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Griffin earns her chance to shine

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published May 12. 2013 4:00AM

Mohegan

Kelsey Griffin: born in Alaska. Attended Nebraska. This makes her fluent in "askas." Just ask her.

But this is Uncasville. A long-aska way from home. This is Uncasville for the fourth time, actually. Her fourth season with the Sun and in the WNBA. And while exactly nobody would have thought to pose this question seven months ago to the day, in the wake of the Sun's inexplicable, unceremonious exit from the playoffs, now it can be asked:

Does Kelsey Griffin suddenly hold the keys to the kingdom?

Griffin returns to her natural position this season, power forward, the "four" as the hardwood intelligentsia calls it. She co-stars there with Mistie Bass now, attempting to compensate for the absence of Olympian Asjha Jones, who has decided not to play this summer.

This just in: They need production from that spot like Frank Burns needed Hot Lips Houlihan. Is Griffin, not exactly a snarling widebody, perpetually cheerful, ready to channel her inner nasty?

"Every year is an opportunity, but this year especially. The situation has changed. If I denied that, I wouldn't be honest. It's a new coaching staff, a clean slate," Griffin was saying before the Sun's first preseason game Saturday with New York at Mohegan Sun Arena.

"I know coach Donovan has seen me in college and in the league a little bit, but she hasn't seen me in practice and behind the scenes what I do," Griffin said. "That's a new opportunity. With the huge hole of having Asjha not here, that's another opportunity. There's room where I can really prove myself."

Griffin's first three years here would likely produce no grade other than an incomplete. She hovers between Peggy Lee ("Is that all there is?") and Bachman-Turner Overdrive ("Ain't Seen Nothin Yet.") She's played some small forward, some power forward, sometimes not at all. This is not what former Sun coach Mike Thibault had in mind when he traded the Sun's first round pick in 2011 for her in 2010.

Yes, she made the All-Rookie team. Yes, she's mastered many beyond-the-boxscore rewards, taking charges, keeping possessions alive. But there still seems something missing, sort of like staring at this really nice car only to discover somebody misplaced the keys.

Perhaps this is where Anne Donovan goes where Thibault could not. Donovan has made it clear that Griffin is a power forward and power forward only.

"Going back and forth between positions, I like to call it character building," Griffin said. "It was difficult. One thing I really appreciate about coach Donovan is her directness. I know her expectations, what she wants and what I'm going to be doing this season.

"I'm always up for a challenge, but playing the three when you've never done it before in one of the best leagues in the world is a challenge. But I'm really excited to get back to what I think I do best: play the four. I can still bring my speed and my outside game into the four, but use what I've worked on as a three. But it's nice to know this is where I'm going to play and this is what I need to do."

Griffin arrived here earlier this week the happiest she's been in her professional career. Donovan's assurances, Griffin's experiences and her Most Valuable Player Award this past winter in Australia have conspired to create a different approach.

"I've found myself again in basketball," she said. "As a rookie, I was trying to figure the league out. The next year, I went between the three and the four and a lot depended on the other teams and what players they had. Last year, I really didn't play except when everyone else was out. I'm a completely different player than last year."

The court will tell the story, as it always does. But it sounds as though Griffin is embracing expectations now, rather than rolling with them. And this is when she's the Kelsey Griffin they adored at Nebraska.

"What set her apart," Nebraska coach Connie Yori said, "was that she never took a possession off. That's not in every college kid's thought process. I think maybe she's wondered if she's really good enough and she has to prove herself every day."

Remember Yori's words: She has to prove herself every day. And so it begins.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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