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Sun's Thibault preaches patience for the offseason

Mohegan - The Connecticut Sun made an effort to get younger before the 2010 season, believing it would be better for both their present and future.

The present didn't work out the way Connecticut hoped. The Sun (17-17) missed the playoffs for the second straight year. Now, they must wait eight long months to see if their changes pay off in the future.

"(A reporter) made a comment earlier in the year about this might not be the year, but we've given ourselves an opportunity for the next five or six years," Sun coach Mike Thibault said Thursday from his office at Mohegan Sun Arena. "Is that not what's happening? What's required in all of that is what most people don't like - patience.

"We don't live in a very patient society. Sports is even worse. It's even worse when you've been good before. But (are the changes) the right thing? We'll find out. I think it is, but there will be people out there that think I'm crazy for saying that.

"It's hard (for me to be patient) because competitively you want to win every day, but at the same time, there are some things that just don't get rushed no matter what you do. It's the nature of the beast."

Connecticut brought in six new players this season, three which came via trades. Three of the new players were rookies and the Sun had one of the league's youngest teams (average age of 24).

"We could've kept things as they were," Thibault said. "I don't think that results would've been any better. If they were, we'd be marginally better and that much older."

Rookie center Tina Charles was the biggest acquisition, and Connecticut got her by trading Lindsay Whalen and the second pick in last April's WNBA draft to the Minnesota Lynx for Renee Montgomery and the No. 1 pick.

Charles set a league-record for rebounds (398) and averaged 15.5 points and 11.7 rebounds.

Montgomery, a second-year guard, was erratic. Her shooting ability made Connecticut better on the perimeter and she does bear potential. She struggled on defense, however, and at times showed bad judgment with her passing or didn't handle the ball well.

The Sun also traded their top pick in the 2011 draft to Minnesota for the rights to forward Kelsey Griffin, whom the latter had selected third overall in April. Griffin averaged 4.7 rebounds and had a knack for drawing charges or making hustle plays.

"The trades we made, I have no regrets about," Thibault said. "You just have to let them grow up. They'll keep getting better. I don't think anybody inside or outside of our organization will say that our young players will get worse."

Connecticut does need them to get better and soon. Thibault said that a WNBA team (or NBA team) needs two-and-a-half stars (star players) to win a championship. The Sun have one in Charles and had another in forward Asjha Jones.

Jones wasn't herself this past season, though, after needing surgery on her right Achilles' tendon in February. Her shooting ability came back late in the year, but her defense has yet to return.

"She's getting closer to getting back to (herself)," Thibault said. "We need a perimeter player to become that. And 'star' doesn't necessarily mean just scoring. Star means having a will to be great every day. Your best players need to be your best workers and setting a great example every day so that nobody can't point fingers at them."

Thibault said Connecticut hasn't had a consistent offensive threat on the wing since the days of Nykesha Sales and Katie Douglas. A player who when an opponent scored on the Sun could go right back at their opponent.

"We are playing those positions with young players," Thibault said. "Anete (Jekabsone-Zogota) was headed in the right direction until she got hurt (she missed 16 games after knee surgery). She was confident in doing more things. More assertive. More aggressive.

"Kelsey did it for us on the defensive end, but learning how to be more of a perimeter player than a post player (her college position) offensively takes time."

Danielle McCray and Alba Torrens could help the perimeter shooting. Thibault thought McCray was a top three player prior to her tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee in February. He still thought highly enough of her to trade Chante Black and Amber Holt to the Tulsa Shock for the seventh pick in April's draft so that he could draft the Kansas product.

The Sun drafted Torrens 36th overall (third round) of the 2009 draft. The Spanish guard was the 2009 FIBA Europe Young Player Of the Year.

"We don't need them to be saviors," Thibault said. "We just need them to be contributors."

Connecticut has few changes to make. It wants to resign guard Tan White, who had her best season this summer. She was the team's best defender and a spark off the bench.

"She wants to be here and we want her to be here," Thibault said. "That'll be our free agent priority."

The future of veteran post DeMya Walker is uncertain as she expressed to Thibault her desire for more playing time.

"There's a lot of pluses and very few down sides to this team," Thibault said. "It's the wait. It's hard. It's going to be a long offseason of waiting, too."

n.griffen@theday.com

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