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It was Sunday afternoon, May 18, 2008. Connecticut was playing at New York. And I was wondering how in the green hell a bunch of Sun rookies could be driving the Liberty batty.
(Hate to interject myself into a story, so please bear with me here.)
El Sol was picked to fail that season by many observers. They traded mainstay Katie Douglas home to Indiana at her request. Nykesha Sales, probably the greatest player in franchise history, had left the league. They brought in eight news players, including five rookies.
So here was Connecticut playing its second game in as many days to start the season, and it was beating a New York team that was supposed to be its better.
It wasn’t surprising that Asjha Jones and Lindsay Whalen, the last of the old guard, were succeeding. Newly acquired veteran Tamika Whitmore gave the Sun the production they expected from her, too.
Connecticut’s rookies that day, again, what the hell?
Amber Holt, the team’s first round pick that season, started and gave them five rebounds.
Jolene Anderson, a second round pick, came off the bench and nailed four 3-pointers and scored 13. She made one of those threes in transition with the Sun clinging to a four-point lead with over two minutes left. Connecticut didn’t have the numbers advantage on that break, either, but she still let it fly.
(Told after the game that one isn’t supposed to do shoot in that situation, veteran Jamie Carey interjected, “not on this team.”)
And then there was forward Kerri Gardin. She was the 34th overall pick in 2006 and was cut before both that season and the next. She flustered the Liberty with a game-high seven rebounds and three steals as the Sun won, 77-63.
That game stands out as one of the more memorable ones covering El Sol for 11 seasons. They finished second that year (21-13) and were knocked out in the East semis by New York, but it was far better than most expected from an overhauled team with so many kids.
Connecticut begins a new season tonight after another stripping down and rebuilding the roster.
Tina Charles and Kara Lawson both wanted out and were traded.
Guard Katie Douglas has returned after six years in Indiana. Sun fans voted her one of the top 10 players in team history in 2012. She’s also the only player on this roster over 27 years old.
Four of the Sun’s top acquisitions are young. Alex Bentley (guard) and Kelsey Bone (center) were both 2013 All-Rookie picks. Forwards Chiney Ogwumike and Alyssa Thomas were the first and fourth picks, respectively, in April’s draft.
People inside-and-outside the organization have raved about how the mood has become so bright and upbeat, a stark contrast to last season’s ennui.
El Sol isn’t the only team in the East with questions, either. Atlanta may be only team that sprints away from the pack.
Welcome to the great unknown, Sun fans.
• • • •
Below are bios of the El Sol 12. The system wouldn’t allow us to post headshots next to said bios. Sorry:
Tenacious defender acquired in a three-way trade with Atlanta and Washington for Kara Lawson. … Averaged 21 minutes and 8.3 points as a reserve for Eastern Conference champion Atlanta. … Made a WNBA record 10 successive 3-pointers from June 14-June 28. ... Tied franchise record for assists in a game with 11 against Los Angeles on Sept. 2. … Fell one vote short of being a unanimous 2013 All-Rookie team pick. … Fourth player in Big Ten history to finish with at least 1,500 points, 500 assists and 300 steals. … Led Ben Davis High of Indianapolis to a 30-0 record in 2009, the Class 4A state title, and the No. 1 ranking in the USA Today Super 25 poll.
Young post is expected to help the team’s revamped frontcourt. … Averaged 19.5 minutes as a rookie with 6.9 points and 5.4 rebounds. … Was a vote short of being a unanimous 2013 All-Rookie team selection. … Helped Galatasaray win the prestigious FIBA EuroLeague title in April, a first for a Turkish team, and the Turkish League title. … A 2012-13 AP All-America third-team selection. … 2009 McDonald's John Wooden National High School Player of the Year. … Hosted A&M’s women’s basketball TV show and would like to be a host on “Good Morning America.”
Reserve provides the Sun with the size and strength its lacked coming off the bench. … Didn’t play in the WNBA last season. … Played in South Korea and Turkey during the offseason. … New York drafted her seventh overall (first round) in 2012. She played minimal minutes in 20 games and was cut before last season. … Passed on her senior season at Tennessee after nagging injuries to her hip, back and knees and graduated as a redshirt junior. She had hip surgery after leaving the team. … Shot 60.6 percent and averaged 8.6 points and 6.2 rebounds with 59 starts. … Set a Tennessee single-season record with 113 blocks in 2009-10. Was an SEC Academic Honor Roll selection that season, too.
One of the best players in franchise history returns to Connecticut for her second stint. … Among the best shooters in WNBA history and a disruptive defender, too. … Chosen as one of the Top 10 players in Sun history in a 2012 fan vote. … Played the last six seasons with Indiana. … Missed all but four games last season due to a back injury and had lower lumbar microdiscectomy surgery last October. … Ranks ninth all-time in total points (5,142), fifth in steals (598), and fifth in made 3-pointers (663) in WNBA history. … Was named one of ESPN.com’s Top 25 Women’s College Basketball Players of the Past 25 Years… Wore No. 23 in high school in honor of her favorite baseball player, Chicago Cubs legend Ryne Sandberg.
Active defender who forced her way into the starting lineup. She made three starts before missing her final 10 games to a foot injury. … Made all three of her 3-pointers and scored 11 with seven rebounds in her first start, an 88-86 win over Atlanta (Aug. 14). … Averaged 5.6 rebounds in her final three games. … Sun drafted her 11th overall in the first round of the 2013 draft. … Finished fifth on UConn’s all-time steals list with 294 and was the 2012-13 Big East Defensive Player of the Year winner. Was also named to the 2013 All-Tournament team as a senior to help the Huskies to their eighth national championship.
Heady player with a knack for being at the right place at the right time. … Was the only player to start all 34 games for Connecticut during its injury-riddle 2013 season. … Averaged career highs in points (8.7) and rebounds (five) and was fifth in the league in steals per turnover (1.2). … Had a career-best 12 double-figure scoring games. She had nine in her three previous seasons combined…Was a WNBA Most Improved Player candidate last season. … Has played the last two winters with the Bendigo Spirit of Australia’s Women's National Basketball League and led them to back-to-back championships, winning MVP honors both times. … Drafted third overall by Minnesota in 2010 and traded to the Sun that day for the latter’s first and second round picks in the 2011 draft.
A terrific defender who has worked diligently to make herself into an All-Star. … Averaged 12.8 points last season before missing the final 13 games with a strained right knee. … Set career highs in shooting percentage (.424) and 3-point shooting percentage (.364). … Was a Most Improved Player candidate each of the past two seasons. … Shot 53.3-percent and averaged 18.4 points 5.5 rebounds and 4.6 assists for Elitzur Ramla of the Israeli Basketball Premier League this winter and was named its Player of the Year by Eurobasket.com. … Drafted 15th overall (second round) in 2010. … Named LSU’s MVP two years in a row. … Made such a mark at LSU that the Allison Hightower Outstanding Practice Player award was created in her honor.
A gifted athlete with untapped potential. … Missed last season after tearing her Achilles playing overseas. … Has averaged 14.5 minutes over two seasons. … Drafted seventh in the 2010 WNBA Draft even after tearing her left anterior cruciate ligament that year at Kansas. … Graduated as Kansas’ third all-time leading scorer (1,934) and led the team in scoring as a sophomore and junior. … Was the 2006 Kansas City Star Track Athlete of the Year and was the state shot put and triple jump champion as a junior and senior.
Speedy player with the ability to make shots in bunches. … Started in 18 of 23 games last season and averaged 10.1 points. Missed 11 games due to a high ankle sprain. … Was the 2012 WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year award winner. … A 2011 WNBA All-Star. … A 2009 All-Rookie team pick. … Acquired in a Jan. 12, 2010 trade from Minnesota. … Minnesota drafted her fourth overall in 2009. … Graduated from UConn as the only player in program history to rank in the top 10 in points (1,977), assists (626), steals (266) and 3-pointers (251). … Led the Huskies to the 2009 national championship and was a three-time Big East first team selection. … Was inducted into the “Huskies of Honor” during the 2009 season, becoming the first active player to receive the honor.
Athletic post who is an active defender and rebounder. … Chosen first overall at April’s WNBA Draft. … The 2014 Capital One Academic All-American of the Year and the Wooden Award winner. … Only player in the national this past season to rank in the top 10 in scoring (26.1 ppg), rebounding (12.1 rpg), field-goal percentage (60.1), and double-doubles (27). … An AP first-team All-American as a junior and senior, and a three-time Women’s Basketball Coaches Association All-American. … A two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year winner and one of three finalists for the WNBCA Division I Defensive Player of the Year her junior and senior seasons. … Older sister, Nnemka, plays for the Los Angeles Sparks.
Provides size off the bench and does positive things that don’t score up in the box score. … Averaged 10.8 minutes in 25 games for the Sun last season. … Acquired by Connecticut from Tulsa in exchange for a 2014 second-round pick on June 20, 2013. … Played for the WNBL’s Dandenong Rangers during the offseason and averaged 11.9 points and a team-high 8.3 rebounds. Taken seventh overall (first round) by Tulsa in the 2011 draft. … Majored in communications and psychology at Stanford. … Graduated Stanford as the all-time leader in rebounds (1,266) in both school and Pac-10 history.
A tenacious competitor who handles the ball like a guard and rebounds like a center. … Drafted fourth overall in April by New York and traded to Connecticut as part of a deal that sent Tina Charles to the Liberty. … A three-time WBCA All-American, a two-time AP first-team selection, and a three-time ACC Player of the Year. … Led Maryland to the Final Four this winter. … Averaged a team-high 19 points and 10.9 her senior season. … Maryland head coach Brenda Frese told umterps.com, “Alyssa will go down as one of the greatest to ever play at Maryland. She’s put up numbers and made moves that others can only dream about.” … Recognized by pennlive.com as one of the decade's best high school athletes in Pennsylvania.
• • • •
Thanks for reading. More later.
Vaya con dios.