Mohegan - Their 10th summer begins today, the season opener at Madison Square Garden. There is optimism. The hope and wonder of renewal. And the goal is ultimate: the franchise's first WNBA championship.
But is it realistic to talk championship around the Connecticut Sun, given that they haven't won a playoff game since 2008 and a playoff series since 2006?
A sampling of opinions:
Sun coach Mike Thibault: "Yes. For couple of reasons. No. 1, unlike the NBA, we don't have 30 teams. We have 12. The talent in this league is pretty balanced. I would say that you could easily make a case for nine or 10 teams to win a championship this year. We have a group that, as young as they were last year, they figured out a way to end up tied for the second-best record. When you've made those kind of strides, you can think (championship contender) about yourself."
Sun guard Kara Lawson: "I don't know. It's the first game. We've yet to have our full component in practice (because of injuries). I don't know what the full 'us' is going to look like. On paper, do we have the pieces? Sure. On paper, so does Chicago, Minnesota ? every team has the pieces. Play the games and see. Atlanta understands what it takes to win in the playoffs. So does Indiana. We haven't proven that yet. It doesn't mean we won't, but we haven't proven it yet."
Sun forward Asjha Jones: "Once you get into the playoffs it's anybody's game. The trick is to get there. The whole league is good and balanced. We always expect to get to the playoffs here. That's part of the culture. Seven times in nine years. People have had more time to mature on this team."
The Sun's roster, save for newcomers Mistie Mims and Chay Shegog, looks similar to last year. Many players are happy about that, believing the core of championship team established itself last year, though imperiled by a 6-12 road record.
Most pundits have picked the Sun to contend. In the WNBA general managers' preseason survey, 41 percent picked Indiana to win the Eastern Conference and 25 percent chose Connecticut. One general manager picked the Sun to win the championship.
"The pro game is so much different than the college game and most players in this league come from good college programs," Lawson said. "The talk in preseason (in college) is always about a championship in some form, like winning the Big XII or the Big East. That's kind of the lingo. It's what you say.
"I think players think they know what it takes in this league to win a championship. I think most of them have no clue.
"You can plant seeds within a regular season. You can build toward being a team that can compete," Lawson said. "But to just throw a bunch of players together ? look around sports. The (Philadelphia) Eagles, the (Miami) Heat, the (Los Angeles) Angels (of Anaheim), how's that worked out? To me, why even talk about it?"
The words "more mature" have been part of many conversations in the preseason. There are higher expectations for wings Danielle McCray and Kalana Greene. Tina Charles spent time after Friday's practice mentoring Shegog. Jones had an MVP season in Europe. Lawson is in perhaps the best playing shape of her career. Mims gives the Sun some fiber in the post.
"The thing I like about this team," Thibault said, "is that there's tunnel vision. Get better today. The really good teams we had here were like that. There are lots of miles to go between now and the playoffs. But they have a right to be optimistic."
News and notes
Thibault said guard Tan White won't play today or in Sunday's home opener because of a concussion sustained in last week's preseason game at Minnesota. He said Tina Charles (groin) has practiced this week and will play today. Charles didn't play at last weekend's brief U.S. Olympic team gathering in Seattle. ... Thibault on why he chose to keep Shegog on the roster over Sidney Spencer, who was released this week: "She's insurance because other posts we have (have experienced) some injuries. It gives us a big legitimate 6-foot-5 player to play against every day in practice and duplicates what we see in our conference."