Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A few (belated) notes on ... Tamika Whitmore

I waited on posting this up to include some notes from practice, on Whitmore, Mike Thibault and the Sun in general. But first, the last of the capsules ...

Tamika Whitmore

6-foot-2 forward
Averages: 11.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 37.6 percent shooting

The Good: When the Sun dealt Katie Douglas to Indiana, Mike Thibault said he wanted one of two players in return: Tamika Catchings or Tamika Whitmore. The Fever weren't about to trade away their do-everything All-Star, but the Sun got exactly what they wanted anyway: a physical but versatile post presence with a reputation for strong play in the playoffs. Whitmore's impact in the postseason remains to be seen, but Whitmore has also given the Sun a few other (and unexpected) boosts. Her 25 3s this this season are already a career high and though her scoring has dipped in recent weeks, she's on pace to average double figures in scoring for just the fourth time in her career but the third time in as many seasons.

Whitmore has also been a natural fit in the Sun's locker room. She handed out nicknames to every rookie the first week of the season, and her personality is a nice balance to those of the team's other veterans, particularly Tamika Raymond and Asjha Jones.

The Bad: A balky back and a sore knee limited Whitmore in the final weeks before the Olympic break. After scoring in double figures in 10 if the season's first 11 games, she entered a stretch in which she failed to break 10 points in 11 of 15 games, and the outside shot that looked so smooth to start the year (13 3s in her first five games) abandoned her. She hit just two 3s in July, and had several tough shooting games (2-for-9 on July 1 and 8, 2-for-10 on July 13). Not helping matters was her inability to get to the free throw line; she never made four than four free throws in a game during the month.

With Whitmore absent as the Sun's third scoring option, the team struggled severely, losing a team record-tying five straight games. At one point, after her knee buckled during practice, Whitmore thought she might have torn her ACL, though an MRI showed only a bruised knee.

Outlook: The Olympic break gave Whitmore a chance for a fresh start, a healthy slate and even some fresh paint; she had the cross tattoo on her left calf colored in while she was away.

"It was really was (good) for me, mentally, physically," Whitmore said Monday of the break. "Everything's clear, my body feels good. I kind of had, I call it a tune-up. I'm ready. The first week off, I tried not to do anything, but I ended up going to place called Run N Shoot back in home in Atlanta, just playing ball. They never close so I was there playing like eight games a day. But I rested, iced and did what I had to do when I got back here. I went right back into treatment."

Whitmore tends to play her best ball late in the season. She second all-time in playoff appearances and at one time held the single-season playoff record for points. If there was someone to bet on bouncing back, it's her.

"She said she feels good," Sun coach Mike Thibault said. "She's had good workouts."

Some other notes from practice: Thibault returned to the Sun on Monday, while Erin Phillips, who won silver in Beijing with the Australian Olympic team, was scheduled to arrive today. Despite all the travel and time change, Thibault said he's more than ready to start.

"I'm OK, I have energy," he said. "I'm reasonably on our time. I've learned going on long overseas trips, and I did it going and I did it coming back. The trap that everyone falls into is they sleep on the flights and then you're wide awake when you get there. I only allowed myself to sleep three hours on the flight either way. So (Sunday) night when I got home at 1 in the morning, I stayed up until 2 and then I slept until 9 a.m. this morning. So I'm reasonably (awake)."

Thibault called the experience coaching in the Olympics "truly fun," though he did admit feeling the pressure of winning the country's fourth straight gold in women's basketball. He also had some stories to tell.

"We go to the Great Wall, they have a toboggan ride you can down on," he said. "I thought I was at Disney World waiting in line to go on toboggan ride. But it's individual toboggans. They don't always work great, like (my son) Eric's wouldn't speed up and mine wouldn't slow down real easily. But some girl stopped in front of him, so he stopped easily but my break didn't completely catch. It slowed me down. I hit him from behind. It was a pretty good hit. He hasn't seen me yet, so ..."

He also was impressed by how massive Beijing and China's surrounding cities were.

"We went to this town, Haining, to play the Diamond Ball tournament beforehand," Thibault said. "And it was described to me that we were going to go to this little town outside Shanghai. So I asked the translator when we got to the town, 'How big is this?' And she goes, 'Six million.' There are over one hundred cities in China with more than a million for population.

"Beijing is the size of Rhode Island," he continued. "Seventeen and a half million people. It goes forever on either side of it. And we were in the middle of the center part of the city basically, in our hotel, and it was like traveling from here to Green Airport in Providence to get the airport (inside Biejing)."

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