Changing the Sun's course
Mohegan - Kara Lawson, Connecticut Sun guard and ESPN women's basketball analyst, watched Thursday's WNBA draft in disbelief as her team horded three of the first seven picks.
"Do I have a job anymore ... we've got a lot of people," Lawson joked later. "We've added a lot of great players to the roster. It's exciting."
Connecticut saw this offseason as its chance to change the course of its franchise, and that transformation reached its climax Thursday as the Sun acquired five players.
"Yeah, this has been a good day," Sun coach Mike Thibault said. "This has been a better than I could have predicted offseason in every way possible.
"I don't even know how to describe it. We set a bunch of goals and we've met almost all of them right now."
Connecticut selected UConn center Tina Charles with the first overall pick and Kansas guard Danielle McCray seventh overall.
The Sun followed that by acquiring the rights to Nebraska forward Kelsey Griffin, who'd been selected third by the Minnesota Lynx. Connecticut gave up next year's first-round pick as well as the second-round pick that it acquired from the Tulsa Shock.
Connecticut chose LSU guard Allison Hightower in the second round (15th overall) and guard-forward Johannah Leedham of Franklin Pierce, a Division II school in New Hampshire, in the third round (27th overall).
"We've got a blend of veterans and young kids now," Thibault said. "(We're) more athletic than we were a year ago. Deeper, I hope, than we were a year ago.
"I kind of gauge some of the feeling of our team by Asjha's (Jones) reaction to things. This is the most upbeat, positive I've ever seen Asjha in the offseason."
The Sun traded Chante Black and Amber Holt to Tulsa Wednesday to get the seventh pick. Some speciously concluded that Connecticut had moved up to get UConn's Kalana Greene, but Thibault said they did it with McCray in mind.
McCray, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee during a Feb. 4 practice, said she won't play this season.
"Had she been healthy, Danielle would have been a top four pick in the draft," Thibault said. "She can play the two or three positions. She's a terrific scorer and a tough kid who we are quite willing to wait a year for."
The Sun spent several days before the draft trying to work a deal in which Minnesota would draft Griffin, then trade her to them. Thibault said the Lynx agreed to the deal an hour before the draft.
"We felt that next year's first (pick) for us — if we play the way we're supposed to — would not match getting theirs (this year)," Thibault said.
Griffin was the Big 12 Player of the Year and helped Nebraska to its best season in history. She, like Charles, was a consensus first team All-American.
"Kelsey is a highly versatile forward who can play the three and four (positions)," Thibault said. "She has a huge upside in our league because of her ability to play at both ends of the floor. She has a high basketball IQ. She's a kid whose toughness and leadership took an underdog team to a top seed in the NCAA tournament. She'll fit in great with our system."
The Sun didn't think Hightower would still be on the board when it picked in the second round.
"We felt like we hit another home run," Thibault said.
Leedham is a two-time Division II Player Of the Year and the all-time leading scorer in women's basketball at that level (3,050 points). Thibault said she might not join the team this season because she is under pressure from her native England to train with its national team.
"Now the next step is to go and mold them, blend them, to fit together," Thibault said. "That's not going to come overnight. … It's a highly competitive league. There's a lot of really good teams. The on-the-court chemistry won't come right away. It will take a little time. The off-the-court chemistry will be great from the get go.
"We better (be good)," Thibault quipped. "If we don't, somebody else will be coaching them."
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