Who will trumpet Donovan's message?


Theories abound about what ails the Connecticut Sun, most of which would swirl the bowl in the aftermath of victory and the healing of a particular ankle (Renee Montgomery's) and a digit (Tan White's).

Here's what we know, however: Anne Donovan, the new coach here, has been to this movie. She has a frame of reference for frustration management.

"Our record was 1-10," she was saying the other day after what felt like a spirited Sun practice, their 2-5 record and all.

She was talking about her first coaching gig. This was Charlotte, 2001. This was Anne Donovan, younger coach, without the resume that says "coached the WNBA champs" and "coached the U.S. to Olympic gold." Just regular old Anne.

"We were 1-10 and we finished 17-4 and made the WNBA Finals," she said. "This isn't completely unheard of."

Donovan was awash in some memories now. Of a season's evolution. Now we know in sports that all seasons are their own allegories. The path of one doesn't necessarily follow the path of another. But this sort of feels on point.

"It was brutal. I was a first-year coach and the Sting were struggling as a franchise," Donovan said. "My brother was in North Carolina. He would take me out for a beer after every game and keep me from drowning in it. My sister was there for the 10th loss. She gave me her ticket stub and said 'This is the end of it.'"

Now Anne was rolling.

"I give all the credit to Dawn Staley. She was a solid leader. So was Andrea Stinson. They pushed a 'we're good' mentality. I relied on my own inner circle, just like now. At that time, I can't tell you how much I relied on Dawn and Stint. It would have been easy to bail on a new coach. That was a career changer for me, even more than the (2004) championship (in Seattle). We did things we weren't supposed to be able to do that season."

I asked Donovan the following: "Who are the Staley/Stinson voices here with the Sun?"

I gave her the option of not answering the question if she didn't want to.

She didn't want to.

And that's OK.

It doesn't mean those voices don't exist.

Maybe they do.

But if they don't, now you know the best answer of all as to why the Sun are 2-5.

Somebody - somebodies, actually - would need to start trumpeting Donovan's message. This is nothing new in sports. Bill Parcells always talked about having "his guys" wherever he went. They weren't the guys who just talked. They knew what Parcells wanted and expected. That message was conveyed daily. In word and deed.

Donovan said she gave the team a few days off after last Sunday's loss to Seattle to "let them marinate" on it. But not before a locker room session in the immediacy of Sunday's loss.

"We had a heart to heart," she said. "I think we all understood each other better. We're all here to stay, we're all here to work through this."

Locker room heart to hearts can go two ways: monologues or dialogues. That means either the coach vents, rattles the walls and leaves or seeks input from the troops.

"I was not the only voice," Donovan said. "There was determination when we left. It's up to all of us. We all have ownership."

Let's not pretend this is ideal. There are reasons this roster isn't as strong as it could - or should - be. But it's moot. So now the players here, if they haven't done so, need to summon their inner Staley and Stinson. Before 2-5 becomes 3-10.

We know Tina Charles needs help in the post. Is it Kayla Pedersen, the newest addition? Maybe. Kara Lawson and Allie Hightower can't be the only other scoring threats. Maybe that doesn't change until Montgomery and White return. Maybe it's Izzy Castro Marques. Or maybe Kalana Greene and Kelsey Griffin give them the 8-10 points per game they are capable of every night. Really, it's 8-10 points. Not 30.

But in the meantime, the single most important thing Donovan just said was this: They're all here to stay and they're all here to work through this. It begins today with first-place Atlanta.

Anne Donovan's message worked at 1-10 Charlotte. It worked in Seattle, long before the Storm were perennial contenders. It worked with Olympians. It'll work here. But only if the players buy in. Note to the players: start buying. Now.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.


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