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Mohegan - Allison Hightower laughed and blew a raspberry when asked how many times she got sick during her Connecticut Sun rookie season.
"Probably about once every month," Hightower said, "and those sicknesses would be for one or two weeks, maybe, if I couldn't knock it out."
Hightower never got much of a chance to show what she could do last season for Connecticut, which begins its exhibition season tonight when it plays host to the Chinese National Team (Mohegan Sun Arena, 7 p.m.). She is one of six players who are battling for two roster spots.
The Sun were thrilled when Hightower, a guard, slipped to them at the 15th pick (second round) of last year's draft. She was a two-time All-Southeastern Conference first team selection at Louisiana State. Her coaches raved about her work ethic, so much so that they created an award in her honor - the "Allison Hightower Outstanding Practice Player."
"She had the best work ethic of any player I've ever coached," former LSU assistant coach Bob Starkey said last year. "Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles both had a great work ethic. On the men's side, I coached Shaq (Shaquille O'Neal) and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and both had a great work ethic.
"I can honestly say that I never recall Allison Hightower ever taking one play off or one drill off."
Hightower's rookie season didn't go as she and the Sun hoped it would. She had, since the start of her senior year, multiple cases of strep throat and the flu. She played limited minutes in 20 games for Connecticut and tried to play through the sicknesses, but had little energy.
"I know how to play through sickness," Hightower said. "It's just sometimes my body, if you don't get a lot of rest, won't get back to normal. That was the whole problem.
"I know how to play during times that I'm sick. I've done it all my life. It was stressful sometimes because it's like, 'gosh, what can I do?' I made the best of it."
Hightower didn't dress for the final five games as doctors tried to figure out what was causing her problems. They finally decided to remove her tonsils last September, and her health has been good since then.
"I definitely feel a little more healthier than I was last year and a little more comfortable," Hightower said.
Hightower spent the offseason in France with Reze Nantes Basket 44 and averaged 10 points in 23 French League games. She played some point guard when the starter was injured, a skill that can work to her benefit with Connecticut. The team experimented with her at the point during last year's training camp.
"I hadn't played point guard in college," Hightower said. "I'm not a true point guard, but that's what they want me to do, and that's what I have to adjust to.
"I'm a little more comfortable handling the ball, but I definitely do need to get better at reading things and passing the ball. That comes over time."
Hightower spent some minutes running the point during a scrimmage against male practice players Wednesday night.
"(She's had) high-energy," Connecticut coach Mike Thibault said. "She's worked on her ball-handling so that she can play both the two and the one. She's knows that a valuable asset to have to make our team and play is to be able to be an emergency point guard as well as a two. She's done a good job with it. A really good job."
Fast facts: Selected by Connecticut in the second round (15th overall) of the 2010 draft. She played limited minutes in 20 games, including one start. Missed the final five games due to illness. Averaged 10 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 23 French League games for Reze Nantes Basket 44 during the offseason.
— Ned Griffen