For ex-Lady Vol, new role includes cheers

Sidney Spencer, a former Tennessee Lady Vol and member of the Los Angeles Sparks, is trying to earn a roster spot with the Connecticut Sun this season.

Mohegan - It was Diana Taurasi, upon hearing boos for herself and cheers for Kara Lawson one night at Mohegan Sun Arena, who playfully wondered, "what's going on around here?"

And now Neon Uncasville offers more evidence of glasnost between UConn and Tennessee, beyond even louder cheers for Lawson and a memorable embrace at the Final Four between Geno Auriemma and Pat Summitt.

Former Tennessee great Sidney Spencer, a recent free agent signee of the Connecticut Sun, drew a warm ovation from the fans during the season's first preseason game earlier this week. Spencer, still no lock to make the Sun of 2012, would surely love to stay.

"When my agent talked to me in February about the opportunity, it was an answered prayer," Spencer said Wednesday, after the Sun's practice in preparation for tonight's preseason game against the defending champion Minnesota Lynx (7 p.m., Mohegan Sun Arena).

"I knew this was where I'm supposed to be," Spencer said. "I've always loved Coach T (Sun coach Mike Thibault). I love his philosophy. I think he's a brainiac with Xs and Os and getting the best out of his players. When (the Sun's) offer was there, I was more than thrilled to sign."

Spencer, part of Tennessee's 2007 national championship team, was Los Angeles' second-round pick in the 2007 draft. Later in her career, New York traded Los Angeles its first-round pick to acquire Spencer, a career 42 percent 3-point shooter.

"Sidney's a player who understands that the ninth, 10th, or 11th player is a role player that plays sometimes and other times not very much," Thibault said. "She knows what winning is about and brings a special skill: She's an exceptionally good shooter. Other parts of her game are good, but she can really shoot."

Thibault wants his reserves to, in his words, "be into it," whether that means making everyone better in practice, cheering on teammates or being ready to play at any time.

"For lack of a better comparison," he said, "she spreads the floor like Steve Novak does for the Knicks. She'll make it harder for defenses to focus on Asjha (Jones) and Tina (Charles) in the post."

Spencer scored 10 points in the Sun's win over the Liberty earlier this week. She's here knowing nothing is guaranteed, but also not with the pressure of being traded here for a first-round pick, as was the case in New York.

"Of course you can feel pressure. I'm an athlete, I'm competitive," Spencer said. "But you can't worry about it or it'll make you crazy. You do what your role is. Whether it's being a good example on and off the court, it's being consistent. Whatever the coaches want me to do. Five minutes or 20 minutes."

• The Sun waived forwards Jessica Breland on Stefanie Murphy, paring the roster to 13. They must cut two more. Minnesota, the defending champion, has former Sun guard Lindsay Whalen, former Sun forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin and former UConn great Maya Moore, among others. Connecticut opens the regular season May 19 in New York and returns to Mohegan Sun Arena the next day for the home opener.

m.dimauro@theday.com

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