Monday, May 26, 2008

Douglas, Gruda, 4-0? ... All on national TV

There are a lot of sublets surrounding Tuesday's Indiana Fever-Connecticut Sun (7 p.m., ESPN2). For one, two-time All-WNBA selection Katie Douglas is making her return to Connecticut after she asked for (and was granted) an offseason trade to the Fever back in February. Two, rookie Sandrine Gruda is set to make her long-awaited debut in a Sun jersey more than 13 months after she was drafted in the first round of the WNBA draft. Also, with a win over one of their biggest rivals, the Sun would move to 4-0 for the first time as a franchise.

Douglas met with members of the media Monday before Indiana's practice at Connecticut College. She spent five years in Connecticut, where she grew into one of the league's most complete guards.

"Honestly, I haven’t thought too much about it," she said of her return to Connecticut. "I don’t think the scheduling has allowed me to. It’s just been honestly a whirlwind since I got back into the states and into Indiana. I got there 24 hours before the (first) game, so it’s kind of been a constant thing and me getting acclimated to a new thing and getting adjusted and learn everything. So I really didn’t even look at this game on the schedule. It so happened to be the third game and I’m obviously here now, here for business."

Still, Douglas admitted it would be strange to return to Mohegan Sun Arena for the first time as a visitor. She said she still keeps in contact with her old teammates, Lindsay Whalen and Asjha Jones especially, and following her interview, greeted Whalen with a hug.

In deciding to ask for the trade, Douglas said "did a lot of soul searching ... at the end of last season," though following the Sun's first-round loss to Indiana in last year's playoffs, she sounded intent on returning.

"In the locker room I just wanted to get out and play another game and have another opportunity to put our team in a position to go to the Eastern Conference finals," she said. "And that’s just the competitor in me. But after you take a step back and kind of evaluate things and the situation and circumstances, you kind of have to go come up with a decision based on not only myself but my family, my husband and I. But I’ve stated all along that Connecticut is a first-class organization."

Jones agreed it will be different playing against Douglas for the first time in four years.

"It’s going to be great to see her, I haven’t seen her in a long time, hang out with her," Jones said. "But on the court, it’s going to be the same thing for her — it’s going to be business on the court. And afterward, we’ll have fun and hang out."

As for Gruda, who at 20 years old has already established herself as a star overseas, she spent parts of her first practice with the Sun watching and practicing. During the time the media was allowed to watch practice, she showed flashes of aggressiveness down low and an ability to utilize her long, 6-foot-4 frame.

A native of Cannes, France, Gruda speaks very good English, and has already studied up on her playbook. She came into practice with already 10 plays down, Thibault said, and is expected to fit in well, both in terms of ability and personality.

"Good first day," Sun coach Mike Thibault said. "She’s a quick learner. We threw a lot stuff at her yesterday and today, and I know she studied the playbook because she came back in and Coach Hawk was starting to explain something to her and she said, ‘That’s such and such.’ It means she already read it all last night, so that was good. It’s going to take a while for her to see things as they happen on the court. That’s why when she’s in the game, we’re going try to keep the offense really simple."

Said Jones, who played with Gruda overseas for Russian power UMMC Ekaterinburg: "She’s kind of like all of us. She has the side of her that’s pretty loud and excitable. She has her side where she’s more high-energy. Then she has her side that’s more quiet. I think that’s what everybody is seeing her right now. Everything is really new to her."

Gruda will provide with the Sun with the height they need. They're the smallest team in the league without her, and while Thibault said she needs to improve her strength and footwork, she's been praised by coaches and players alike for her rebounding and defense. She also the ability to step out for 12- to 15-foot jump shots, though she needed some encouragement to improvise within the Sun's system Monday.

"I don’t have any expectations, just come in and play," she said. "If I can’t bring a lot of stuff to this (team), I wouldn’t be here. I just hope we’re going to (go) really far in the playoffs, win the championship. That’s my goal. I can’t put my goal really low. I’m a competitor, you know what I mean? I’m here to win. I’m here to win."

Check out the links to both full stories to the right. As for a closer look at the actual match-up between the Fever and Sun -- it's gotten kind of lost in the other story lines -- here is the scout box for Tuesday's game:

7 p.m., today
Mohegan Sun Arena, Mohegan

Records: Connecticut 3-0; Indiana 1-1.
Last game: Connecticut beat Sacramento, 87-64, on Saturday; Indiana lost to Indiana, 76-71, on Wednesday.
Next game: Connecticut hosts New York Friday; Indiana hosts Los Angeles Thursday.
TV/Radio/Internet: ESPN2/WNLC (98.7 FM)/
Series: The Sun lead the all-times series between the two teams, 22-11, and are 11-5 all-time against the Fever at home.
Injuries: Connecticut—Kamesha Hairston (out, recovering from surgery to repair torn meniscus). Indiana—Tamika Catchings (out, recovering from surgery to repair torn Achilles’ tendon).
Scouting report: Still rehabbing after undergoing offseason surgery to repair a torn Achilles’ tendon, Fever forward Tamika Catchings appears unlikely to play tonight, and there is still no set date for her return, according to report Monday in the Indianapolis Star. Asked if he expected to see the perennial All-Star on the court, Sun coach Mike Thibault said, “I doubt it. But you never know.” ... Though still far too early to determine trends, the young season has shown that Indiana still projects to be among the league’s best defensive teams. It’s allowed a combined 129 points in two games (a league-leading 64.5 per game) and owns the league’s top rebound percentage (79.3). “We’re obviously trying to keep our identity with defense and rebounding,” Katie Douglas said. “I think that can always be a constant for our identity and our team, and I think we’re also looking to push the ball a little bit more and be a little more aggressive.” ... Asjha Jones has scored in double figures in each of her last 13 games dating back to last season. The streak ties her for fifth all-time in team history. ... Douglas and Tan White have established themselves as the focal points of the Fever’s offense. They’re the only players averaging in double figures, and together, their 56 attempts make up more than 49 percent of the teams’ total shots through two games. Indiana has also used more pick-and-rolls this season, which better suit both Douglas and White’s abilities. ... The Sun have hit 13 and 10 3s in their last two games, respectively, marking only the second time in their history they’ve hit 10 or more in consecutive games. They also lead the league in points per game (88.0) and are tied for second in total assists (70).

13 G Lindsay Whalen (16.0 ppg)
1 G Amber Holt (7.7)
41 F Kerri Gardin (4.7)
15 F Asjha Jones (15.3)
00 C Tamika Whitmore (16.7)

Connecticut reserves
22 Barbara Turner (10.7)
33 Jolene Anderson (9.0)
10 Jamie Carey (4.0)

41 G Tully Bevilaqua (4.0)
23 G Katie Douglas (25.0)
15 F Tan White (12.0)
32 F Ebony Hoffman (5.0)
8 C Tammy Sutton-Brown (6.0)

Indiana reserves
42 Alison Bales (6.0)
10 LaToya Bond (4.5)
1 Khadijah Whittington (3.0)


James said...

Bernadette Ngoyisa was just picked up by the Fever. This is going to make tonight's game very interesting.

Matt Stout said...

James, thanks for the feedback. Check the latest post for the press release and reaction on Ngoyisa's arrival.