Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Whalen here, Whitmore needed spare

Lindsay Whalen made her first appearance with the Sun Tuesday, participating in an open practice at St. Joseph College. The 5-foot-9 point guard, starting her fifth season with Connecticut, arrived in Connecticut earlier Tuesday afternoon, took a physical and then jumped on the team bus bound for West Hartford

Whalen signed a new three-year deal with Connecticut on the first day of the free agency period this offseason and is largely regarded as the face of the franchise now with Katie Douglas and Nykesha Sales gone. She and Asjha Jones are the only returning starters from last year's squad, though Whalen is the longest tenured player on the team.

Simply put, the Sun were glad to have her.

"I think she's one of the best players in our league," coach Mike Thibault said. "You build around great point guards. You look at the NBA and how that's dominating good teams or a playmaker of some sort. You have to have someone who can make everybody else better and can contribute themselves, and she obviously she does felt.

"She doesn't even know half our plays ye," he continued. "She's kind of figuring 'em out as she goes. She's seen them, but she hasn't really run them. So for the first day, all the players that haven't played with her are like, 'Ooh. This is pretty good.' The whole level of training camp goes up the minute she's on the floor."

Tamika Whitmore, who also added to the active roster, wasn't in attendance. On her drive up from Mississippi, she got a flat tire and had to wait for several hours in Washington, D.C., to get a new tire. She was scheduled to get in Connecticut by morning. She instead got to her apartment sometime around 6 p.m. and spent the night resting at home. Thibault said she'll practice Wednesday with the team.

"She's here, that's all I care about," Thibault said.

As for Whalen, she was visibly drained following the hour-and-a-half workout and the jeflag and the 4 a.m. wake-up, but appeared as quick and confident on the court as she was last season for the Sun when she set a career-best average in scoring (13.4 points) and led the WNBA in assists (169).

"They're really fast," Whalen said of the players in camp. "I had put on the jets a few times today to keep up."

Here is Whalen's take on few topics for the upcoming season:

(On the trade of Katie Douglas) "I didn't really have any idea. When I had first heard, I didn't know going into the offseason that that was something that might happen. When you leave here and go overseas, you kind of switch gears. You still keep in touch with everybody but you're not in the day-to-day talk with the team and the coaches, so you wouldn't really know until somebody tells you.

"I was kind of surprised. I didn't know that was coming. I knew already with Margo( Dydek) being out (with her pregnancy), I knew there were going to be some changes. …So you could kind of tell there were going to be some changes, like every year, but I wasn't really expecting going into the offseason the amount of changes we were going to have. But that's the way it is. I try to come in with a great attitude and do what I can to try to help everything."

(On excitement of all that change) "There's definitely a lot of excitement, a lot of young players here, lots of people trying to make the team. There's definitely that good, young, right-out-of-college energy that's really cool. I went to the practice in Minnesota last week and then I went to the game, and you can feel the energy.

"It was kind of funny walking on the bus today, I kind of felt like I was the one (that was new). I knew like Tamika (Raymond) and Barbara (Turner) and obviously Cori (Chambers), Kamesha (Hairston) and Jamie (Carey) from last year. And I knew the coaches and Bill (Tavares) and Bill Tinnel. But it kind felt like coming on that I was one of the new kids. I was like, 'This is my fifth year here, I'm the one who has been here the longest.' It was kind of a funny feeling but everyone I met of the new girls has been great and I know they're really excited. I'm excited."

(On her and Asjha Jones being the only returning starters left) "Me and her now can kind of take the reins and be the veteran leaders of the team. I know I'm going to do that to my fullest and Asjha, too. We're the two starters now from last year and we're going to try to continue to bring everybody else along."

(On being the face of the franchise) "I think that's something that I definitely want to embrace. I'm going to try to be a good leader, a good role model. If I'm put in that position, that's an honor and do what I can to fulfill that role. I haven't really thought about that a whole lot. I knew that as one of the ones coming back that people kind of look at you as a familiar face. "

Hairston injury update
As Kamesha Hairston feared, the pain in her right knee is due to a torn lateral mensicus, an MRI revealed, and she will undergo arthoscopic surgery on Friday (or Monday, if scheduling conflicts). She is expected to only miss two to three weeks, however, and will start working the Sun's physical therapy staff as soon as 24 hours after the procedure.

"You can get back pretty aggressively," said Jeremy Norman, the Sun's head athletic trainer. "You can start doing exercises within 24 hours after the scope. The procedure can be 20 or 30 minutes. In and out and rehab right away. "

Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Hairston can't be cut while rehabbing and will remain with the team "at least for a while," Thibault said. "We don't have a choice anyway regardless (to keep her)."

In turn, it essentially means there is one fewer spot for players like Jess Foley, Danielle Page, Kerri Gardin, and Tracy Gahan, among others, to compete for.

"It depends on how you look at it — 'Have to' is a relative word," Thibault said. "We get to (keep her) also. She might be in our top 10 players, so we have to wait. It makes my decision come later than I want it to come."

Late arrivals
As for other players who are not in camp at the moment, Asjha Jones (currently playing for UMMC Ekaterinburg) may return early next week, depending on how her series in the Russian League pans out. The five-game playoffs can run as late as May 13, but with a sweep (Thibault believes Jones' team should), the All-star forward can make it to Connecticut by Sunday, Monday or Tuesday. Her Ekaterinburg teammate and Sun rookie Sandrine Gruda, however, won't join the team until after the first two games of the season, Thibault said.

"She has an appointment in Paris at the consulate next week to get her work visa and then we're sending her home," Thibault said. "She hasn't been home in I don't know how long. I need her at the end of the year. I don't need her at the start. We'll work her in gradually."

Thibault gave target dates for her arrival at May 21 or 22, "maybe even a day or two beyond that," he said.

Evina Maltsi may make it in time for the first game, but Thibault said the 20th is more likely. She also has issues to take care of back home in Greece, including meeting the government to discuss her responsibilities with the national team.

It all leaves the Sun with several decisions to make even after they "set" their roster for the season opener May 17 against the Atlanta Dream.

"We may investigate keeping one or two extra people," Thibault said. "You don't have to put Gruda or Maltsi on our active roster untill they get here. So they really don't count until they get here. I don't know if we'll do this, but it's possible we'll put someone in the roster for the first two games and then cut them after that and just tell them that's the deal. I don't know. We just haven't go to that point yet.

"It's salary cap issues more than anything else," he continued. "We've allowed for 14 salaries right now. When Erin (Phillips) comes in (after the Olympic break), we'll have to let somebody go, but we'll be paying them by (then). Erin does count toward our salary cap the entire year, but not numbers wise (only in terms of salary). She's on suspension (still). We can technically suspense Maltsi and Gruda until they show up (to keep them off the active roster as well)."

(Note: Don't be fooled by the word "suspend." None of these players have done anything wrong. It's simply for numbers issues. )

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