Monday, April 28, 2008

Sun cut three

The Connecticut Sun pared down its training camp roster Monday, one day before the WNBA-imposed deadline. The team cut three players to bring its total to 14, one below the league maximum.

The Sun waived free agents Laura Hall, Jessica Richter and Crystal Erwin, all of whom were considered long shots to make the team after signing training camp rosters.

Hall is a 5-foot-6 guard out of Tennessee-Chattanooga, Richter a 5-foot-10 guard from Vanguard and Erwin a 6-foot-2 forward who played for Notre Dame. The Sun open their preseason at Minnesota Thursday at Noon.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Links and insight on Amber Holt

I've been a little behind on this day the last few days, but here's the Bulletin's training camp coverage thus far (listed with dates):

Friday: Rookie Holt is soft-spoken, hard-nosed
Friday: Camp invitee Page impressing Sun coaches
Thursday: 'Old' rookie Gahan looks for home with Sun
Wednesday: Revitalized Raymond has second chance in Connecticut
Tuesday: Once 'stale,' Sun start anew in training camp
Tuesday: Quest to replace Douglas begins in camp

Some more on Holt: I asked every member of the Sun coaching staff about how the first-round draft pick compares to Nykesha Sales, who she may replace in the team's starting lineup, and they were decidedly split, though they did acknowledge there are some similarities there. Watching her the last couple days in practice, she just seems to move like Nykesha; she has the ability to play tough down low and takes contact much like the former UConn star did. She's versatile like Sales, though at this point, she doesn't have the range that Sales has. That said, Holt may be able to play more positions because of her experience both playing the point in junior college and the power forward position at Middle Tennessee State. Here' a few takes on Holt:

Sun coach Mike Thibault: (On her compared to Sales) She does (have similarities). She’s similar-sized, maybe a little stronger through the shoulders. Keesha had better shooting range at the same age. But they’re about the same height. Amber may be a tad bigger, but not much. She may be a little bit more of a post player than Keesha was.

But I have huge expectations for her (Holt) defensively. I think she knew this when she got drafted. She prides herself on her defense. Here’s a kid that drew 80-something charges in two years of college basketball. That’s really hard to do, especially when you consider she played a lot of minutes and was the leading scorer of her team. That’s doing a lot on both ends. ... She understands getting up and playing people.

(On conversations he's had with Holt) I talked to her before we drafted here, we interviewed her and told her what we expect and what we’re looking for. And I talked to her when she got her. Not anything lengthy. I expect the same thing from all of them: good defense, great effort, run the floor, let the offense, don’t force things and for the most part, she’s done that.

Sun assistant coach Scott Hawk: We knew that she was a very good defensive player, we knew that she was a good rebounder for her position. So we expected her to be those things. We’re not surprised that she’s good defensively, we’re not surprised that she rebounds the ball well. And it’s consistent what she’s shown her last two years of college.

(Are there similarities between with her and Sales) I don’t see it. If that’s what you see, I understand. I don’t see that stuff because you’re talking about a young kid. You’re not talked about a kid with the body of work that Nykesha does. Because by the time I got to work with Keesh, she was a seasoned veteran and had a accomplished so many things already.

But no, she’s Amber.

Whatever wings player you have, there are certain things you expect as far as being able to shoot the ball with some range and being able to handle it a little bit. But again, you play to everybody’s strengths. Amber’s Amber. She’s not Keesh. Obviously there will be a lot of similarities that will occur because of the area of the floor they play on. But Coach Thibault’s very good at identifying your strengths and getting you to places on the floor where you can really take advantage of those. And that’s what he’ll do with Amber.

Sun assistant Bernadette Mattox: (On Holt's adjustment to team and pro level thus far) The thing is, she’s learning our system, our style, so therefore, that part slows her down or anybody, just learning and thinking a lot. She’s everything we’ve expected at this point.

She may not take an opportunity that she did in college because she knows, ‘Oh, I have that opening.’ Here, she has to kind of look at first, and by then, it’s gone.

(On similarities to Sales) I think the strength of the lower body (is similar). But I think she was asked to do more in college than Keesh because Keesh was probably surrounded by a little bit better players. So she can play a few more positions than Keesh can. I mean, she played point guard in high school. That’s why she’s so comfortable handling the basketball.

When I asked Holt herself if she saw similarities between her game and Sales, she laughed, saying, "That's a first."

"That’s your opinion," she said, before thinking about it for a moment. "A little bit. I can, just a little bit."

Note: The coaches saw Holt play in person as many as four times this past season alone, with Thibault taking in her performances against LSU and Maryland, Hawk also in Maryland and Mattox watching in games against Tennessee and Western Kentucky. Here's a rundown of what she took from the Tennessee game, in which Holt netted 28 points:

She had to guard(Candace) Parker a few times because her post player got in foul trouble a little bit … and she held her own. They put (Alexis) Hornbuckle on her early and they had to get her off. She did a good job on her. Amber still well against those big teams. And that’s what you want to see because at this level, those are the players she’s going to be going against every day. She showed that she belonged.

Keys for Holt in training will be to extend her range beyond the 3-point line (she made 20 as a senior) while also continuing to improve her ball-handling, which is good at this point for a post-player. Holt also counted defense as something to improve upon, though the Sun coaches raved about that part of her game and under Middle Tennessee State coach Rick Insell, she has experience playing in an up-tempo, pressure-oriented defense.

Also, a final note on Holt I wish I got into the story but didn't have room for was her on-court demeanor. Holt touched upon it herself ("all about business") but Tamika Raymond may have described it best.

"Her face," Raymond said, as she slowly swiped her hand in front of her nose, displaying an unchanging expression the whole time. "All I want to see is if someone can knock her out or do something because that kid is stone-faced. And that’s good for a rookie."

Monday, April 21, 2008

Dydek gives birth to a boy

Congrats to former Connecticut Sun center Margo Dydek, who has given birth to her first child. Here's a photo of Dydek and her son, David Jr., courtesy of the Sun Web site.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sun add to guard competition

The Sun have invited another guard to training camp. University of Tennessee at Chattanooga guard Laura Hall will vie for a roster spot when camp opens on Sunday, though she hasn't officially signed a contract yet, Sun coach Mike Thibault said.

The name may sound vaguely familiar to Connecticut fans who visited the Arena at Harbor Yard last month. Hall scored 19 points in her team's final game, an NCAA tournament loss to Kansas State in Bridgeport on March 23.

Thibault called Hall Monday afternoon with the offer.

"It did not take long at all for me to say yes to that," Hall told the Chattanooga Times Free Press Monday night. "It was just a shock. I thought there was a possibility my career was done ... but at the same time thought maybe I could play somewhere, maybe overseas."

Hall scored 7.8 points per game this past season, but came on strong late to average 16.4 points in her final five games.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A few links

Here are the links to the stories that ran today and will run in tomorrow's Bulletin.

(1) WNBA Draft recap
(2) UConn: Swanier goes to Sun, Houston to Lynx (by Joe Perez)
(3) Draft lacks surprises, drama

And today's ...

(1) With additions, Sun retool more than reload for 2008

Sun Gm Chris Sienko the team is largely in place with training camp now nine days away. Connecticut may add another non-drafted college player before hand, but for right now, here is the team's roster in full (including players signed to training camp contracts):

Jolene Anderson (G)
Natalie Berglin (G)
Jamie Carey (G)
Cori Chambers (G)
Lauren Ervin (F)
Jessica Foley (G)
Tracy Gahan (G)
Kerri Gardin (F)
Sandrine Gruda (C)
Kamesha Hairston (F)
Amber Holt (F)
Asjha Jones (F)
Evanthia Maltsi (G/F)
Tamika Raymond (F)
Ketia Swanier (G)
Barbara Turner (G/F)
Lindsay Whalen (G)
Tamika Whitmore (F)

If I had to guess right now who the starting lineup would be, I would go with the following: PG Lindsay Whalen, SG Kamesha Hairston, SF Asjha Jones, PF Tamika Whitmore, C Sandrine Gruda. Of course, a lot can happen between now and training camp, and this is obviously a big lineup. You could put Holt in there as well, perhaps in place of Hairston or Gruda, with Whitmore and Asjha Jones comprising the frontcourt.

Also, single-game tickets went on sale Thursday. Call 1-877-SUN-TIXXX or go to the Sun's Web site.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Charde Houston taken

The Minnesota Lynx took UConn senior Charde Houston with the 30th overall pick (third round) of the WNBA Draft. Houston was on hand for the draft in Palm Harbor, Fla. She joins Candice Wiggins as a Lynx 2008 selection.

When asked by Rebecca Lobo how she would answer questions of her inconsistent play during her senior season, Houston said, "Be consistent and I'm ready to work." Houston may get a good shot in Minnesota, which needs forwards more than anything.

Sun take Wisconsin's Anderson in second round

With the 23rd pick in the draft, the Sun took Wisconsin's Jolene Anderson, a 5-foot-8 guard that averaged 19.9 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists this past season while earning All-America finalist honors.

Second round

The next round is set to begin. The Sun have the ninth pick here (23rd overall). Check back within the hour for reaction on that selection.

Pick No. 14: Erlana Larkins, to New York

The UNC forward wasn't expected to fall this far, but as Mike Thibault pointed out on Tuesday, there will be a lot of good frontcourt players that go later than a lot of people thought.

Pick No. 13: LaToya Pringle, to Phoenix

Pringle was another one who saw her stock rise late in the season, and the UNC senior should give the defending champs some great depth.

Pick No. 12: Ketia Swanier, to Connecticut

Wow. This was a surprise. A lot of coaches and analysts said Swanier had a chance of going first round, but I didn't see this coming. This now gives the Sun a bevy of former Huskies, including Asjha Jones, Tamika Raymond, Barbara Turner and now Swanier. Swanier, who elevated her stock 10-fold through the NCAA tournament, will most likely back up Lindsay Whalen, in turn sharing time with Jamie Carey if she proves capable. If that's the rotation, it should change come late August with the return of Erin Phillips.

The Sun are up again

The Sun may go with a frontcourt player here, perhaps for trade bait with Minnesota. ESPN just showed a shot of Erlana Larkins. She could go right now.

Pick No. 11: Tasha Humphrey, to Detroit

The 6-foot-4 Georgia star is strong inside, can pass and shoot outside. In other drafts, Humphrey might have went earlier. So far, the Shock's first two picks are good ones.

Pick No. 10: Laura Harper, to Sacramento

The 6-foot-4 Maryland forward gives the Monarchs some size and should be a nice addition along side Nicole Powell and Rebekkah Brunson.

Pick No. 9: Amber Holt, to Connecticut

The Sun may have reached a little on this one; Holt probably would have been available at No. 12. But the 6-foot-1 Holt is a great scorer (her 27.3 points per game led the country) and fills the Sun's most obvious need. She also grabbed eight rebounds a game this past season.

Burke point

Doris Burke just pointed out the Sun may go with a forward and try to trade with Minnesota for Candice Wiggins, which makes sense. The Lynx and Sun were in discussions prior to the draft for the No. 3 pick, though nothing materialized.

Pick No. 8: Tamara Young, to Atlanta

The James Madison product helped her stock a great deal in the pre-draft camp and gives Atlanta a guard it needs. This is probably the first surprising pick of the draft. More importantly, it puts the Sun on the clock and need of a guard or guard/forward combo. Tasha Humphrey makes sense, though it could go for someone like North Carolina's Erlana Larkins, who's a forward but it probably the best player available.

Boy, don't I look stupid

I wrote a story today discussing the WNBA's movement away from putting importance on drafting local players, now with popularity at an all-time high and fans coming just to see good basketball. Then, Washington take Langhorne and New York goes for Carson. In my defense though, it's more a coincidence that the best player on the board happened to play her college ball nearby.

Pick No. 7: Essence Carson, to New York

This is bad news for the Sun. With New York's selection of the Rutgers defensive star, there really isn't a top-flight guard available. They may go for best player available, which at this point will be a frontcourt player like Laura Harper, Tasha Humphrey or LaToya Pringle. Then again, someone like Humphrey may go next to Atlanta.

Pick No. 6: Crystal Langhorne, to Washington

The Maryland star stays close to home, and will have to make up for a lack of size in the WNBA. She is a great finisher though and has been one of most efficient forwards in the country the last few seasons. Washington could have went for a guard help to replace Nikki Teasley (pregnancy), but instead went for frontcourt help. This is good for the Sun, who are hoping a guard like Essence Carson falls to them.

Pick No. 5: Matee Ajavon, to Houston

The Comets need a guard with scoring potential and the Rutgers point fills that. The ESPN analysts keep talking about replacing Sheryl Swoopes, who's now with Seattle, but Swoopes hardly even played last season (she saw action in just three games). But Ajavon should provide a nice balance to Tina Thompson and Michelle Snow in the frontcourt.

Pick No. 4: Alexis Hornbuckle, to Detroit

The Shock filled their need for a guard, taking the versatile Tennessee guard. Hornbuckle can play defense, rebound a little bit and she has proven she can score when needed. And she just looks like her typical Detroit player -- tough, hard-nosed. So far, none of these picks are surprising.

Pick No. 3: Candice Wiggins, to Minnesota

The Lynx didn't find the right deal to trade away the No. 3 pick, instead choosing to take the Stanford guard. It'll be interesting to see what Minnesota chooses to do with Wiggins. The team already features a crowded backcourt of Seimone Augustus, Lindsey Harding and Noelle Quinn. It could possibly deal her for frontcourt help.

Pick No. 2: Sylvia Fowles, to Chicago

The Chicago Sky made the LSU star the draft's second pick, not surprisingly. Chicago coach Steve Key has said Fowles' defensive game should translate immediately to the pro level, though she'll have to improve her patience and foot work on the offensive end.

A note on Parker

L.A., besides the marketing potential she'll receive there, should be a great fit for Candace Parker, both on the court (with Lisa Leslie and Taj McWilliams-Franklin, that's a intimidating frontcourt) and off. Parker's fiance' Sheldon Williams plays for the Sacramento Kings.

Pick No. 1: Candace Parker, to L.A.

Not surprisingly, the L.A. Sparks made Candace Parker the first selection in the 2008 WNBA Draft. I saw Parker in person with the U.S. national team last November, and she's as good as advertised. That night against a watered-down Australia lineup, she dominated and was by far the best player on the floor. L.A. should have a great bounce-back year this season.

L.A. on the clock

WNBA president Donna Orender just put the L.A. Sparks on the clock. They are expectted to Tennessee's Candace Parker. ESPN2 also has a camera in the Connecticut Sun war room. They just showed a view of coach Mike Thibault, GM Chris Sienko and assistant coach Bernadette Mattox.

Return of the Blog ... and Draft

Welcome back to the Norwich Bulletin Connecticut Sun blog! Apologies to those who have searched for it during the offseason. It was disabled from our Web site, but with the unofficial kick-off to the season today in the WNBA Draft, we're back rolling.

First, some basics about today's Draft. Round One is being broadcast on ESPN2 with the following rounds on ESPNU or NBA TV. If you haven't seen it in full yet, here's the complete draft order, starting with round one.

First Round:
1 Los Angeles Sparks
2 Chicago Sky
3 Minnesota Lynx
4 Detroit Shock (from Atlanta via Seattle)
5 Houston Comets
6 Washington Mystics
7 New York Liberty
8 Atlanta Dream
9 Connecticut Sun
10 Sacramento Monarchs
11 Detroit Shock (from San Antonio)
12 Connecticut Sun (from Indiana)
13 Phoenix Mercury
14 New York Liberty (from Detroit)

Second Round:
15 Los Angeles Sparks
16 Minnesota Lynx
17 Houston Comets
18 Detroit Shock (from Atlanta Dream)
19 Chicago Sky
20 Washington Mystics
21 San Antonio Silver Stars (from New York)
22 Seattle Storm
23 Connecticut Sun
24 Atlanta Dream (from Indiana Fever)
25 Phoenix Mercury (from San Antonio)
26 Indiana Fever
27 New York Liberty (from Phoenix)
28 Detroit Shock

Third Round
29 Los Angeles Sparks
30 Minnesota Lynx
31 Houston Comets
32 Atlanta Dream
33 Chicago Sky
34 Washington Mystics
35 New York Liberty
36 Seattle Storm
37 Connecticut Sun
38 Sacramento Monarchs
39 San Antonio Silver Stars
40 Sacramento Monarchs (from Indiana)
41 Phoenix Mercury
42 Detroit Shock
43 Sacramento Monarchs*

(* Sacramento has been granted an additional third-round pick by the league)

I'll have blog posts for every first-round pick and into the second and third, focusing mainly on the Sun's picks.

As illustrated in today's story, Connecticut needs guards. With the addition of the Tamikas (Whitmore and Raymond), Sandrine Gruda and Barbara Turner to a frontcourt that already includes All-Star Asjha Jones, the team needs to find replacements for Katie Douglas (traded to Indiana), Nykesha Sales (sitting out season) and for the first portion of the season, Erin Phillips, who'll return following the Olympic break. Lindsay Whalen signed a three-year contract this offseason and is expected to continue her All-star level play, but considering who the Sun get in the draft, they're expecting some competition around here, with Kamesha Hairston and Evina Maltsi also vying for increased roles.

Some key names to know, who the Sun may have a chance at getting (I'm not including Candice Wiggins here, for she'll be long gone by the time the Sun pick:
(1) Tennessee guard Alexis Hornbuckle: A good defender who showed an ability to hit huge shots in the NCAA tournament; the Sun would be lucky if she falls to them.
(2) Rutgers guard Matee Ajavon: a physical guard expected to show more offensive explosion at the pro level; like Hornbuckle, it'll be a surprise if she drops to the No. 9 pick.
(3) Rutgers guard/forward Essence Carson: The Big East's best defensive player the last three years, like Ajavon, Carson may have more offensive skill than the Rutgers system allowed her to show. It's a chance the Sun could take as they need to replace roughly 30 points per game with the departures of Douglas and Sales.
(4) Middle Tennessee State guard Amber Holt: A gifted scorer who averaged 27.2 points per game in the Sun Belt last season. As with all small-conference prospects, it's difficult to tell how that will translate to the pros, but she should be available at either No. 9 or 12 if the Sun want to roll the dice.
(5) James Madison guard Tamera Young: Chicago coach Steve Key said she created some of the biggest buzz at the pre-draft camp, that every coach took those workouts with a grain a salt as many of the top prospects (as many as 10 first-round picks) didn't attend.
(6) Others to look for: Notre Dame's Charel Allen, UConn's Ketia Swanier, Utah's Leilani Mitchell, Baylor's Angela Tisdale and LSU's Erica White.

The draft is expected to get underway in the next few minutes so check back here throughout the next two hours for updates.