Thursday, August 28, 2008

Svet, UConn and a look ahead

Some reaction from the signing of Svetlana Abrosimova, the waiving of Jolene Anderson and all these darn Huskies at Mohegan now (Oh, and this Eastern Conference playoff race is apparently a big deal, too):

(1) The addition of Abrosimova immediately bolsters the Sun's chance to win their first WNBA title. As touched upon in today's story and yesterday's blog post, the 6-foot-2 Russian brings both versatility and experience to a team that needed it on the perimeter. Abrosimova can play anywhere between the shooting guard, small forward and power forward positions, but will likely see the majority of her time at the three.

"She (Abrosimova) and Barbara (Turner) can play together, I can play a smaller lineup," Sun coach Mike Thibault said. "I can do a lot of things."

If she starts remains to be seen. Rookie Amber Holt, who has started every game at the position, has been a consistent defensive force and appeared to find a better offensive rhythm near the break. She, no doubt, will benefit from a presence like Abrosimova's, too. Though veteran laden in the frontcourt and at the point guard position, Thibault felt he didn't have someone who could guide his younger players along on the wing. Abrosimova, who's been described by her former UConn teammates as talkative, out-going and a "professional", figures to help.

"She's a veteran, she has poise, she's going to get steals for us," Jones said. "She's a playmaker. No matter what, she's going to make a play, right in the heat of the moment, right when you need one. She has a lot of variety in her game. She's one of those rare players who can play everywhere on the court.

"With Svet, she hasn't always had the opportunities that I think she deserves but around here, we pretty much need to use everybody," Jones continued. "And it's going to be great for our wings to have someone, a role model. We have a lot of young players who don't have that player to follow. She's been playing around this world, in Russia and in this league so she knows things."

Both Jones and Tamika Raymond, who has played with Abrosimova in every calender year since she enrolled at UConn in 1998, remember their Husky teammate butting heads at times with coach Geno Auriemma in Storrs. Sometimes she would take shots too early in the shot clock or Auriemma would get "upset about some of her ways," Jones said. But, like they all have, Abrosimova has matured.

"She's turned all that into good energy," Jones said.

You can check out Abrosimova's career track at her player page. Her scoring took a dip after a few years, but she had a strong offensive year last summer (10.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 44.3 percent shooting) and played her best late in the season.

Abrosimova received a DVD of the Sun's plays a few days ago, and she and Thibault had a few discussions in Beijing during the Olympics. Thibault said he was unsure if he would play her Friday in Atlanta, but she'll take time Saturday walking through some of the team's sets in preparation for Sunday's game against Seattle. From a media availability standpoint, it appears we'll get a chance to talk to her Sunday at the latest.

As for the other angle on Svet's signing, the Sun now have five former UConn players, which is by far the most in the league, and essentially, they could create a normal starting lineup with each of them: Ketia Swanier at point, Turner at the two, Svet at the three, Jones at the four and Raymond at the five. Don't expect Thibault to go out of his way to make that happen, but the situation has again prompted talk that the Sun are going after UConn players to boost attendance.

No one will deny Svet may put more butts in the seats, but the Sun are drawing right around what they did last year (roughly 7,300, compared to 7,900 in 2007). They also have two sell-outs, compared to just one last year, and I wouldn't be surprised if Sunday's homecoming of Sue Bird and (maybe) Swin Cash, who may have back surgery, draws the max, too.

But getting UConn players for the sole purpose of pleasing the Connecticut fan base is not the team's goal. In some cases, it's pure coincidence. In others, it's different factors. Take it player by player:

Asjha Jones: She was brought her four seasons ago because Thibault thought she could turn into an All-Star. It's one of the best trades he's made.

Barbara Turner: The coaching staff had liked Turner coming out of college and with her recommitting herself over the offseason to improve her outside game, it was another solid move by the team. Her return to the state wasn't so much about her being from UConn as it was that coming back to Connecticut itself, where she always played well as a pro, would be a big confidence boost for her. (Turner has said she felt re-energized by coming back here.)

Tamika Raymond: The Sun needed another veteran presence and Raymond is regarded as one of the best leaders in the league. She also found an immediate comfort level in reuniting with Jones. Combining former Huskies wasn't as much the goal here as combining two players who enjoy playing together and could feed off each other. If they had both went to some other school outside the state, it would have made the same impact.

Ketia Swanier: I count this as pure coincidence. Swanier's play late in her senior season put her high on almost everybody's draft board and if the Sun hadn't taken her at No. 12, she would have gone soon after. Maybe Thibault and his staff got to see her more because she was right up the road in Storrs, but they didn't take her because of the school she went to.

Svetlana Abrosimova: Other than fellow Russian Maria Stepanova, who has been rumored in returning to the WNBA, there probably wasn't a better available free agent than Abrosimova. She also fits the Sun's needs well, and yes, gathering so many former Huskies lends to more coming because they have people they know here. But that's more motivation from the player's side than the team's.

(2) The link to the story is at the start of this post, but Anderson, who was waived to clear room for Abrosimova, told the Duluth News Tribune that the move came out of nowhere.

"I was just told that Coach wanted to see me," Anderson told the paper. "So I walked into his office and he told me it was the toughest part of his job, but they were going to waive me. I said, ‘OK, fine.’ I had no idea, but you’ve just got to take it in stride. My agent is working on some things, and I could have a new team (today). You just never know."

Anderson has talent. She can shoot and plays bigger than her size, and I would be surprised if she didn't resurface somewhere in the WNBA, at least by next year. She told the News Tribune that she'll report to Northern France to play for a Euroleague team in the area.

Anderson also doesn't lose out on her first-year contract. She has guaranteed money owed to her because she was cut after the deadline.

"My parents were sad. They couldn’t believe it," Anderson said, according to the News Tribune. "They thought I was joking, but then they realized what had happened and told me to come home and enjoy some time with them. The WNBA is a business, and it was a great three months with the Sun, but you just have to move on."

(3) The Sun flew to Indianapolis Wednesday afternoon and tip off on NBA TV at 7 p.m. For more on this game, check out the Scout Box below. I'm also including a look ahead to the Sun's televised games, though you can get a complete list from their schedule online.

Sunday vs. Seattle (ABC)
Sunday, Sept. 7 vs. San Antonio (ABC)
Tuesday, Sept. 9 at Houston (MYTV9)
Saturday, Sept. 13 vs. Washington (MYTV9/NBATV)

Scout Box:

7 p.m., today
Conseco Fieldhouse, Indianapolis

Records: Connecticut 16-10; Indiana 12-14.
Last game: Prior to the Olympic break, Connecticut beat Washington, 82-60; Indiana beat Phoenix, 88-84. Both games were July 27.
Next game: Connecticut plays Friday at Atlanta; Indiana hosts Atlanta on Saturday.
TV/Internet: NBA TV/
Series: The Sun lead the all-time series, 22-13, but lost both meetings between the teams this season, including an 81-74 decision on July 5. This is the final regular-season meeting between the teams this year.
Injuries: Connecticut—none reported. Indiana—none reported.
Scouting report: After 31 days since their last game, the Sun hope to carry over the defensive intensity that helped spur them to three straight wins to close the first portion of the season against Indiana, who is a disappointing two games below .500 and in fourth in the Eastern Conference standings. "I've pretty much been happy with that I've seen" in practice, Sun coach Mike Thibault said. "We'll have to do a good job defensively and we'll have to rebound. They'll do a lot of switching, so we'll have to take advantage of it." ... The Sun's loss in Indiana in early July started a five-game losing streak. "I thought we should have won the last time we played them," Thibault said. "But we let it get away from us." Indiana guard Tully Bevilaqua hit a career high five 3s that night. ... In 2004, the last Olympic year, the Sun closed the regular season with wins in five of their final seven games and advanced to the WNBA finals, where they lost to Seattle. ... Asjha Jones is on pace to set a season high in 10 statistical categories, but admitted being nervous entering tonight's re-opener. "I'm real hard on myself and all those different things, they worry me," she said. "Going into the game, I have all these different scenarios in my head that may play out, and I haven't played in a while in a game. It's going to be strange." ... Australian guard Erin Phillips is likely to debut tonight.

Projected starters, with scoring averages:
1 F Amber Holt 6.4
15 F Asjha Jones 16.8
00 C Tamika Whitmore 11.5
13 G Lindsay Whalen 15.3
22 G Barbara Turner 8.2

Connecticut reserves

7 Sandrine Gruda 6.6
10 Jamie Carey 4.0
41 Kerri Gardin 3.0

32 F Ebony Hoffman 10.2
24 F Tamika Catchings 11.5
8 C Tammy Sutton-Brown 11.2
41 G Tully Bevilaqua 5.6
23 G Katie Douglas 16.3

Indiana reserves

15 Tan White 9.3
21 Allison Feaster 3.2
10 LaToya Bond 3.0

No comments: