No respect, yet, for the Sun

Connecticut Sun coach Anne Donovan has a revamped team, as the Sun prepare to open the regular season tonight at home against the New York Liberty.
Connecticut Sun coach Anne Donovan has a revamped team, as the Sun prepare to open the regular season tonight at home against the New York Liberty. Jessica Hill/ AP File Photo

Mohegan - The WNBA begins its 18th season tonight, so the league released its annual general manager survey on Thursday.

The survey didn't feature too many surprises. The defending champion Minnesota Lynx were the overwhelming pick to win the title. Candace Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks was favored to be the MVP. Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury was named the best pure shooter (not too much thought had to be put into that one).

Connecticut didn't show up in too many categories. It also received the fewest percentage of votes among teams picked to make the Eastern Conference playoffs. Only the Western Conference-based Seattle Storm had fewer votes.

The Sun may not have too many believers, but they sure believe in themselves. They're happy. They're energetic. And they're ready to start the season tonight when they play host to the New York Liberty.

"I feel like the optimism is because we're in an underdog role," the Sun's Katie Douglas said. "There's not a lot of pressure on us, but I feel like we have 12 very solid players that pride themselves on the defensive end.

"Our identity is going to be on the defensive end, so that gives me a lot of optimism because when you have 12 people that buy into that kind of system and that want to play defense and that are going to work their butts off every day and every possession, good things are going to happen. I've seen that it can happen."

Connecticut has its doubters for a reason. Make that many reasons. It finished a league-worst 10-24 last season. Stars Tina Charles and Kara Lawson are gone. The former led the league in rebounding in three of her first four seasons and was the 2012 WNBA MVP.

Charles demanded a trade to New York and was moved the night of the WNBA Draft (April 14).

The Sun lost one of the league's best rebounders, but should have better post depth. They added forwards Chiney Ogwumike and Alyssa Thomas, the first and fourth overall picks in the draft, respectively. They also acquired center Kelsey Bone in the Charles trade. She was a near unanimous all-rookie pick last season and helped Galatasaray win the prestigious FIBA EuroLeague championship this April, a first for a Turkish team.

Forward Kelsey Griffin, one of the team's five holdovers, adds to that depth.

"I think what we lost in one player, we added a whole bunch of other little parts to make up that player," Griffin said. "I feel like it would be unreasonable to expect anybody to step into Tina's shoes."

The Sun have several new players who've had less than three weeks to train together. That includes 2013 all-rookie pick Alex Bentley (guard) and Douglas, who returns to the team after spending the last six seasons with Indiana.

Connecticut is also so very young. The average age of its 12 players is barely 25.

"We're just going to be a team that has to play hard every night," said Renee Montgomery, who's in her fifth season with the Sun. "We don't have one of the most talented rosters in the league by far, so I think we're going to be one of those grind-it-out teams. A lot of (defensive) pressure. I think we'll be very good on the boards this year. And I think we'll be one of those teams that other teams hate to play."

Fifth-year guard Allison Hightower said: "I know that everybody on this court works really, really hard. We have new players and younger players, but when you work hard, that establishes a lot because you can't teach that."

News and notes

Sun head coach Anne Donovan has been away from the team most of this week due to the death of her father. Assistant coach Steven Key said she's expected to be with the team tonight. Connecticut got its roster down to the league-maximum 12 on Thursday when it cut center Yelena Leuchanka.

n.griffen@theday.com

Katie Douglas, who won a WNBA title in 2012 with the Indiana Fever, is back with the Connecticut Sun this season and ready to provide some veteran leadership. The Sun begin the regular season today with a home game against the New York Liberty (7 p.m.)
Katie Douglas, who won a WNBA title in 2012 with the Indiana Fever, is back with the Connecticut Sun this season and ready to provide some veteran leadership. The Sun begin the regular season today with a home game against the New York Liberty (7 p.m.) Michael Conroy/AP File photo
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