Friday, May 9, 2008

Final tune-up

The Sun and the Houston Comets tip off in about 40 minutes here at the Mohegan Sun Arena, Connecticut's final preseason game. With 12 players in camp, this is the last in-game tryout several hopefuls will have before the team takes a retreat to Boston for three days to practice with cuts to follow later next week before the regular-season opener against Atlanta on May 17.

At the moment, 10 players seem like or are locks for the team: G Lindsay Whalen, G Evina Maltsi (yet to arrive), G Ketia Swanier, G Jamie Carey (hurt at the moment, strained Achilles), G/F Amber Holt, G/F Barbara Turner, F Asjha Jones (yet to arrive), F Sandrine Gruda (yet to arrive), F Tamika Whitmore, and F Tamika Raymond.

Erin Phillips won't be in Connecticut until after the Olympic break and remains "suspended," meaning she counts against the cap in terms of dollars but not as far as numbers.

Kamesha Hairston is currently injured, and under the old Collective Bargaining Agreement (which her rookie contract falls under), she'll remain on the team as long as she isn't playing. Once she is eligible to return, the Sun can opt to cut her, though at this point it's hard to tell which way they go considering they invested a first-round draft pick in her last season and thought of her pretty highly entering the season. Hairston, who underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus today, is slated to return within two to three weeks.

So, that in turn, leaves four players fighting for two spots: Danielle Page, Jolene Anderson, Kerri Gardin and Cori Chambers. Page, despite a very strong training camp, is at a disadvantage because her position (power forward) is probably the deepest on the team. Chambers is the only returner among the group, but has seemed slightly overshadowed by her other competitors. That said, the Sun will need another true off-guard (Maltsi is the other one), and Chambers will have another opportunity to prove herself tonight. She is starting alongside Whalen (her first preseason game), Holt, Raymond and Whitmore (making her Sun debut).

Gardin has had a strong camp thus far, and Sun coach Mike Thibault likes her athleticism and her defense. Anderson, though short at 5-foot-8, has also impressed with her shooting and rebounding. Thibault touted this as a competitive camp, and it seems at least someone worthy of spot won't make a cut.

As for tonight, here are Houston's starters: G Matee Ajavon (rookie out of Rutgers), Ercia White (rookie out of LSU), Mwadi Mabika (an 11 year-pro), Latasha Byears (a nine-year pro) and Marcedes Walker (rookie out of Pitt).

Some notes left-over from the week: Tamika Whitmore had quite the time making it to Connecticut, but here are some details that didn't make it into the story.

Always an intriguing personality, Whitmore owns five cars: a Tahoe, which she drove to Connecticut, with 22-inch rims, "a turbo-charger, a few good sounding pipes, an air intake," among other things; a 1977 Nova, a 1980 CJ5 Jeep Wrangler, an El Camino, and an Avalanche, though she's selling the Avalanche to her older sister. She also a French bulldog named Buddha who stayed with her mother while she played overseas in the Czech Republic.

"I took him out for about an hour, ran with him a little bit," Whitmore said of her routine Wednesday morning. "(My mother), she made him a little fat. I have to make him a little skinny again."

Whitmore weighed in on several other things, including her newest team.

"People say sometimes you need a change and I just think Connecticut needed a change, and they chose to bring me in," she said. "They actually chose to almost redo the whole team. There's only one way to go from here. You can't go down. We gotta prove everybody wrong."

Whitmore is also expected to be a leader by example. Whalen, Jones and Raymond will carry more of the vocal burden.

"I've never been the type of player that's too vocal about anything," Whitmore said. "I just feel like if everybody comes in, do what you're supposed to do day in and day out, there's nothing else to be said."

Check back here around 8 p.m. for a halftime update.

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