Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bird doubts Sun's chances of landing Jackson

The Connecticut Sun are making a push for former WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson. Sue Bird said she doesn’t think they have a chance.

Bird — the former UConn star and Jackson’s teammate the last seven years with the Seattle Storm — told reporters Tuesday in Storrs that she believes Phoenix and Seattle “are the frontrunners” for Jackson’s services.

An unrestricted free agent for the first time and largely considered the world’s best player, Jackson is being courted by several teams, telling The Daily Telegraph in Sydney, Australia, that Sun coach Mike Thibault is one of three coaches who have or will visit her in Russia, where she’s playing for powerhouse Spartak Moscow.

“There’s no way,” Bird said with a laugh when first asked about Connecticut’s intentions of wooing Jackson to Mohegan Sun.

“I don’t want to say yes or no either way,” she later added. “That’s Lauren’s decision. I know her pretty well. I’m not sure. I love Connecticut. I’m not sure she would like it.”

Bird was working out on the UConn campus, and added she plans to be at Saturday’s game against LSU at the XL Center.

WNBA teams were allowed to begin discussions with free agents on Dec. 15, and Jan. 5 is the first day players can sign a contract. It seems unlikely Jackson, 27, will decide on a destination by then, and she has said she’s unsure if she’ll play in the U.S. at all this summer.

After undergoing right ankle surgery following the Olympics — and missing the rest of the WNBA season — Jackson told The Daily Telegraph, “I think at the moment I have to decide on both (options) ... whether to play in the WNBA and if so, with which team.

“I have to make a decision and it’s going to be a big one,” she added, according to the newspaper’s Wednesday edition. “It could impact the rest of my career.”

Jackson told the paper that Seattle coach Brian Agler and Thibault were among those to come see her in Moscow, and that Phoenix coach Corey Gaines is coming in January. In total, Jackson said she’s spoken to “seven to eight” teams thus far.

“Look, I love Seattle and I love my coach there,” Jackson told the Telegraph. “He’s great. And so are my teammates obviously, so it’s a pretty big decision, something I’m not taking lightly at all. ... It’s not a financial decision. Not at all.”

In eight WNBA seasons, Jackson averaged 19.4 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. In 2007, the same year she earned her second MVP honor, she was also named the league’s top defensive player. In 2004, she helped lead the Storm to the WNBA championship.

Thibault spoke in November at a media luncheon about going after the league’s top free agents.

“The top players are going to make their decisions based upon their own personal goals,” the coach said. “If their goal is winning championships, they’re going to pick a team or narrow it to a couple teams that they feel like they can compete for championships every year. I think that’s something that we have to offer to a lot of free agents. ... I think in many cases the player has to have a pretty compelling reason to leave if they already play for a winning franchise.”

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Former MVP Jackson in Sun's sights

Mike Thibault and the Connecticut Sun are pursuing former Storm forward and free agent Lauren Jackson.

Even with a frontcourt that includes Asjha Jones, Tamika Whitmore and Sandrine Gruda, the Sun could incorporate the former MVP by moving Jones to the small forward position, giving them a varied and dangerous group of forwards. Of course, the Sun aren't the only team pursuing Jackson (Seattle obviously wants to bring her back and there isn't a team that wouldn't take her) and Jackson is still unsure if she will even come back to the WNBA this season.

My bet is she does. Jackson missed the last part of the 2008 season because of injury, but unless she re-injures herself playing in Russia, I think the draw of the competition in the WNBA is too much for an elite player to pass up, especially one still in the prime of her career (Jackson is 27). But at this point, it all remains speculation.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sun release schedule

The WNBA schedule is out. With the season starting nearly three weeks later than usual, the Sun open up at home against the Washington Mystics on Saturday, June 6, before traveling to New York to play the Liberty the next day. Connecticut started the season the same way this past summer, with a back-to-back home-and-home that included New York, and 10 of the team's first 16 games will be at home in 2009. Conversely, they close the year with five of seven on the road.

"We will get tested early, and closing the season with five or ouf last seven games on the road is a real challenge," Sun GM Chris Sienko said in a press release.

Eleven of Connecticut's 17 regular-season home games this season will be played on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, and six of those games feature an afternoon tip-off.

Among the highlights on the home schedule are games against defending Western Conference Champion San Antonio on June 21st, WNBA champion Detroit on July 11th and August 25th, Candace Parker and the Los Angeles Sparks on July 14th, Diana Taurasi and the Phoenix Mercury on July 28th and Sue Bird and the Seattle Storm on August 13th. The games against Los Angeles and Phoenix will be televised nationally by ESPN2.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Draft Lottery: Dream get first pick

The Atlanta Dream won the eighth annual WNBA Draft Lottery and earned the top pick in the 2009 WNBA Draft, the league announced today.

The Dream had a 42 percent chance to receive the first overall selection, and the lottery went exactly according to odds for the first time in WNBA history. The Washington Mystics, who just picked up Matee Ajavon in the Houston dispersal draft on Monday, will have the second pick in the draft followed by the Chicago Sky.

Atlanta and Washington also have two other first-round picks. Atlanta, which selected Camille Little first in the dispersal draft, owns the 13th pick from San Antonio thanks to the Ann Wauters-Camille Little trade, while thanks to the Trade of the Hyphenated Names (Taj McWilliams-Franklin for DeLisha Milton-Jones), Washington also has the ninth pick via the Los Angeles Sparks. It gives Atlanta even more choices to start building a franchise while Washington now has a great chance to retool its team around youth after a disappointing 2008 campaign.

Here's the full draft order, with the first five determined by the lottery:
(1) Atlanta
(2) Washington
(3) Chicago
(4) Minnesota
(5) Phoenix
(6) Indiana
(7) Sacramento
(8) New York
(9) Washington (from L.A.)
(10) Connecticut
(11) Detroit
(12) Seattle
(13) Atlanta (from San Antonio)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Dispersal Draft: Lyttle goes first, Sun pass

The Atlanta Dream added to their frontcourt Monday by taking Sancho Lyttle with the first pick of the WNBA dispersal draft of the Houston Comets. Washington, picking second, took Matee Ajavon, followed by Mistie Williams (Chicago Sky) at No. 3, Roneeka Hodges (Minnesota Lynx) at No. 4, and Sequoia Holmes (Phoenix Mercury) at No. 5.

The Sun, selecting 10th, passed on their pick, as did all of the final six teams with selections. Erica White (No. 6 to Indiana) and Renae Camino (No. 7 to Sacramento) were the final two players taken.

Atlanta needed help in the post, which Lyttle (8.2 points, 6.2 rebounds in 2008) should provide, though Ajavon was the most talented player available. Washington, which had a rotating door in its backcourt last year, gets a big boost in the former Rutgers star. Past that, the other selections should help their respective teams off the bench, at the most.

Atlanta also has the best chances of earning the No. 1 pick in the college draft when the draft lottery is held Tuesday.

"I'm very excited about it," Atlanta coach and GM Marynell Meadors said in a press release. "I think today and tomorrow can certainly be big days for the Atlanta Dream."

Here are the results in full for the dispersal draft:

1. Atlanta Dream: Sancho Lyttle (C)
2. Washington Mytics: Matee Ajavon (G)
3. Chicago Sky: Mistie Williams (F)
4. Minnesota Lynx: Roneeka Hodges (G)
5. Phoenix Mercury: Sequoia Holmes (G)
6. Indiana Fever: Erica White (G)
7. Sacramento Monarchs: Renae Camino (G)
8. New York Liberty: Pass
9. Los Angeles Sparks: Pass
10. Connecticut Sun: Pass
11. Detroit Shock: Pass
12. Seattle Storm: Pass
13. San Antonio Silver Stars: Pass

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sun likely to pass on pick in dispersal draft

The Connecticut Sun are likely to pass on their pick in today's WNBA dispersal draft of the Houston Comets, coach Mike Thibault said Sunday night.

The Sun own the 10th pick in the draft, slated to start at 1 p.m., but don't expect any players of real value to fall to them. Thibault said the team had explored trade options with teams near the top of the draft, but "there's nothing that fits on either side or that we can agree on," he added.

"We'll probably pass," Thibault said, adding the first four or five teams are likely to select players who are of real interest.

Players eligible to be drafted from Houston, which folded last week, include Matee Ajavon, Tamecka Dixon, Sancho Lyttle, Lucienne Berthieu, Renae Camino, Roneeka Hodges, Sequoia Holmes, Shannon Johnson, Polina Tzekova, Erica White and Mistie Williams.

Thibault said the team's focus this past week has been preparing for Dec. 15, the first day teams are allowed to talk to free agents. This year's class includes several big names, including Tina Thompson, Penny Taylor and former MVP, Lauren Jackson. Players are allowed to sign contracts beginning Jan. 5.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Starting a Legacy

Jamie Carey's coaching career is under way: The Sun guard's Legacy girls basketball team won its season opener. Said Carey of the 62-30 win over Bear Creek:

"I think we had 13 or 14 turnovers in the first half, you should have that for an entire game," said told the Broomfield Enterprise. "The other thing, we put them at the line too much — they had over 20 free throws in the second half."

Friday, December 5, 2008

Swanier link

The link to today's story on Ketia Swanier and her Ketia 4 Kidz foundation, which aims to raise awareness and funds for children of military personnel.

Swanier is home in Georgia to attend a ceremony tonight to retire her high school jersey in Columbus. Swanier and her father said its an event the school has been trying to put on since Swanier graduated, but UConn's schedule interfered each year. Unfortunately for Swanier, that meant she had to fly home from Poland, where she's playing overseas, only to get delayed heading into Chicago, where she spent the night on Wednesday. She sounded expectedly groggy when reached by phone Thursday. She has a busy schedule, too.

"I have another appointment in the morning, then I got down to Columbus and I’m actually going to the pep rally, which is going to be different and strange," she said. "I’m going to feel really old."

Then, there's the ceremony, as big an honor as a high school can give an alum.

"It’s a big honor, being able to have that done," Swanier said. "It really hasn’t hit home with me yet. We’ve been trying to do it for the past few years, but I’ve never had a chance to come home to do it. But they planned it for this year. It really hasn’t hit home yet."

Some things that didn't make it into today's story

(1) One of the motivating factors for Swanier to create her organization was her own experiences. While her family was stationed in Germany while she was younger, it was difficult to find the competition she needed to grow her game. She played in higher age groups, and even competed with a team made up of fellow 'Army brats' who traveled throughout Europe playing teams from other military installations, her father, Cornell, said.

When Swanier got older, she spent summers in Georgia playing her AAU ball, but making it all work with two parents in the Army never was easy.

"We tried to support and help her as much as possible," Cornell Swanier said. "And that’s what she wants to share with these other kids. You know, don’t settle for less."

(2) Swanier met with wounded soldiers and their families at the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., last month, an experience she called "very touching."

"There were soldiers my age and younger," she said. "Going to war, coming back with one leg, no legs, rehabbing, and I met some guys who still have a very positive attitude. One guy, he bikes with the bikes that have the hand pedals, and he does marathons. After seeing those guys, what can you complain about? I couldn’t imagine going to war right now, the age I am, and coming back with one leg. It changes your life."

(3) Swanier said she's mainly working on her shot in Poland, where she starts for Rybnik. Swanier, one of the Sun's two first-round picks last season, shot 27.7 percent from the field as a rookie. She plays alongside fellow American Kasha Terry and LaTangela Atkinson.

"It’s something you have to get used to," she said of playing overseas. "It’s playing basketball pretty much. It’s not as organized, but the team is real cool."

Swanier also had a little cold on Thursday.

"(The weather) is not that bad there, though honestly," she said. "It gets cold at night, but I’m fine walking. And that’s good for me because I don’t like cold weather."

(4) Swanier wore No. 21 in high school, her mother's number when she played. Ketia wears No. 11 for the Sun, as she did for UConn.

"But when she got to UConn, 21 was taken (by Nicole Wolff)," Cornell Swanier said. "So she said, ‘OK, I’ll get daddy’s number.’"

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Some draft particulars

So, here's the breakdown of Monday's dispersal draft (1 p.m., via conference call). In addition to the eight players mentioned previously as available from Houston's roster, teams can also select from those who are injured, suspended or draft list/reserved. The full list, which now balloons to 11, includes: Matee Ajavon, Lucienne Berthieu, Renae Camino, Tamecka Dixon, Roneeka Hodges, Sequoia Holmes, Shannon Johnson, Sancho Lyttle, Polina Tzekova, Erica White and Mistie Williams.

Mike Thibault was under the impression on Tuesday that there weren't enough players available for the Sun to even draft at the 10th pick. Now that there are, I still wouldn't be surprised if the Sun decline to use it, as they did in 2007 with the 13th pick in Charlotte's Dispersal Draft. (In the 2004 Dispersal Draft of the Cleveland Rockers, Connecticut traded that pick away for a second-round pick in the collegiate draft. Its trading partner: Houston.)

Then again, the Sun may also trade up, but that's still unclear at the moment.

The WNBA is also holding its draft lottery next week, scheduled for 3 p.m. on Tuesday. Teams eligible for the lottery include: Atlanta (4-30 last season), which owns a 42 percent chance of winning; Washington (10-24), which has a 26.1 percent chance; Chicago (12-22), 16.7 percent; Minnesota (16-18), 7.6 percent; and Phoenix (16-18), also 7.6 percent.

The remaining order of the first round is as such:
(6) Indiana
(7) Sacramento
(8) New York
(9) Los Angeles
(10) Connecticut
(11) Detroit
(12) Seattle
(13) San Antonio

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Comets, the dispersal draft, etc.

Here's the link to today's story on the Sun and the impact of the Comets folding. For now, the Sun hold the 10th pick in Monday's dispersal draft, but won't draft a player. (There are only eight in the available player pool.)

But Sun coach Mike Thibault is considering moving up to get one of the top picks, though it's still in the discussion stages at the moment. Outside of the free agents this situation creates -- namely Tina Thompson and Michelle Snow -- the person of most interest in the dispersal draft is guard Matee Ajavon, following by forward Sancho Lyttle. If Thibault can't move within the "top few picks," he said, it wouldn't even be worth making a trade of some sort.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Ketia4Kids on the move

Sun guard and former UConn star Ketia Swanier and her foundation, Ketia4Kidz, has recently partnered with A Journey of a Thousand Thanks, which is a walk across the country in support of the troops done by Keela Carr. Proceeds from the walk, which begins next May, will be split up between the Ketia4Kidz Foundation and the National Veterans Homeless Support Organization.

Swanier will be back in the States later this week (from Dec. 4-6) from Poland, where she is playing for Rybnik. Ketia4Kidz was created in August of this past year and is a non-profit organization geared toward giving back to children of military families, which Swanier is. Here's a little more on the foundation.

Houston disbanding, leaving WNBA with 13 teams

The WNBA has decided to shut down the Houston Comets, ending the run of a once proud franchise. A formal announcement will be made Tuesday.

WNBA president Donna Orender told the Associated Press -- and has said throughout the last two years -- that the league has never been stronger, and that Houston's failure isn't a sign of things to come for the rest of the league's 13 teams.

How does this affect the Sun and the rest of the league? There will be a dispersal draft on Monday (Dec. 8) for players signed to contracts with Houston. That doesn't include some of the team's biggest stars who are free agents, including Tina Thompson, Michelle Snow, Latasha Byears, Mwadi Mabika and Hamchetou Maiga-Ba. It also tips the balance of the league, as the East now has seven teams compared to the West's six. Two years ago, it was the exact opposite following Charlotte's shut-down and before the creation of the Atlanta Dream.