said. "And I played in Detroit, which is only four hours away from my house. That’s probably been the toughest part, not being close to my family. And everybody knows that I’m close to my mother. Past that, it’s been good. I probably haven’t had the season that I would have liked to have but I’m a perfectionist."

(4) Bird said she's looking to take on more of a scoring load with Jackson out, but added, everyone has to pick it up in some way. She's also gotten some ribbing for having just one assist Thursday against Houston.

"Everyone’s getting on me with assists," she said, laughing. "What’s with that? I always say, an assist takes two people. It just wasn’t having it the other night. But I didn’t pass less than I normally do. I’ve had one assist before in my career so it’s not the first time."

Whalen has right ankle sprain

Lindsay Whalen is listed as day-to-day with a right ankle sprain she suffered Friday in Atlanta, according to the Sun's team notes. Jamie Carey is slated to start in her place Sunday against Seattle. I'll have more in a few hours after the Sun meet with the media. Sprains are tricky and run a wide range of severity so we'll see how long Whalen is actually out, or where the injury is located (upper, lower, etc.).

But something like this seems to happen to the Sun before or during the playoffs every year. A few years ago Katie Douglas suffered a fracture in her foot and Lindsay Whalen hurt her ankle and needed surgery in the offseason. Then last year, Douglas (elbow) and Asjha Jones (ankle) played through injuries serious enough that Thibault said they wouldn't have played in the second round if the team had advanced. No doubt team trainer Jeremy Norman will break out the model foot he totes around to explain the specifics of some injury to the media before the year is done.

Dreaming of the playoffs

It's official: The Sun are the first team in the WNBA playoffs, keeping their one game lead over Detroit with a 98-72 win over Atlanta. I'm kicking myself for not doing the math beforehand, but it looks like it will be a little longer until they have a chance to clinch homecourt advantage. The Liberty, by the way, are playing themselves out of that position.

Seattle is in town and is practicing this afternoon before the Sun. Check back here later for an update. Lindsay Whalen rolled her ankle during the fourth quarter Friday, and the team should have a better idea of her condition by the time it meets with the media. If it's anything serious, the Sun have the depth to offset it for the time being, but they need Whalen if they want to challenge for a title. There's no one more important to this team, and as good as Jamie Carey has played and Erin Phillips can be when she gets more comfortable, they can't do what Whalen does. No one can, really. Stay tuned.

Here are a few more notes from Friday's win:

(1) Think Tamika Whitmore is primed for the playoffs? The veteran forward scored 27 points against the Dream -- for the second time, no less -- and now has shot 17-for-23 from the field since returning from the break. Given a few weeks to heal up, Whitmore is looking like the player that started this season, free of back and knee troubles.

(2) Asjha Jones has carried over her good play from July. She's now scored in double figures in six of her last seven games with 20 or more points in three of those contests. She also finished the season with games of 18, 30 and 24 points against the Dream.

(3) Kerri Gardin has come on strong. She's scored 11 and 13 points her last two games, both starts. So has Amber Holt (11 points Friday) and Sandrine Gruda (11 and nine points in her last two games). And yes, a month off for rookies who have played the most basketball of their careers does make a difference.

(4) Some notable stats from Friday, in rapid fire: The Sun shot 54.7 percent from the field and 63.6 percent from 3. ... Their 55 points in the first half was a season high. ... Their 27 assists were a franchise record. ... For the second night in a row, the Sun started the game strong. They shot 65.7 percent in the first half against the Fever and nearly 60 percent against the Dream. ... Connecticut's free throw troubles continued; they made 21-of-31 Friday. Coach Mike Thibault has made his team shoot more free throws in practice since early July and has put his players in pressure situations (they can avoid running by hitting their foul shots). They're still shooting 74 percent as a team, but if they struggle from the line in the playoffs, it can be a difference-maker.

(5) Cool part of the Atlanta Dream's post-game notes: They list off the notable names in the crowd. On hand Friday were recording artists Ludacris and Jarvis (who performed at halftime), NBA legend Julius Erving, Philadephia 76ers guard Royal Ivey, Atlanta's Solomon Jones and “Q” from the musical group 112.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Keeping track

I buried it at the bottom of the right-hand column, but I installed a hit counter into this blog last night. It's good to see at least a few people are checking in (it's much appreciated). But I'm also hoping for some feedback. Instead of posting another poll, I want your take on the stretch run. How big of an impact do you think Erin Phillips and Svetlana Abrosimova will have? Is this Sun team built for a title run? More so than any of those great Nykesha Sales-Katie Douglas groups?

I liked this Sun team before the break. I like it even more now. But please, discuss.

Leave comments at the bottom of this post or any other. I'll be at Mohegan Sun Arena tonight, but for boxing, not baksetball, and I won't have a chance to post a reaction post from tonight's game at Atlanta until very late tonight or tomorrow morning. Check the Bulletin's Web site for updates or follow elsewhere at or

Back to it

The Sun play the second half of their final back-to-back tonight, a 7:30 tip at the Atlanta Dream. And the first game of the double dip couldn't have gone any better. In addition to exacting a little revenge on the Fever -- and putting a dent in their playoff hopes -- Connecticut didn't have to play any starter major minutes, including Lindsay Whalen, who was scoreless in just 11. Whalen's bagel might not help her in her MVP case, but she, like her teammates, will be well rested against the WNBA's worst team.

Other things to know for tonight's game:

(1) Svetlana Abrosimova arrived in Atlanta Thursday night and will be on hand with the team. Whether she plays remains to be seen. But don't be surprised if the addition adds a little jump in her new teammates' step. Tamika Raymond and Asjha Jones looked genuinely excited when talking about playing with the former Husky again on Wednesday.

(2) The Sun can move to 8-7 on the road this season, putting them above .500 in that department for the first time since early July.

(3) Atlanta, which re-opens its season on a five-game losing streak, added to its backcourt over the Olympic break, signing former Washington guard Nikki Teasley on Aug. 15. After averaging 8.7 points and 5.0 assists a year ago, the three-time All-Star hasn't played in the WNBA this season following the birth of her daughter in June. It was kind of surprising to see Teasley sign with a last-place team, but considering she was coming off such an extended break, the thought process is Atlanta was offering the best deal. Hard to know what that is considering WNBA teams don't release the terms of their contracts.

(4)Tonight marks a homecoming for Georgia natives Amber Holt (Duluth) and Ketia Swanier (Columbus). Swanier was the 2004 AAAA Player of the Year for Columbus H.S. while Holt led Meadowcreek to the finals of the 2002 Class AAAAA state tournament. Both expect friends and family to be on hand at Philips Arena.

(5) Don't look past the Dream. This is their first game back from break (so they're rested), they've drawn good crowds all year and the last time these two teams met, the Sun needed overtime to hold off Betty Lennox (44 points) and Atlanta.

Sun trounce Fever in re-opener

Here's an extended version of the game story that will run in tomorrow's Bulletin. The Sun trounced Indiana, 84-58, Thursday, handing the slumping Fever (12-15) their worst home loss in team history and their worst loss in the teams' series history.

From staff and wire reports

INDIANAPOLIS — The Connecticut Sun dominated the Indiana Fever Thursday. It couldn’t have looked any easier, either.

Tamika Whitmore scored 15 points, Asjha Jones added 14 and the Eastern Conference-leading Sun (17-10) handed Indiana its worst loss in their series history, an 84-58 drubbing at Conseco Fieldhouse.

Kerri Gardin and Sandrine Gruda each scored 11 for Connecticut in the first game back from the Olympic break for both teams. Whitmore shot 6-of-7 from the field and Jones added four rebounds.

“That was as good as I could have hoped coming out of the break,” Sun coach Mike Thibault said. “We’re interchangeable in certain positions, and Asjha and Whit feel great right now. They have their legs under them.”

Through three quarters, the Sun shot 30-of-49 from the field, had 18 assists against six turnovers and led by as many as 35 points.

Their margin of victory was the largest ever against Indiana, surpassing an 84-59 win over the Fever on Aug. 4, 2007. No starter had to play more than 22 minutes, either, a vast improvement from the teams’ first match-up on May 27, a 74-46 Fever victory at Mohegan Sun Arena.

“Connecticut played extremely well tonight,” Indiana coach Lin Dunn said. “They looked like a well-oiled machine. This game reminded me of the game we played there when we whipped their butts.”
Said Thibault: “This was a little pay-back.”

Tully Bevilaqua and Tammy Sutton-Brown each scored nine points to lead Indiana (12-15), which lost for the fourth time in five games. The Sun, meanwhile, have won four straight, extending their lead to a full game over second-place and idle Detroit.

“We were really focused during the break, doing what we had to do,” Whitmore said. “We wanted to start the way we ended (entering the break). Now we just want to keep it going.”

Connecticut shot 66 percent from the field in the first half, compared to 30 percent for the Fever. The Sun took control with a big second quarter, extending a nine-point lead to 54-25 on Gruda’s lay-up and outscoring Indiana 30-10 in that period alone.

Gardin’s basket early in the third quarter gave Connecticut its biggest lead at 62-27.

“Connecticut was clicking on all cylinders,” said Indiana guard and former Sun star Katie Douglas, who scored eight points. “You could see that they had all been together during that break, only missing (Erin) Phillips, who is not a starter. We looked like a preseason team. We were out of rhythm and out of sync.”

Phillips, who missed the first portion of the season to train with the Australian Olympic team, scored two points in 16 minutes in her first game with the Sun since the 2006 season. The newly-signed Svetlana Abrosimova, who arrived in Atlanta Thursday, will join the team when it plays the Dream (3-24) tonight at 7:30 at Philips Arena.

After picking up two quick fouls at the start of each half, MVP candidate Lindsay Whalen was held scoreless in 11 minutes. The rest will be welcomed; the Sun still have two games in three days.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Svet, UConn and a look ahead

Some reaction from the signing of Svetlana Abrosimova, the waiving of Jolene Anderson and all these darn Huskies at Mohegan now (Oh, and this Eastern Conference playoff race is apparently a big deal, too):

(1) The addition of Abrosimova immediately bolsters the Sun's chance to win their first WNBA title. As touched upon in today's story and yesterday's blog post, the 6-foot-2 Russian brings both versatility and experience to a team that needed it on the perimeter. Abrosimova can play anywhere between the shooting guard, small forward and power forward positions, but will likely see the majority of her time at the three.

"She (Abrosimova) and Barbara (Turner) can play together, I can play a smaller lineup," Sun coach Mike Thibault said. "I can do a lot of things."

If she starts remains to be seen. Rookie Amber Holt, who has started every game at the position, has been a consistent defensive force and appeared to find a better offensive rhythm near the break. She, no doubt, will benefit from a presence like Abrosimova's, too. Though veteran laden in the frontcourt and at the point guard position, Thibault felt he didn't have someone who could guide his younger players along on the wing. Abrosimova, who's been described by her former UConn teammates as talkative, out-going and a "professional", figures to help.

"She's a veteran, she has poise, she's going to get steals for us," Jones said. "She's a playmaker. No matter what, she's going to make a play, right in the heat of the moment, right when you need one. She has a lot of variety in her game. She's one of those rare players who can play everywhere on the court.

"With Svet, she hasn't always had the opportunities that I think she deserves but around here, we pretty much need to use everybody," Jones continued. "And it's going to be great for our wings to have someone, a role model. We have a lot of young players who don't have that player to follow. She's been playing around this world, in Russia and in this league so she knows things."

Both Jones and Tamika Raymond, who has played with Abrosimova in every calender year since she enrolled at UConn in 1998, remember their Husky teammate butting heads at times with coach Geno Auriemma in Storrs. Sometimes she would take shots too early in the shot clock or Auriemma would get "upset about some of her ways," Jones said. But, like they all have, Abrosimova has matured.

"She's turned all that into good energy," Jones said.

You can check out Abrosimova's career track at her player page. Her scoring took a dip after a few years, but she had a strong offensive year last summer (10.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 44.3 percent shooting) and played her best late in the season.

Abrosimova received a DVD of the Sun's plays a few days ago, and she and Thibault had a few discussions in Beijing during the Olympics. Thibault said he was unsure if he would play her Friday in Atlanta, but she'll take time Saturday walking through some of the team's sets in preparation for Sunday's game against Seattle. From a media availability standpoint, it appears we'll get a chance to talk to her Sunday at the latest.

As for the other angle on Svet's signing, the Sun now have five former UConn players, which is by far the most in the league, and essentially, they could create a normal starting lineup with each of them: Ketia Swanier at point, Turner at the two, Svet at the three, Jones at the four and Raymond at the five. Don't expect Thibault to go out of his way to make that happen, but the situation has again prompted talk that the Sun are going after UConn players to boost attendance.

No one will deny Svet may put more butts in the seats, but the Sun are drawing right around what they did last year (roughly 7,300, compared to 7,900 in 2007). They also have two sell-outs, compared to just one last year, and I wouldn't be surprised if Sunday's homecoming of Sue Bird and (maybe) Swin Cash, who may have back surgery, draws the max, too.

But getting UConn players for the sole purpose of pleasing the Connecticut fan base is not the team's goal. In some cases, it's pure coincidence. In others, it's different factors. Take it player by player:

Asjha Jones: She was brought her four seasons ago because Thibault thought she could turn into an All-Star. It's one of the best trades he's made.

Barbara Turner: The coaching staff had liked Turner coming out of college and with her recommitting herself over the offseason to improve her outside game, it was another solid move by the team. Her return to the state wasn't so much about her being from UConn as it was that coming back to Connecticut itself, where she always played well as a pro, would be a big confidence boost for her. (Turner has said she felt re-energized by coming back here.)

Tamika Raymond: The Sun needed another veteran presence and Raymond is regarded as one of the best leaders in the league. She also found an immediate comfort level in reuniting with Jones. Combining former Huskies wasn't as much the goal here as combining two players who enjoy playing together and could feed off each other. If they had both went to some other school outside the state, it would have made the same impact.

Ketia Swanier: I count this as pure coincidence. Swanier's play late in her senior season put her high on almost everybody's draft board and if the Sun hadn't taken her at No. 12, she would have gone soon after. Maybe Thibault and his staff got to see her more because she was right up the road in Storrs, but they didn't take her because of the school she went to.

Svetlana Abrosimova: Other than fellow Russian Maria Stepanova, who has been rumored in returning to the WNBA, there probably wasn't a better available free agent than Abrosimova. She also fits the Sun's needs well, and yes, gathering so many former Huskies lends to more coming because they have people they know here. But that's more motivation from the player's side than the team's.

(2) The link to the story is at the start of this post, but Anderson, who was waived to clear room for Abrosimova, told the Duluth News Tribune that the move came out of nowhere.

"I was just told that Coach wanted to see me," Anderson told the paper. "So I walked into his office and he told me it was the toughest part of his job, but they were going to waive me. I said, ‘OK, fine.’ I had no idea, but you’ve just got to take it in stride. My agent is working on some things, and I could have a new team (today). You just never know."

Anderson has talent. She can shoot and plays bigger than her size, and I would be surprised if she didn't resurface somewhere in the WNBA, at least by next year. She told the News Tribune that she'll report to Northern France to play for a Euroleague team in the area.

Anderson also doesn't lose out on her first-year contract. She has guaranteed money owed to her because she was cut after the deadline.

"My parents were sad. They couldn’t believe it," Anderson said, according to the News Tribune. "They thought I was joking, but then they realized what had happened and told me to come home and enjoy some time with them. The WNBA is a business, and it was a great three months with the Sun, but you just have to move on."

(3) The Sun flew to Indianapolis Wednesday afternoon and tip off on NBA TV at 7 p.m. For more on this game, check out the Scout Box below. I'm also including a look ahead to the Sun's televised games, though you can get a complete list from their schedule online.

Sunday vs. Seattle (ABC)
Sunday, Sept. 7 vs. San Antonio (ABC)
Tuesday, Sept. 9 at Houston (MYTV9)
Saturday, Sept. 13 vs. Washington (MYTV9/NBATV)

Scout Box:

7 p.m., today
Conseco Fieldhouse, Indianapolis

Records: Connecticut 16-10; Indiana 12-14.
Last game: Prior to the Olympic break, Connecticut beat Washington, 82-60; Indiana beat Phoenix, 88-84. Both games were July 27.
Next game: Connecticut plays Friday at Atlanta; Indiana hosts Atlanta on Saturday.
TV/Internet: NBA TV/
Series: The Sun lead the all-time series, 22-13, but lost both meetings between the teams this season, including an 81-74 decision on July 5. This is the final regular-season meeting between the teams this year.
Injuries: Connecticut—none reported. Indiana—none reported.
Scouting report: After 31 days since their last game, the Sun hope to carry over the defensive intensity that helped spur them to three straight wins to close the first portion of the season against Indiana, who is a disappointing two games below .500 and in fourth in the Eastern Conference standings. "I've pretty much been happy with that I've seen" in practice, Sun coach Mike Thibault said. "We'll have to do a good job defensively and we'll have to rebound. They'll do a lot of switching, so we'll have to take advantage of it." ... The Sun's loss in Indiana in early July started a five-game losing streak. "I thought we should have won the last time we played them," Thibault said. "But we let it get away from us." Indiana guard Tully Bevilaqua hit a career high five 3s that night. ... In 2004, the last Olympic year, the Sun closed the regular season with wins in five of their final seven games and advanced to the WNBA finals, where they lost to Seattle. ... Asjha Jones is on pace to set a season high in 10 statistical categories, but admitted being nervous entering tonight's re-opener. "I'm real hard on myself and all those different things, they worry me," she said. "Going into the game, I have all these different scenarios in my head that may play out, and I haven't played in a while in a game. It's going to be strange." ... Australian guard Erin Phillips is likely to debut tonight.

Projected starters, with scoring averages:
1 F Amber Holt 6.4
15 F Asjha Jones 16.8
00 C Tamika Whitmore 11.5
13 G Lindsay Whalen 15.3
22 G Barbara Turner 8.2

Connecticut reserves

7 Sandrine Gruda 6.6
10 Jamie Carey 4.0
41 Kerri Gardin 3.0

32 F Ebony Hoffman 10.2
24 F Tamika Catchings 11.5
8 C Tammy Sutton-Brown 11.2
41 G Tully Bevilaqua 5.6
23 G Katie Douglas 16.3

Indiana reserves

15 Tan White 9.3
21 Allison Feaster 3.2
10 LaToya Bond 3.0

WNBA MVP voting begins today

Think Lindsay Whalen deserves to be named the league's most valuable player? Is Lauren Jackson still your top choice despite her impending surgery? What about Seimone , DT or Candace Parker?

For the first time ever, fans can weigh in on the MVP race this season by casting their votes at The polls open today and will run through Sept. 15. The winner of the MVP will be named during the playoffs.

The online fan vote will comprise 25 percent of the total MVP vote, while the media vote will make up the remaining 75 percent.

In addition, a “WNBA MVP presented by T-Mobile” sweepstakes will run during the voting period. Everyone that casts a vote for their MVP candidate on will automatically be entered, and the winner and a guest will win a trip to a 2008 WNBA Finals game, WNBA merchandise, a T-Mobile handset and a $100 prepaid T-Mobile service card.

There have been five recipients of the MVP Award in the WNBA’s 11-year history. Past winners include Lauren Jackson (Seattle Storm - 2007, 2003), Lisa Leslie (Los Angeles Sparks - 2006, 2004, 2001), Sheryl Swoopes (Houston Comets – 2005, 2002, 2000), Yolanda Griffith (Sacramento Monarchs – 1999) and Cynthia Cooper (Houston Comets – 1998, 1997).

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Margo's back ... in L.A.

Former Sun center Margo Dydek is back in the WNBA with the Los Angeles Sparks. The 7-foot-2 Poland native signed a contract Wednesday, a day before the Sparks re-open their season against Sacramento.

There have been rumblings the last two months that Dydek, 34, was eying a return to the league after giving birth to her first child during the offseason. It's safe to say the Sun never were in the picture as their froncourt was largely in place with Asjha Jones, Tamika Whitmore, Tamika Raymond and Sandrine Gruda.

But it's an interesting move for several reasons: Los Angeles already has perhaps the league's top frontcourt and is more in need of guard help, and I'm sure many are curious to see how good of shape Dydek has gotten in to play, now just a few months removed from her pregnancy. If anything Dydek will do what she does best — add to her WNBA record 811 career blocks — but she became a liability at times for the Sun last season, especially offensively.

Sun sign Abrosimova, waive Anderson

The Connecticut Sun signed former UConn Husky and Minnesota Lynx forward Svetlana Abrosimova on Wednesday. The 6-foot-2 Russian will join the team Friday in Atlanta when the Sun face the Dream. To make room for the acquisition, the Sun waived rookie guard Jolene Anderson, who averaged four points per game in 24 appearances.

Abrosimova, who finished her UConn career as the fifth-ranked scorer in program history and a member of the 2000 national champion team, averaged 10 points and 4.4 rebounds in seven seasons in Minnesota. She recently returned from Beijing where she won a bronze medal with Russia.

"Svetlana will bring us a great veteran presence at the three (small forward) and four (power forward) positions," Sun coach Mike Thibault said in a release. "Her ability to score from both the perimeter and in the lane will add a great dynamic to our offense."

Abrosimova has not played a WNBA game this season. Similar to Erin Phillips, she took the first portion of the season to train with her national team.

"I've been in the league for seven years and played for one team," Abrosimova said. "I made good friends there, but I'm excited to be going to a different team, and especially the team in Connecticut."

Abrosimova will be the fifth former Husky on the Sun roster, joining Asjha Jones, Tamika Raymond, Ketia Swanier and Barbara Turner. Jones and Raymond, who graduated in 2002, were teammates with Abrosimova, 2001 grad.

Some people may view this as another move by the Sun to draw interest from Connecticut fans following the month-long break. That's not the case. Abrosimova and the team have been in discussions since April, Thibault said, and as far as free agents go, she may have been the best available and certainly the best fit for Connecticut.

Still, Thibault called it a hard decision to let Anderson go. The Wisconsin grad made seven starts this year, but had seen her playing time fade toward the Olympic break.

"She's done a great job for us," Thibault said. "But our feeling as a staff is that we needed more veteran experience as we attempt to win a championship."

Phillips, Jackson ... and some non-Australians, too

A lot of news and notes coming out of Mohegan Sun Arena and the WNBA on Tuesday. Let's get to it:

(1) Erin Phillips arrived in Connecticut Tuesday morning to practice with the Sun, but not after a horrid travel day. She departed Beijing at 8 p.m. on Monday after forgetting her travel itinerary at the Olympic village and nearly missing her flight because of traffic and proceeded to have lay-overs in Hong Kong, L.A. and Denver before arriving in Hartford between 5 and 6 a.m. on Tuesday East Coast time, a span of nearly 22 hours. She also became motion sick on the flight from Hong Kong to L.A.

"The turbulence was bad and I was right in the back," Phillip said.

Sun coach Mike Thibault estimated the 5-foot-7 Australian got about three hours of sleep before she participated in a full practice at Mohegan. Even after all that, Phillip was still visibly excited to be back with the Sun. She is available and expected to play Thursday when the team's season re-launches at Indiana.

"The thing is I want to play," she said. "It’s been two years since I’ve played with this team and I can’t believe I’m here. We finally touched down this morning and I couldn’t believe it. It was crazy. I think what I’m nervous about is I haven’t played a proper game of basketball in such a long time. I’ve trained for so long and you train to play. I’m sitting there and watching the absolute best basketball in the world, (and after that), you definitely want to play."

Phillips won a silver medal in Beijing with the Australian national team but was a little used reserve (she estimated she played about three minutes a game) and she didn't even make it into the gold medal contest. This, after skipping the first portion of the WNBA season to train with the national team. Still, she said she wouldn't trade the Olympic experience for anything, as, at 23, she figures to be a huge part of the team for 2012 in London.

"I knew right from the start I wasn’t going to be playing a lot," she said. "I didn’t know it was going to be three minutes or whatever. I was behind two amazing point guards in Kristi Harrower and Tully Bevilaqua so it’s hard to complain. I would love to play rather than watch but at the same time I got to learn a huge amount from those two as well. And I did as much as I could from the bench to help the team. I did not feel like I was less part of the team because I didn’t play 40 minutes. I had a fantastic time."

Phillips went on to call the whole scene of being inside the Olympic village "surreal."

"You walk in there and you walk past Rafael Nadal, (Roger) Federer and the American men’s basketball Dream Team are in there having lunch. And there’s the fastest man in the world on your left and the person who can jump the highest on your right. It was like our own little world in there, it’s so hard to describe. And everybody was on their own little mission."

As for the impact Phillips can make on the Sun: Thibault kept his expectations tempered, saying it remains to be seen, but Phillips is a physical guard who can play both positions in the backcourt (and will, similar to in 2006), is, according to the coach, an above average defender and "her offense has improved greatly since she was her before."

"Great effort will help her with some of it because defensively, you can pick it up right away," Thibault said. "Offensively, that’s going to take some time, but I’m probably going to play her at the two (guard position) some, to let her play with Lindsay (Whalen) like we did that year Nykesha (Sales) was out (in 2006 for the final 13 games). That’s probably more likely to happen then I let her just jump in and be the back-up point guard. I’m not necessarily aiming for that right now."

Said Phillips: "One of the things is Mike’s given me a lot of confidence. I enjoy playing here so much under him. I’m excited to getting back to where I sort of left out two years ago."

If I had to take a guess, Phillips will likely see 12 to 15 minutes Thursday against the Fever, just as she works herself into the offense. That whole game may be a re-feeling out period for everyone on the Sun anyway. Phillips said she's already tried to do her part to help the team that night.

"I tried to get Tully (who plays for Indiana) as drunk as I could on the last night (in Beijing)," Phillips said, laughing. "I did really well. I was trying to get her on the dance floor all night, trying to get people dancing with her. ‘Just dance with her all night, make her so tired so by Thursday, she won’t know how to walk.’"

Phillips was toting around her silver medal at the arena Tuesday, which not surprisingly attracted a crowd of anyone and everyone who wanted to see and feel an actual medal. It's pretty impressive but not as heavy as you would think. For the time being, Phillips will likely keep it in a safety deposit box for protection.

And for those wondering, Thibault didn't receive a gold medal from Beijing. Medals are for players only.

Now for some notes around the league:

(2) The Seattle Storm are 17-9 and sit just a half-game back of first in the crowded Western conference standings. But their outlook (at least from the outside) is rather bleak with the news that Lauren Jackson will miss four to six weeks, and likely the season, after choosing to undergo ankle surgery, and Swin Cash revealing she took a cortisone shot to relieve back trouble over the break.

Jackson has played through ankle troubles all season before re-aggravating it during a pre-Olympic tournament and playing through it to help her country to the silver medal. She's set to have surgery Thursday, and Seattle coach Brian Agler said "I think it will be real difficult for her to get back on the floor for us, even with we were close enough to get in the playoffs."

"We understand that Lauren has a tremendous desire to win a gold medal and fought through it (at the Olympics)," Agler said on the WNBA's re-launch conference call Tuesday. "She made the decision to have her surgery, which will take place on Thursday, and we support her decision. We want the best for her. And (as far as) how or if she would play for us again, I think it would be a stretch for her to get back. But she assured me that she’s a quick healer and she’s responded well to surgery in the past."

Jackson was a top candidate to repeat as WNBA MVP. He team-leading 20.2 points and 7.0 rebounds per game will be hard to replace, as will be Cash's 11.3 and 5.7, respectively, if she misses a significant amount of time down the stretch.

"I know with Lauren Jackson having surgery, a lot of people question if we can even make the playoffs," Storm guard Sue Bird said. "But we still feel very confident (being) only half a game back out of first in the West. We’re just going to try to finish up strong."

Seattle currently leads L.A. and Sacramento (both 15-12) by a 2 1/2 games for the final playoff spot in the conference.

(3) Every team stayed busy over the break with their own individual workouts, but no team made as big a move as Detroit, which acquired former Sun forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin from Washington on Aug. 12 in exchange for rookie forward Tasha Humphrey, guard Eshaya Murphy and a second-round pick in the 2009 draft.

The move was a direct response to losing Cheryl Ford for the season to a torn ACL, and gives the Shock a much-needed veteran presence, as well as an added scoring boost in the frontcourt. In 26 games with Washington this season, she averaged 13.3 points and 7.3 rebounds.

Detroit also signed her to a one-year contract extension.

"We were young," Detroit coach Bill Laimbeer said. "We had three rookies who were going to be counted on. We thought that was too many. So we brought in Taj. She’s an experienced player and she actually makes our team better with her calmness and with her pointers to our players. They respect her and in our practices, our level of intensity and our level of concentration has improved dramatically (since she arrived)."

McWilliams-Franklin said she could sense a trade was coming from Washington through her discussions with the management there, but she said she was surprised she landed in Detroit, a team the Mystics (just two games out of playoff spot) play twice to finish the regular season.

"I think if anywhere I would go somewhere where they wouldn’t be play the team again, especially in the East," she said. "But I’m happy I landed in Detroit. I think Coach Laimbeer has been trying to get me since pretty much the first year I played in Connecticut. Just I was off limits so the fact that he got me here, I think he’s happy about that. He talks to me every day about me being here so I’m real excited."

This is the third time in less than two years McWilliams-Franklin has been traded, starting first when the Sun dealt her to the Los Angeles Sparks, who in turn sent her to Washington prior to this season for DeLisha Milton-Jones. But this is the first time she's been traded during the season (those moves are rare anyway in the WNBA), and she's treating the adjustment period the same way she would coming back from overseas play.

"It’s a lot of emotions getting traded," she said. "I just shut it all down and restarted. I’m on a new team, I threw out all the old stuff, all the defense, offenses and just filled my brain with the new Detroit Shock stuff. I’ve only been here like 10 days but it took me a good three days to shut it all down and restart.

"I won’t every say I’m the normal Detroit Shock type of player because I’m still learning what that as," she continued. "But I can only be me on the court and that’s why Coach Laimbeer brought me here to do what Taj McWilliams-Franklin does best and that’s to help them win more games."

Tamika Whitmore, who was also on Tuesday's conference call, congratulated McWilliams-Franklin on the deal, and called it an "opportunity" for the veteran forward and a "good move" for the Shock.

"Playing against Taj all these years, she’s always telling me what I could have done, like, you stepped in when you actually could have stepped back and went baseline," Whitmore said. "She’s always been that teacher on the court. I think with her acquisition with Detroit, I think it will really help a lot of the young players that they have there."

Laimbeer also said he's reworked Detroit's offensive sets, calling the previous system "stale" after a few years' use. He wouldn't reveal specifics, but told Thibault he'll have all the tape he'll need after a few games when the Sun coach jokingly asked, "Can you send me a copy of (of your new plays) so I have them?"

(4) Here's the second story that will run in Wednesday's paper on the returning Olympians' adjustment back to the WNBA.

An added note from Candace Parker, who slept the entire plane ride back from Beijing and has trouble adjusting her sleeping patterns since: "We know it’s very crucial with the West being so tight. You can’t take games getting used to the time. You have to jump right back into it. I think that I will be ready come Thursday."

(5) Bird came away very impressed by Beijing, and said she thoroughly enjoyed her second Olympic stint, from the atmosphere to taking the United States fourth straight gold.

"For me personally, this Olympics was much difference because my role was much different," she said. "My first Olympics was more so a learning practice and hopefully being able to take the torch ... and be ready for this Olympics. But I hate to talk up China because it makes it sound like Greece (in 2004) was bad and Greece wasn't bad; it was amazing as well.

"But China, everything from the people, the venues, the way things were run there, it really was first class. The city of Beijing, they were ready. They were ready. The cab situation is a different story," she jokingly added. "They weren't ready with cabs but other than that, you really can't complain."

What made the experience even better was how quickly the team came together. It was a point Thibault touched upon, as every player embraced her role, regardless of what it was, and defense and rebounding became paramount in the Americans' roll to the podium.

"It really was just a fun trip," Bird said. "And it was sort of the year to beat the U.S. That's what everybody was saying. So for us to go out and take care of business and then to win gold and the fashion that we did, you couldn't ask for a better Olympics."

Asked if this Olympics was more rewarding because she played a bigger part in winning it, the UConn alum said, "No, not at all. It doesn't matter how many minutes you play or how much you win by. What matters is if you have a gold medal around your neck at the end. I felt the same way this time when the national anthem was playing as I did in Greece."

That's all for now. I'll have more tomorrow on the Sun's first game back against Indiana, the first of three in four days. Connecticut plays at Atlanta on Friday before returning home to host the Storm on Sunday.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A few (belated) notes on ... Tamika Whitmore

I waited on posting this up to include some notes from practice, on Whitmore, Mike Thibault and the Sun in general. But first, the last of the capsules ...

Tamika Whitmore

6-foot-2 forward
Averages: 11.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 37.6 percent shooting

The Good: When the Sun dealt Katie Douglas to Indiana, Mike Thibault said he wanted one of two players in return: Tamika Catchings or Tamika Whitmore. The Fever weren't about to trade away their do-everything All-Star, but the Sun got exactly what they wanted anyway: a physical but versatile post presence with a reputation for strong play in the playoffs. Whitmore's impact in the postseason remains to be seen, but Whitmore has also given the Sun a few other (and unexpected) boosts. Her 25 3s this this season are already a career high and though her scoring has dipped in recent weeks, she's on pace to average double figures in scoring for just the fourth time in her career but the third time in as many seasons.

Whitmore has also been a natural fit in the Sun's locker room. She handed out nicknames to every rookie the first week of the season, and her personality is a nice balance to those of the team's other veterans, particularly Tamika Raymond and Asjha Jones.

The Bad: A balky back and a sore knee limited Whitmore in the final weeks before the Olympic break. After scoring in double figures in 10 if the season's first 11 games, she entered a stretch in which she failed to break 10 points in 11 of 15 games, and the outside shot that looked so smooth to start the year (13 3s in her first five games) abandoned her. She hit just two 3s in July, and had several tough shooting games (2-for-9 on July 1 and 8, 2-for-10 on July 13). Not helping matters was her inability to get to the free throw line; she never made four than four free throws in a game during the month.

With Whitmore absent as the Sun's third scoring option, the team struggled severely, losing a team record-tying five straight games. At one point, after her knee buckled during practice, Whitmore thought she might have torn her ACL, though an MRI showed only a bruised knee.

Outlook: The Olympic break gave Whitmore a chance for a fresh start, a healthy slate and even some fresh paint; she had the cross tattoo on her left calf colored in while she was away.

"It was really was (good) for me, mentally, physically," Whitmore said Monday of the break. "Everything's clear, my body feels good. I kind of had, I call it a tune-up. I'm ready. The first week off, I tried not to do anything, but I ended up going to place called Run N Shoot back in home in Atlanta, just playing ball. They never close so I was there playing like eight games a day. But I rested, iced and did what I had to do when I got back here. I went right back into treatment."

Whitmore tends to play her best ball late in the season. She second all-time in playoff appearances and at one time held the single-season playoff record for points. If there was someone to bet on bouncing back, it's her.

"She said she feels good," Sun coach Mike Thibault said. "She's had good workouts."

Some other notes from practice: Thibault returned to the Sun on Monday, while Erin Phillips, who won silver in Beijing with the Australian Olympic team, was scheduled to arrive today. Despite all the travel and time change, Thibault said he's more than ready to start.

"I'm OK, I have energy," he said. "I'm reasonably on our time. I've learned going on long overseas trips, and I did it going and I did it coming back. The trap that everyone falls into is they sleep on the flights and then you're wide awake when you get there. I only allowed myself to sleep three hours on the flight either way. So (Sunday) night when I got home at 1 in the morning, I stayed up until 2 and then I slept until 9 a.m. this morning. So I'm reasonably (awake)."

Thibault called the experience coaching in the Olympics "truly fun," though he did admit feeling the pressure of winning the country's fourth straight gold in women's basketball. He also had some stories to tell.

"We go to the Great Wall, they have a toboggan ride you can down on," he said. "I thought I was at Disney World waiting in line to go on toboggan ride. But it's individual toboggans. They don't always work great, like (my son) Eric's wouldn't speed up and mine wouldn't slow down real easily. But some girl stopped in front of him, so he stopped easily but my break didn't completely catch. It slowed me down. I hit him from behind. It was a pretty good hit. He hasn't seen me yet, so ..."

He also was impressed by how massive Beijing and China's surrounding cities were.

"We went to this town, Haining, to play the Diamond Ball tournament beforehand," Thibault said. "And it was described to me that we were going to go to this little town outside Shanghai. So I asked the translator when we got to the town, 'How big is this?' And she goes, 'Six million.' There are over one hundred cities in China with more than a million for population.

"Beijing is the size of Rhode Island," he continued. "Seventeen and a half million people. It goes forever on either side of it. And we were in the middle of the center part of the city basically, in our hotel, and it was like traveling from here to Green Airport in Providence to get the airport (inside Biejing)."

Monday, August 25, 2008

A few (belated) notes on ... Lindsay Whalen

And your 2008 WNBA MVP ...

Lindsay Whalen
5-foot-8 guard
Averages: 15.3 points, 5.9 assists, 5.4 rebounds

The Good: I'm not kidding when I call Whalen the MVP. The final eight games of the season will play a huge roll in how that's decided (there are four to five legitimate contenders right now), but if the season were to end right now, Whalen would have my vote. She's the top point guard in the league enjoying her best season as a pro, and she, more than any player in the WNBA, drives her team. That's not to take anything away from Asjha Jones, who is vying for all-WNBA honors, but Whalen is the one with the ball in her hands, dictates the tempo of the team and has the ability to take over really any time she wants to. As she's grown into the leader of this team, Whalen has found definitive gears in her approach. There are times when she defers, defers and defers, hardly taking any shots and simply distributing. If other players are hitting, that opens up lanes for her and she can get 15 to 18 points without making a sound. Then, in the games when the Sun are struggling offensively, she simply changes course and becomes an aggressor, lowering her head and driving to the basket like no guard in this league can.

Because there isn't a point guard who is as versatile as her right now, it puts Whalen in a class that no other player can touch. She is in control of this team, and considering her off days are rare (she's had four games in single figures scoring), she's had the largest hand in making the Sun the surprise first-place team in the East.

In terms of historical context, Whalen is having one of the WNBA's greatest individual seasons, though she just barely cracked the league's top 20 in scoring. Only one other player (Nikki Teasley) has averaged 10 points, five rebounds and five assists in a season in league history, all marks Whalen is well on her way toward achieving. On top of that, she's shooting 48.1 percent from the field (an incredible percentage for a guard) and has rediscovered her touch from 3-point range; she's shooting 36.1 percent, which puts her on pace for a career high. There are several reasons for Whalen's play: There was opportunity with Katie Douglas and Nykesha Sales gone (both to become a leader and a scorer), she's more mature in her fifth year in the league and she's stayed healthy outside of a sore Achilles' tendon.

The Bad: Whalen has been one of, if not the, most consistent player in the league this year, so it isn't easy to find glaring weaknesses in her game. But there were times during the Sun's losing streak when she tried to force too much when her teammates were struggling or deferred at times when she should have taken more of a scoring load. That said, these are brief instances, one or two plays among hundreds and not definitive trends that Whalen has had to correct. Her decision making has been exemplary this season, and outside a game here or there, she's been the Sun's rock. The only game I can think of she truly, truly labored through was the Sun's 73-65 loss to Chicago on July 18 when she scored a season-low two points on 1-of-8 shooting and had more turnovers (three) than assists (two).

Outlook: If the Sun continue to win, finishing first or second in the East, and Whalen continues her level of play (which I think she will), she will be a very serious consideration for league MVP. She has other contenders, but they also have things to overcome. Lauren Jackson is set to miss four to six weeks after ankle surgery, which all but ends her bid; Candace Parker and Lisa Leslie, despite possibly canceling each other out because they are on the same team, also didn't enjoy the kind of rest Whalen has over the last month; Seimone Augustus needs Minnesota to make a playoff push to be seriously considered; and the league's leading scorers, Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter, are playing for the West's last place team that is three games out of playoff spot with seven games to play. If there is someone I'm leaving out, please let me know, but other than someone like Tina Thompson (who has missed time with a broken finger) or one of San Antonio's Big Three (Sophia Young, Becky Hammon and Ann Wauters), I'm not sure if there is any one else who can challenge for this award. And San Antonio's balance, as good as it is, may actually hurt any of those three players chance of being named MVP.

Of course, things can change in the season's final month, but I like Whalen's chances. recently asked her a few questions, too, on the Sun and the regular season's home stretch.

On deck: Tamika Whitmore

A few (belated) notes on ... Barbara Turner

The final three, just a little late ...

Barbara Turner
6-foot guard/forward
Averages: 8.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 34 3s

The Good: Turner's move to the Sun this past offseason may go down as the steal of the year, taking into account her production and who they gave up to get her. Turner's revamped offseason workout in Houston with former NBA coach John Lucas has paid humongous dividends as she's transformed into the Sun's top 3-point threat, a versatile option in both the frontcourt and backcourt and a huge source of energy off the bench. Turner's 34 3-pointers lead the team and are exactly double the amount she hit during her first two years in the league. Though a midseason shooting slump dropped her shooting percentages (she now sits at 39.4 from the field, 35.1 from 3), Turner has long put herself in the discussion for Sixth Player of the Year, though Candice Wiggins appears to be the clear favorite for the time being, and Most Improved.

When the Sun traded Megan Mahoney to Houston for Turner, they were essentially taking a low-risk chance. If Turner played like it thought she could, the Connecticut coaching staff would look like geniuses. If she struggled in her transition from the wing and faded down the Sun bench, she probably would have had a similarly small role to Mahoney in past years. She's lived up to the expectations, no doubt surprising many around the league, and she may be the key reason the Sun are surprise contenders as well.

Her ball-handling has been far improved from past years, she's proven to be a gritty defender at times, and the personality Turner brings to the Sun locker room -- she's always laughing, always upbeat, always talking -- has helped bolster the team's chemistry. The former UConn star spoke of proving herself when she was first traded back to the state she became a star in, and there is no doubt she has.

The Bad: The aforementioned slump that stretched late into the season's first half sapped Turner both of playing time and at times, confidence. She netted double figures just twice in July and went six games without a 3 at one point, a complete 180 from earlier in the year when she seemingly couldn't miss (17 3s in the team's first nine games). When the shots stopped falling, Turner tended to press, and her game as a whole seemed to suffer, leading to reduced minutes. She appeared to take a step forward in the Sun's rout of Los Angeles, hitting 3-for-4 3s and scoring 12 points, and planned to spend a week back in Houston at the start of the break to revisit her training program with Lucas.

"Unlike some players, I haven’t played year-round," Turner said before the team's last game at Washington back on July 27. "All I did was train and all I did was get ready to come here. It’s not like my body needs a whole lot of refreshing. I think that if I can get that training in and get myself going, I think that will help me carry momentum going into the second half of the season. That’s my mindset. I want to bust out and get ready for the next part of the season and the playoffs."

Turner can do more than just shoot, but when her shots are falling, it naturally makes every other part of her game better. When she's rolling, she's flying in on rebounds, drawing fouls, pumping fists and doing everything else to let all that energy out. When she's struggling offensively, she tends to fade into the background. Turner is an easy player to read on the floor (she doesn't try to hide her emotions), so after a month of just working out, it will be interesting to see not if she comes back with more energy but how much.

Outlook: Turner has spoken with Lucas throughout the season, and her talks with the him tend to help her refocus and look at things from different angles. A week back training with him should only help, and I think the Sun are banking on a return to her form from May and June to help sew up one of the East's top two spots in the playoffs. Turner's proven more effective coming off the bench, but there will be some obvious juggling now with Erin Phillips in the fold concerning who fills the starting shooting guard spot (think match-ups) and who as a whole corners significant minutes alongside Lindsay Whalen. But because of her experience playing forward, Turner gives the Sun another option behind Amber Holt if or when the rookie struggles, and even if they have to go a small lineup (which isn't often because they're small already), Turner can take on defensive responsibilities in the post.

Turner and Tamika Whitmore, who went through a horrid slump around the same time, will be the wild cards in the Sun's run late in the season. When they're clicking alongside Whalen and Asjha Jones, they can be the team that opened this year at 8-1. When they're not, the Sun can still win games, but will do it struggling. With Thibault's system and the natural depth Connecticut has, a reliable third scorer really is all they really need to separate themselves from most teams. Turner had been that for so long and can be that again.

On deck: Lindsay Whalen
In the hole: Tamika Whitmore

Fresh as I return ...

Welcome back everyone. Apologies for the long hiatus. I've been on vacation the last two weeks (I also took advantage of the Olympic break), and haven't been writing or blogging since two Saturdays ago. I thought the final three capsules breaking down the Sun roster got up on their intended days (Barbara Turner was set for Aug. 9, Lindsay Whalen for the 10th and Tamika Whitmore for the 11th), but unfortunately, they did not. I'll be posting those throughout today, so check back.

As for the Sun, they've continued to practice during the break, and will welcome back coach Mike Thibault (and his gold medal) from Beijing where he was an assistant on the U.S. national women's basketball team. Erin Phillips, the Australian guard who took the first portion of the season off to train with her national team (which took silver to the Americans) is expected to arrive Tuesday in preparation for the Sun's first game back Thursday at Indiana.

I'll also have an update from practice late night tonight once the time gets firmed up. Other than that, I'm eager to get back to work and see what this team has for the final stretch of the season. Eight games to go until the playoffs ...

Saturday, August 9, 2008

A few notes on ... Ketia Swanier

This is the last of the rookies ...

Ketia Swanier
5-foot-7 guard
Averages: 1.9 points, 1.2 rebounds, 1.0 assists

The Good: Swanier's offensive numbers may pale in comparison to those of this year's other first-round picks (she actually averages the fewest points and minutes of any of the other 12 selections). But Swanier was brought in under total different circumstances than most first-round picks. She was drafted knowingly as a back-up guard and would be counted on for her ball-handling and speed to make a difference in the minutes she got.

She's provided that -- the speedy guard has looked just as quick flying around in transition. But her defense, always solid at UConn, has been a difference-maker. In making six starts, Swanier has taken the assignments of some of the WNBA's top guards and has done a wholly commendable job. Twice she played 18 or more minutes against Cappie Pondexter and Phoenix. Pondexter got her points (22, 16), but shot 7-for-17 and 7-for-16, and more so, Swanier often made her defer. Her teammates just made shots (Pondexter had 10 assists between the two games).

I know all those numbers aren't great indicators of Swanier's impact, but her biggest performance came in the waning minutes of the Sun's 109-101 overtime win over Atlanta. Betty Lennox (a career-high 44 points that night) had 37 before Swanier entered with under three minutes to play in regulation. Lennox finished with one field goal and four points before hitting a meaningless 3 late.

But past that, Swanier has helped made Connecticut one of the league's deepest teams at point guard because she has been able to give more quality minutes as the season has gone on. Since late June, she's played double-digit minutes nine times, and in that time, she's committed just eight turnovers. (She actually has the fewest of anyone on the Sun.) As for filling the role she was designed for, Swanier -- who's also looks more cut and in shape in the last few months -- has done just that.

The Bad
: Besides proving herself as clutch performer late in her senior season, Swanier jumped up draft boards all over the league because she displayed a more consistent jump shot, especially on the open shots she was supposed to make. As she's adjusted to an extended 3-point line and more able defenders, that hasn't translated as nicely as other things. Swanier entered the break shooting 28 percent from the field and 27 percent from 3. Sun coach Mike Thibault said he found a flaw in Swanier's shot and the coaching staff has worked to fix it (one way to explain the inconsistent shooting). And Thibault is confident it will pay off. One time, during pre-game shootaround, the topic of halfcourt shots came up, and Thibault joked with Swanier he'd show her the right technique. When Swanier left to go prepare for the game, Thibault said he's been happy with the rookie's shooting progression.

"Mark my words," he said, "She'll be a 50-percent shooter."

That won't happen this year. But one day, maybe.

Outlook: If Erin Phillips is able to make as big as an impact as she is expected to, Swanier will probably be the one who stands to lose the most minutes. She's playing just under 10 now, but may be reduced to a late-game defensive replacement. She's been that at times now, though if she'll still make the occasional start seems less likely. I may be wrong. But between her, Carey, Whalen, Phillips and even Holt and Turner (depending on the lineup) that's a lot of guards for not enough minutes. Stay tuned.

On deck: Barbara Turner
In the hole: Lindsay Whalen

Friday, August 8, 2008

WNBA in the Olympics

I'll have my daily look at the Sun's roster a little later today (Ketia Swanier is up), but the league released some numbers Friday: 39 former and current WNBA players will take part in the Olympics starting this weekend. Here's the full list, with current players in bold.

Player (Team) WNBA Years

United States
Seimone Augustus, 2006-present
Sue Bird, 2002-present
Tamika Catchings, 2001-present
Sylvia Fowles, 2008-present
Kara Lawson, 2003-present
Lisa Leslie, 1997-present
DeLisha Milton-Jones, 1999-present
Candace Parker, 2008-present
Cappie Pondexter, 2006-present
Katie Smith, 1999-present
Diana Taurasi, 2004-present
Tina Thompson, 1997-present

Suzy Batkovic, 2005
Tully Bevilaqua, 1998, 2000-present
Kristi Harrower, 1998-99, 2001-03, 2005
Lauren Jackson, 2001-present
Erin Phillips, 2006, 2008
Belinda Snell, 2005-07
Laura Summerton, 2005-06
Penny Taylor, 2001-2007

Yelena Leuchanka, 2006-07

Claudia das Neves, 1999-02
Adriana Moises Pinto, 2001-02, 2007
Kelly Santos, 2001-02, 2008

Sui Feifei, 2005
Miao Lijie, 2005

Zane Teilane Tamane, 2006

Hamchetou Maiga-Ba, 2002-present

Svetlana Abrosimova, 2001-07
Becky Hammon, 1999-present
Ilona Korstine, 2001
Irina Osipova, 2006
Maria Stepanova, 1998-2001, 2005
Natalia Vodopyanova, 2005

Elisa Aguilar, 2002
Nuria Martinez, 2005
Isabel Sanchez, 2004
Amaya Valdemoro, 1998-2000

South Korea:
Jung Sun-Min, 2003

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A few notes on ... Tamika Raymond

Now, for the first of three straight former Huskies ...

Tamika Raymond
6-foot-2 forward
Averages: 2.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, 10.7 minutes

The Good: Raymond's number are probably consistent with what the Sun expected of her. Coming off two seasons in which she was riddled by injuries (torn ACL, concussion, tweaked knee, pulled hamstring), she physically isn't being asked to do as much, but she has proven to be a valuable energy player off the bench who can rebound, especially on the offensive boards, and spell Asjha Jones for necessary stretches. Number-by-number, Raymond, who was exchanged for Kristen Rasmussen in the offseason, is essentially giving Connecticut what it got from Rasmussen in 2007 (3.5 points, 2.8 rebounds) and what Minnesota is getting from her this year (3.1 points, 2.8 rebounds, 13.4 minutes).

But Raymond's entire value really isn't measured in that. Sun coach Mike Thibault wanted her for her leadership in the locker room and her role as a mentor and fourth coach on the team. She's been all that and more. With Jones, Tamika Whitmore and Lindsay Whalen, she's helped given the team a veteran core that leads in several different ways, and was instrumental in keeping the team together during its five-game losing streak. Raymond has also been invaluable with the younger players. She's especially taken Sandrine Gruda under her wing, acting as an instructor and big sister. A weeks ago, when Thibault said the rookie Gruda would benefit from less advice from a number of people and more from just a few, he specifically pointed to assistant coach Scott Hawk, who does individual work with Gruda following every practice, and Raymond, the person Gruda goes to most often on the bench and on the court. I can't tell you how many times I've seen Raymond drawing out plays on her palm, or pointing here or there to point something out while she and Gruda are leaving the court.

Raymond's also helped Jones, her best friend, relax more now also in her seventh season, and at least from my standpoint, she's a great person in the locker room to bounce ideas and discussion off of, even if she didn't play a whole lot on a particular night.

The Sun's chemistry has been so good this season for many reasons, perhaps none more so than how well all the different personalities have come together. And anybody in that locker room will tell you Raymond -- always amicable, always smiling -- is the glue in all that.

The Bad: Raymond wasn't brought to the Sun to be a scorer, but her 37.7 shooting percentage puts her on pace for the lowest of her seven-year career. UConn's all-time leader in shooting (.703, a mark that I can't see ever being broken), she's had trouble finishing around the rim at times, despite setting herself up with her offensive rebounding. (She ranks second on the Sun in offensive boards (40), 19 behind the team-leader, Jones, despite playing 490 fewer minutes, or nearly 19 per game.)

In her defense, she probably isn't able to get as good a rhythm as she's been used to her in her career. Before this summer, she never played fewer than 20 minutes per game, aside from an injury-riddled 2007 season, and if she continues to shoot as often as she has, she'll finish with roughly 70 attempts this season, less than half of what she shot during her full seasons in Minnesota.

Jones has tried prodding her to shoot more.

"I’m like, ‘Score. I know you’re a great rebounder, but score,’" Jones said earlier in July. "In her past, that’s what she used to do, and somehow, somebody pushed her away from that. Here, I have great confidence in her abilities and I want her to do that. I get mad when she doesn’t do the things that she can do. I’m like, ‘Man, what are you doing? Don’t give it to me. You shoot it. That’s why you got it.’ But when I shoot, I know she’s going to go get it."

Outlook: I don't want to jinx Raymond, but a huge plus for her as been her ability to stay healthy. She's played in every game, playing double-digit minutes 16 times, and is part of a bench that's allowed Thibault to only play one starter (Whalen) 30 minutes per game (and Whalen has played exactly that). Raymond and Jones has rarely been on the court together because it's usually she that's replacing Jones (29.5 minutes per game). Don't expect that dynamic to change much when the season starts back up, though as the playoffs approach it will be a little different for Raymond. She hasn't been to the WNBA postseason since 2004, and in five career playoff games, she owns averages of 14.8 points and 7.8 rebounds. I'm not saying she'll even come close to those numbers this year, but between her, Whitmore (second all time in playoff games with 40) and Jones and Whalen (who have been to two WNBA finals), the Sun rookies have a lot of playoff experience around them.

On deck: Ketia Swanier
In the hole: Barbara Turner

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A few notes on ... Danielle Page

We're officially past the midway point ...

Danielle Page
Averages: 1.0 point, 2.5 rebounds (two games)

The Good:I've been planning on doing something for the paper on Page — and the break may be a good opportunity — but although the rookie out of Nebraska hasn't played much, you can still see during practice why the Sun kept her. She's long and athletic at 6-foot-2, and like everybody else in the Sun's frontcourt, has a nice touch from 12 feet out, especially at the elbows and the top of the key. She's also what every team needs: A hard-working practice player who's constantly voicing her support of teammates. She probably was the biggest long-shot to make the team out of training camp — more so than Kerri Gardin — but made the final cut by displaying the things she did well in college (rebounding, defense) while showing a little unexpected offensive flair, too. Page holds Nebraska's program record for blocks in a season.

Also — and this is just a funny observation — but Page spends a part following most practices attempting to dunk. She usually has someone throw the ball up near the rim as an alley-oop, including Sun media relations director Bill Tavares. And she definitely gets close, at times pinning the ball against the bottom of the rim or losing a handle on the ball as she elevates, but I've heard no word yet that she's actually accomplished it. Stayed tuned, though.

The Bad:It's hard to critique Page because we haven't seen much of her in games, but there are some things she needs to do if she hopes to get playing time in future seasons, namely adding strength and different facets to her game, including in the post. But a year working in the Sun's system will certainly help in all areas.

Outlook:With essentially four players at her current position (Asjha Jones, Tamika Whitmore, Tamika Raymond and Sandrine Gruda), don't expect Page to immediately jump into any sort of time, unless someone from that group is misses time with an injury. She hasn't dressed since May 24, and any bumps and bruises that may have forced the Sun's regulars to the bench for a game (Whitmore, for one, has been playing through knee and back troubles) should be relieved by the Olympic break. Personally, I haven't seen enough of Page to say whether she has a definitive future in the league after this season, but for someone who wasn't expected by many to even be in the WNBA at this point, she definitely has a good start.

On deck: Tamika Raymond
In the hole: Ketia Swanier

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A few notes on ... Asjha Jones

And so on ...

Asjha Jones
6-foot-2 forward
Averages: 16.8 points, 6.2 points, 2.2 assists

The Good: In her seventh season, Jones is playing like an All-Star starter ... and a dark horse in the MVP race. She leads the Sun in scoring, rebounding and shooting (48.9 percent), and she's already had streaks of 14 straight games in double figures and 10 straight games in leading Connecticut in scoring. She also ranks 10th in the league in points and 20th in boards, and among players with as many as 300 field-goal attempts, she is fourth in percentage.

Jones is only now entering the discussion as one of the WNBA's top forwards because A, she played as a reserve for the first five years of her career, and B, she had't before been the top scoring option on her team, despite averaging similar numbers last season (15.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 44.9 percent shooting).

The difference this year: She's more consistent; only four times she's scored under 10 points and two of those games she has nine, and seven times she's grabbed eight or more rebounds, including 10 twice for double-doubles. More importantly, with all the change Connecticut went through during the offseason, Jones has never been more important to the team's success, to which she's responded with her best year in the pros.

How is she doing it? Jones has added a few more wrinkles to her game this year. Though her jump shot remains streaky at times, her jump hook has never looked better. She's used it more and more, and if it's on, no one's been able to deter her from using it. In 26 games, she also has many offensive rebounds (59) as she did in 34 games during the 2006 season, with some of her best rebounding games coming in the last month. When asked about Jones -- and he has been more so this year than ever -- Sun coach Mike Thibault has constantly said Jones is playing with a more confident mindset, that she knows she's one of the league's top players. Jones, in turn has, said she is simply being more aggressive. I wrote in (great) length about this before, but having Tamika Raymond has also helped Jones. Jones has become a more vocal leader and a bigger presence in the Sun's clubhouse, things that were also asked of her through all the offseason change.

One of the best parts of Jones' game remains her versatility. She has the ability to create loads of match-up problems for other forwards, as there's few others can do what she does. (Candice Dupree and Sophia Young have similar games.) If I had to choose a team (and subsequent league) MVP, I would probably lean toward Lindsay Whalen, only because she is doing things few, if any, one in league history has ever done (and I'll get to those in a few days). But Jones is playing her best basketball -- and it doesn't get much better in the WNBA.

The Bad: I'm not trying to be a homer, but I really can't say much here. Even in games where's she struggled shooting, such as against Chicago on July 20 (5-for-19) and against Phoenix on June 29 (5-for-17), Jones made up for it in other ways, like at the free throw line and by limiting her mental mistakes. She also had a stretch during June where turnovers really hurt her productivity; in seven games, she committed at least three turnovers five times, including five twice. But she's largely corrected that, and any other small things I could find would be nit-picking at this point.

Outlook: By playing through a severely sprained ankle, Jones struggled at times last year, and really wasn't herself. She said prior to the break that she could feel her legs starting to tire, but with time off -- and some free days to actually celebrate her 28th birthday -- Jones should be prepared for a strong stretch run. I know I say that about virtually everyone on the Sun -- and it's probably true for everyone in the league not playing in the Olympics -- but considering Jones has played nearly 30 minutes a game (only Whalen has played more), it makes a difference in this case.

Also, I've written previously that if there was an All-Star game, Jones would be in it. But it will be interesting if she gets All-WNBA honors. At this point, she seems like a shoe-in for second-team honors, but we'll see. With games against some very good frontcourts (such as Seattle, Houston and San Antonio) left, she'll definitely have opportunity to make her case for more. (By the way, if I had to pick a first team right now and do it quickly, it would go: Whalen, Diana Taurasi, Seimone Augustus, Candace Parker, Lauren Jackson. Don't be surprised if I change that at least twice before the end of the season.)

On deck: Danielle Page
In the hole: Tamika Raymond

A few notes on ... Amber Holt

Despite some technical difficulties (this post is getting up extremely late) the evaluations forge on with ...

Amber Holt
6-foot forward
Averages: 6.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 20.7 minutes

The Good: A lot of people will look at what Holt did her senior year in college (she led the nation in scoring at 27.4 points per game), what's she doing now (she's shot under 40 percent and boasts seven of 26 games in double figures scoring) and think the rookie's game hasn't translated well to the pros. In a way, they might be right. A post player in Middle Tennessee State, Holt is under-sized at the power forward position in the WNBA and has rarely gotten the chance to utilize her experience down low, save for a few match-ups with undersized shooting guards.

But frankly, scoring may not define Holt early in her career. As she adjusts to taking more jump shots and 3s -- and finding not just the confidence but the rhythm in doing so -- she'll make a name for herself as a solid defender, a quality rebounder at the two and three positions, and a hard-nosed but quiet gamer.

That's what the Sun were hoping for. Largely, that's what they've gotten.

I don't have the exact numbers, but if there were a race for the most charges drawn on the Sun, Holt would be leading the team, probably with a slight edge over Tamika Whitmore. Their flops would make Vlade Divac blush. Holt's acting skills aside -- and you'd know she's not a bad singer, either, if you were on hand for when they played her '60 seconds with the Sun' piece on the arena scoreboard a few weeks ago -- she's taken on some of the league's toughest assignments on the wings (Diana Taurasi, Deanna Nolan, Alana Beard, etc.) and in most cases, done an admirable job. She's far from a lock-down defender, but for a rookie now learning the league's personnel, there have been few times where she's looked totally overmatched.

That said, it's not as if Holt hasn't score or shown potential to carry this team for stretches. Three of those seven double-digit scoring games came in July and her seven points in three minutes to close Connecticut's win over Chicago on July 20 -- in turn, carrying the Sun to their first win in six games at the time -- was the best example of how dangerous she can be when she gets on a roll. Sun coach Mike Thibault has said several times that Holt almost enjoys not having the burden of the offense on her, as she did in college. And Holt has stuck to one line over any other the entire year: Defense comes first, and her offense will come from that. She's been the most consistent rookie the Sun have had, even if she's not the most talked about. She's started every game and hasn't played under 11 minutes in any single contest. Yeah, maybe she's not scoring like her numbers in college would have indicated, but there are reasons Thibault likes to keep her on the court.

Also, as far as her personality goes, Holt is by the far the quietest player on the team. But she's quick to laugh, doesn't make things too complicated and isn't afraid to be a little funny herself. I tend to talk too fast at times, and one time while interviewing her, I finally getting to my point after a long-winded question that maybe took 25 seconds of rambling to ask ... only to have Holt stare back at me with a puzzled look.

"Uh ..." I started again.

"Look," she said smiling, "you ... gotta ... slow ... down." Then she chuckled like she does seemingly after everything she says.

I slowed down, asked it again and she gave me a little nod of approval right before answering it.

The Bad: I mentioned there weren't too many times when Holt hasn't appeared totally overmatched defensively, but there were games -- more so early in the year -- when she just looked a little lost. She usually snapped out of it, but more than once Thibault had to go to the quick hook on her because it just didn't seem to be here night defensively. That said, the Chicago game when she scored all of her points late also didn't appear to be her night before she bounced back to save COnnecticut.

Similar to Kerri Gardin, Holt's also just learning now how to shoot consistently from the outside, so there have been some growing pains. In three games against New York, for example, she's shot a combined 3-for-14, and one of those contests marked the only time she's gone scoreless this season (and, as far as she could remember, maybe the only time ever). Ten times this year she's also had one or fewer made field goals.

Outlook: I can't see any reason why the Sun won't continue to lean on Holt like they have. She's continued to work hard in practice, gives the Sun what they want defensively and seems to be finding a better offensive groove the last few weeks before the break.

I can't say she's going to come out be another major scoring option alongside Lindsay Whalen and Asjha Jones (that role should fall to Tamika Whitmore, who has always proved better later in seasons), but Holt was highly coveted by Thibault and his staff. And though the coach has been more extravagant in his outlook of Sandrine Gruda, he believes Holt can be a major-impact player, too. If, as a rookie, she holds up to the pressure in the playoffs (she doesn't come from a UConn or Tennessee background where players are bred in the pressure of winning all the time), she just may continue to assert herself as an impact player now. Remember, Holt is the Sun's highest draft pick since Lindsay Whalen was taken fourth in 2004. They picked her knowing they'd need her to play well this year. (Note: I'm not counting Katie Feenstra, who was taken eighth overall in 2005, but was traded to San Antonio as part of the Margo Dydek and never played a single game for Connecticut).

On deck: Asjha Jones
In the hole: Danielle Page