Getting healthy a must for Sun

Duke's Elizabeth Williams, right, was the No. 4 overall pick by the Connecticut Sun during Thursday night's WNBA draft. The Sun are banking on the 6-foot-3 rookie to provide a strong inside presence while last year's top pick, forward Chiney Ogwumike, recovers from off-season knee surgery. (Tim Cook/The Day)
Duke's Elizabeth Williams, right, was the No. 4 overall pick by the Connecticut Sun during Thursday night's WNBA draft. The Sun are banking on the 6-foot-3 rookie to provide a strong inside presence while last year's top pick, forward Chiney Ogwumike, recovers from off-season knee surgery. (Tim Cook/The Day)

Mohegan — There are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic about the Connecticut Sun this season.

The Sun slogged through their second straight losing season (13-21) in 2014. They’re extremely young (seven of their core players are 24-and-under). Forward Chiney Ogwumike, the new face of the franchise, is out indefinitely after offseason knee surgery. And veteran guard Katie Douglas is still rehabbing a sore back and hasn’t even practiced yet.

Cue the hyperactive (and hyper-happy) Ogwumike.

“There’s unknowns (on every team),” Ogwumike said backstage during Thursday night’s WNBA Draft at Mohegan Sun Arena. “It’s a new year. You look at Phoenix, there’s unknowns. You look at Los Angeles, there’s unknowns there. Every team is going to have a new look and have to put things together, and I think coach (Anne) Donovan is very excited about that.

“I hate to use the word ‘rebuilding,’ but I think we’re a work in progress, and I think we can surprise a lot of people.”

The Sun showed flashes of promise last summer with a young nucleus of new players and a six-game winning streak. Only three of the league’s other 11 teams won that many consecutive games — WNBA champion Phoenix, Minnesota (25-9), and Atlanta (19-15), the latter which was the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Connecticut struggled at nearly everything else. It was last in field goal percentage (.414), had the second-worst free throw percentage (.743) and finished in the bottom six in points scored (75.7), rebounding average (34) and 3-point percentage (.322).

The doom-and-gloom began this season less than a month into the new year when Ogwumike had microfracture surgery on her right knee. Her recovery time is 6-9 months.

Douglas’ status is uncertain. She missed almost the entire 2013 season due to her back and had surgery during the offseason.

But there’s some reason for optimism. Ogwumike is upbeat about her rehab and hopes to play this season.

“I’m actually in the best shape of my life right now, which is sort of crazy,” Ogwumike said. “I’m using this time to really restructure my body to be leaner and lighter and stronger, and I really feel great.

“Even though this is a bump in the road, I really think this is going to help my longevity with my career.”

Second-year forward Alyssa Thomas (10 ppg, 5.1 rpg) was a member of the 2014 All-Rookie team. Third-year guard Alex Bentley (12.2 ppg) had stretches where was an effective shooter and scorer. Third-year center Kelsey Bone is just 23.

The Sun shook up their roster a bit as they acquired forward Camille Little and wing Shekinna Stricklen from Seattle in exchange for a package that included Renee Montgomery and their third overall pick in Thursday’s draft. Little is an eight-year veteran who helped the Storm win the 2010 WNBA championship.

“I’m so excited about Camille,” Donovan said. “She’s just been this steady, overachieving post player. … She’s shown how valuable she is.”

Donovan sees Stricklen coming off the bench. The second overall pick in 2012 has been inconsistent and averaged just 17.5 minutes last season. Yet she still tied for seventh in 3-pointers made last year (47), and 10th in 3-point field goal percentage (.385).

Duke center-forward Elizabeth Williams was drafted fourth overall by Connecticut on Thursday. The Sun also traded for veteran guard Jasmine Thomas.

Guard Allison Hightower, a 2013 All-Star, will be back after missing all but 10 games to a knee injury. Point guard Chelsea Gray will also start her rookie season. She was drafted 11th overall by Connecticut even though she’d miss the season after dislocating her right kneecap in February 2014.

“I love (Jasmine) Thomas,” Donovan said. “I love having that flexibility to move Bentley around a little bit (from point guard to off-guard). And should Allison struggle (after knee surgery), or Katie, God forbid, we lose her, we still have enough perimeter players, I think.”

Ogwumike said, “It’s going to be a new-look Connecticut. Even though, with me out, I think that we will shock a lot of people because we’re young and hungry and we know what it feels like to lose consistently and we’ll fight against that regardless of who’s out there.”

n.griffen@theday.com

Twitter: @MetalNED

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