Times are changing for Sun

Anne Donovan, who coached Seattle to a WNBA title and the United States to Olympic gold, makes her debut as head coach of the Sun on Saturday at Mohegan Sun Arena.
Anne Donovan, who coached Seattle to a WNBA title and the United States to Olympic gold, makes her debut as head coach of the Sun on Saturday at Mohegan Sun Arena. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo

Change is good, or so the saying claims. Change forces one to be flexible. Change brings new opportunities. Change forces one out of their comfort zone.

Change came to the Connecticut Sun when coach Mike Thibault was fired last November.

Change came to the Sun when all-star power forward Asjha Jones decided to take the season off to rest a series of nagging injuries.

And change has arrived at Mohegan Sun Arena in the form of new coach Anne Donovan.

No Sun player is better suited to explain the change in coaching approach than Kalana Greene. She played for Donovan during her rookie season with the New York Liberty. She played for Thibault the previous two years.

"It's more defensive minded," Greene said of Donovan's system. "It's more up-and-down than we were last year."

Faster than Thibault's system? He always emphasized pushing the pace.

"I don't think I ever sweated this much in practice last year," Greene said.

Okay, so perhaps things haven't changed too much. The Sun still want to run. Over half of roster is together for their third season. And they believe that they can win a WNBA title.

"I'm not really a big prediction-type person," guard Kara Lawson said. "We have the talent from a team that won 25 games last year. It's a good team."

The Sun begin their 11th season Saturday at home agains the New York Liberty at 7 p.m.

"It's going to be an interesting season and watch it unfold," ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo said. "I'm sure the expectations within the team are still to win the championship, but it's hard. Teams that win tend to have some time together with a coach. So it will be interesting to see how long it takes (to adjust to Donovan).

"Many of the players have been together, but Asjha Jones is a big piece missing. There's a new coach and new system. It'll be interesting to see how their season progresses. How different is this team going to be?"

Defense has been one of the primary buzzwords at Sun camp. They had a 43 percent defensive field goal percentage last season, ranking it eighth out of 12 teams.

"As I think I've told all you guys, it's a hell of a team to be taking over," Donovan said. "(It's a) great offensive powerhouse. Pretty solid defensively, but then you look specifically at certain games, last year Indiana in the playoffs, they give up too many points. And people shoot the ball well against them historically. So that's one area that I know we could shore up."

Jones' absence leaves a huge void. She was the team's second-leading rebounder and was third in scoring. Her ability to shoot mid-range jumpers also drew opposing posts out of the paint and gave center Tina Charles' more room down low.

Forwards Mistie Bass and Kelsey Griffin will be expected to contribute more. Donovan also expects players like Greene, a small forward, to rebound more.

One thing that hasn't changed - Connecticut expects to contend for that elusive WNBA title.

"They're still really strong," Lobo said. "Kara Lawson had a phenomenal year last year. There's no reason to expect her to have anything other than that this year. I'm eager to see what (2012 Sixth Woman of the Year winner) Renee Montgomery's role is going to be. No player wants to come off the bench.

"Allison Hightower has improved so much from her first two seasons to last year. I'm eager to see how she does this season. And they have the reigning MVP (Charles).

"The core group, minus Asjha, still knows one another and how to play together. Even though it's a new system and a new coach, the players really know each other.

"I'd be stunned if they're not in the playoffs."

n.griffen@theday.com

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