Thursday, June 3, 2010

A lot to cover ...

Hello everyone. I didn't get the chance to blog following practice Wednesday, so let's get right to it:

* Asjha Jones's surgerically repaired Achilles' tendon felt sore following Sunday's loss at Washington, but it was to be expected.

"No red alerts," the All-Star forward said. "I've had worse days last year."

That said, Jones' minutes will likely be limited Friday vs. the New York Liberty (think between 15 and 17, according to Sun coach Mike Thibault) and her availability for Sunday's game will be determined about how her ankle responds following Friday's game.

Jones said she was encouraged by parts of her three-point, three-rebound performance against the Mystics. On one of first jump shots from the top of the key, she shot long and missed, but it felt better than she expected.

"Sometimes you don’t have enough legs or whatever" and it falls shot, she said. "But it went long, so I’m like, ‘OK, I’m good'. (laughs) It was just a little long. It wasn’t to the left or the right, just long. ‘OK, that happens usually, when I’m healthy. I’m OK.’"

Conditioning has been a big part of Jones' return and she said she wasn't nearly as tired as she expected she would be.

"I could have played more if I wasn’t so sore," she said.

That being the case, not playing to the potential she's used to is more furstrating in ways than simply not playing.

"I had a hard time after last game just getting mentally back in a good place," she said. "For me, now I’m used to being an All-Star, I’m used to playing a certain way. So for more to be on the court and not play the way I’m used to, it’s really difficult."

* Sandrine Gruda is expected to arrive in Connecticut tonight. The 6-foot-4 center, who was second on the Sun in scoring and led the team in rebounding last season, will participate in the team's shootaround early Friday and then suit up for Friday's game. Like Jones, she'll likely have limited minutes as she gets re-accustomed with the Sun's playbook, which has changed in some ways since last year.

"Some of it hasn’t, but it’s been a long time since she’s played with us and in the process ... you have to remember she’s played in a whole other system with different play calls, then her French team has different play calls," Thibault said. "Now you’re trying to remember which (play call) is which team. Some of it will come back right away. Some if it will take time. You have to reprogram your brain."

Last year, Gruda joined the Sun during a road trip and jumped right into a game against Detroit only to score 23 points. This time, she'll likely be eased into it more only because A) the Sun are deeper with Tina Charles, DeMya Walker and Kelsey Griffin than they were a year ago, and B) following Sunday's game against San Antonio, they have four days off before Friday's game against Indiana.

But once she gets settled, which should be quickly given its her third season in Connecticut, expect Gruda, 22, to continue her upward trend from last year (13.5 points, 6.3 rebounds per game).

Jones, for one, is excited to see Gruda and Charles, the WNBA's newly minuted Rookie of the Month, match up in practice.

"I think it will be good for Tina to have somebody to play against in practice," Jones said. "... She needs to have somebody who’s really long and more of who’s she’s going to see from day to day in games. I said I was excited just to see those two play against each other because it’s just going to be arms everywhere. They’re both all elbows everywhere and they’re both really competitive, so it’s going to be really good for Sandrine, too, to have another young player. And they’re both going to be vying for the same position. It’s going to be a good intensity in practice and it’s going to make our team better.

"It’s going to be a war everyday in practice."

A fun side bet could be, who takes the first elbow from Gruda? The French center doesn't try to take people out, but lean at 6-foot-4, she has a knack for keeping defenders and would-be rebounders at bay. Ask Amber Holt, who took so wicked a shot from Gruda during practice last season she needed medical attention.

"Not me," Jones said, laughing. "I’ve had my share already for three years. I’ve had enough. She gets everybody. If you come around there, be prepared. She doesn’t even know she’s doing it, that’s the first worst part. She’s just long. It happens."

* Kerri Gardin participated in some drills Wednesday as she recovers from a concussion sustained in last Thursday's game against Minnesota. Thibault said the forward's headaches are gone and she was expected to participate more fully in today's workouts.

"The original plan was that she was going to practice (Thursday) so we’ll see," Thibault said.

Check back later today for an update on her status for Friday's game.

* The addition of Jones and Gruda creates some interesting decisions for Thibault. Both are expected to be starters once fully healthy and fully comfortable, respectively, meaning some roles will change. Thibault has always planned to use Walker and Griffin off the bench, but Charles and her team-leading 16.6 points and 9.6 rebounds per game are definitely not moving out of the starting lineup.

"I’m not envisioning taking Tina out of the lineup," Thibault said, adding he'd like to see Gruda, Jones and Charles in the Sun's froncourt. That'd move Kara Lawson, Renee Montgomery or Anete Jekabsone-Zogota to a reserve role, though Jekabsone-Zogota (for her scoring ability) and Lawson (as a veteran) could have a leg-up on Montgomery.

Either way, the Sun plan to use their bench liberally whether it be Tan White coming on in the backcourt for legitimate minutes or Walker and Griffin in the frontcourt. Of course, Allison Hightower and Gardin will also be in the mix on several nights. As the season progresses, a nine-person rotation, given everyone remains healthy, will likely develop with the possibility of any of the Sun's reserves giving a helping hand on a given night.

Thibault mused that he could make a starting lineup based on matchups or even platoon, though he's admittedly not leaning toward the latter option.

"You can make a case that you can put together two even teams on this team," Thibault said.

For kicks, let's say you divided the teams like this: Lawson, Jekabsone-Zogota, Gardin/Hightower, Gruda and Charles vs. Montgomery, White, Griffin, Jones and Walker. It'd be tough to pick a winner on paper.

"I got a lot of thinking to do over the next couple of weeks," Thibault said. "But I can’t really do it until I see it in practice and see who’s healthy on the court. Asjha’s health will determine a lot of how much we can do of different things. How soon can she increase her minutes? If she’s gonna stay at 16 to 20 minutes for three or four weeks, it changes your thought process of what you’re going to do. So I don’t know."

* Asked to evaluate the Sun's good and bad habits, Lawson and Thibault both pointed to the team's work ethic and willingess to share the ball as two major positives to the team's 3-2 start.

Lawson added, however, that the Sun need to take advantage of their post players more.

"Maybe just by virtue of having more bigs here, we’ll see more value in trying to get them the basketball more in advantageous positions," Lawson said. "We have to get Tina, as much as she’s getting touches, more good touches because she’s efficient. When we get her the basketball on the block, she scores. DeMya’s good one-on-one on the block. Asjha’s obivously really good on pick-and-rolls and stepping up. We have to utilize that more. We have to do a better job of using our post play as the centerpiece of our offense and then just set up what we’ll get as guards out of it."

When Lawson says touches, however, that doesn't mean Charles is shooting it every time she gets it.

"New York, Washington — a lot of teams have shown the propensity to double (Charles), so we get her the ball, all of the sudden, everywhere else on the court, we’re 4-on-3 because she’s being double-teamed," she said. "And then knowing that she is double-teamed, if we can find her in one-on-one (situations), we know she can score.

"When the ball hits the post, we have a better offensive possession. Anytime the ball just goes like this (around the perimeter), more often than not, it’s not a good offensive possession. If the ball hits the paint on a given offensive possession, it’s proven if you look up all the percentages, that there is a higher rate of success. It could be from a drive but it can be from getting the ball into the posts. ... One of Coach’s emphasis was, look in the post. Every time you come down, look in the post."

* Also, in case you didn't see it, Foxwoods is now a major sponsor of the New York Liberty. (The team, by the way, is staying there while in Connecticut instead of at Mohegan Sun, like other opponents do.) That means new jerseys, too, which with such a big 'Foxwoods' logo reminds me more of a European soccer jersey than it does anything we're used to seeing in the U.S.

Of course, the Liberty aren't the first to go this rout. Phoenix did it last year.

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