Last season was a very difficult year for the Connecticut Sun and their fan base. The Sun have been used to being a perennial contender for that ever elusive WNBA crown year in and year out. But last season was far from that as, between the departure of head coach Mike Thibault and a disproportionate bite by the injury bug, they finished the season as the league’s worst team.
The Sun are looking at another difficult season, thanks in large part to the Draft day forced trade of 2012 MVP Tina Charles has. But -- and there’s always a but -- the good news is that the future could be bright.
The Sun drafted three highly-acclaimed college players which includes this year’s number one overall pick, and a favorite for the MVP award, Chiney Ogwumike. She’s joined by Alyssa Thomas and Chelsea Gray, who will spend this season rehabbing her latest knee injury. Ogwumike and Thomas are joined this season by two WNBA veterans and All-Stars in Allison Hightower and Katie Douglas, in her return to the Mohegan Sun. Coach Anne Donovan, who owns a WNBA championship, has her hands full again this year as she tries to find the right mix to put on the floor and compete every night.
And with the number one pick in the draft the Connecticut Sun select their brightest spot on the roster to start the season, Chiney Ogwumike. Charles' departure left some huge shoes to fill, but Ogwumike, who was named today the WNBA's Rookie of the Month, has met or exceeded all expectations. She has quickly become the Sun's most effective player thus far, and that's not just because she leads this Connecticut team early in the season, averaging a near double-double of 17.1 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. (On the down side, she is the only player on the Sun roster averaging double figures in either category.) In perhaps the toughest game on the Sun schedule to date, a 90-87 loss to the Minnesota Lynx, Ogwumike logged career highs in points (25) and steals (four), while tacking on 10 boards for the double-double; her career-best 15 rebounds came in another loss to a formidable opponent, the Indiana Fever. Ogwumike leads not just her team, or even all rookies, but the entire leauge in offensive boards (24), ranks fourth in blocks and stands among the top 10 overall in points, rebounds and minutes played. If that weren't enough, perhaps this rookie's greatest attribute -- and a much-needed shot in the arm for Connecticut -- is attitude and work ethic. She has given a superior effort every day in practice and it has translated to games where she is right in the middle of all the hustle plays. Donovan couldn’t ask for a better person to spearhead their rebuilding phase.
Backing up Ogwumike is Kelsey Bone and Kelley Cain - both former Liberty players. Bone has come into the games with good energy, and is beginning to get her game going offensively. Her 13 points against the Storm Friday was a huge part of why the Sun gained their first victory. Cain is quite simply is going to have to prove that she belongs in the league. So far she has been a major non-factor when she gets in the games. A bit more desire would be a great start. If either Bone or Cain could step up, it would help the Sun tremendously, as Ogwumike could then shift over to her ideal position, which is power forward.
If Donovan and the Sun can begin to get more production from this position, it will give them a much better chance to win. Rookie Alyssa Thomas is coming in with a lot of acclaim and big expectations as a result of a spectacular college career at Maryland. She’s gradually coming along and seems to be finding her comfort level. Thomas plays hard and has a good attitude, which vaulted her into the starting line up. A more aggressive approach from her, and getting more into the mix on the glas,s will help the Sun offensively.
Speaking of work on the glass, outside of Ogwumike no one has been as big rebounding the ball as Kelsey Griffin. Her work ethic is very impressive as she goes hard after every ball, and it’s showing in her results. The only issue for her is putting the ball in the hole. If she can get her scoring production up, then that would be a great boost for the team to win games.
The backcourt is the strength of this team led by two All-Stars in Allison Hightower and veteran Katie Douglas. Hightower made her first appearance in the All-Star game last year. She has assumed the point guard duties for the Sun, and she’ll grow and more effective as she continues to find her comfort zone there. Douglas is healthy again for the first time in two years. Playing with new players and a healthy body again may mean a slower transition to seeing the Douglas that fans have become accustomed to in her great career.
It will be interesting to see how Hightower and Douglas play this year, as both players are used to being second and third options. This season with such a young, unproven roster in Connecticut, the onus will be on these two veterans to perhaps have more of a presence as scorers and playmakers than they’re used to having in their careers. Alex Bentley and Renee Montgomery add quality depth to the backcourt. Bentley has come off of the bench to and given the team quality play, both distributing the ball and shooting as well. Quick question: what happened to Renee Montgomery? After averaging 13 points her first year with the Sun and averaging 14 points per game the the next season and an All-Star appearance, she hardly plays now, and averages only three points per game. It seemed she was on her to being one of the league’s best, and now she’s in verge of becoming nonexistent. A revival from her would be a big boost for the Sun.
This team possibly has a bright future ahead, but they are going to struggle this season. So far they are 2-5, for last in the Eastern Conference. The goal for the year should be to compete hard every night, so as to plant the necessary seeds to develop into one of the East’s best in coming years.
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