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Sun players will still have fun, but won't be playing nice anymore

Mohegan — It is not always palatable to watch professional basketball players react to bad calls from the officials, giving us everything from eye rolls and wrinkled noses to looking as though they've just been bitten by a forest animal.

This, however, might be pro forma at Mohegan Sun Arena for the rest of the summer. The daughters of Sun say they're on the same quest as Aretha, seeking a little respect (just a little bit, just a little bit). And Sun players, to quote Peter Finch's cathartic scene in "Network," are mad as hell and aren't going to take it anymore.

Chiney Ogwumike, the effervescent forward, stood in the middle of the locker room after last Saturday's foul-filled win over Minnesota and held an impromptu revival meeting about how the rest of the summer would look.

"I'm done!" Ogwumike howled.

Her teammates loved it.

What she meant: She's done holding her tongue. On behalf her team, she would like the rest of the WNBA to know the Sun are about to punch back. This is in response to what they perceive as the lack of respect stemming from a dearth of superstars and Olympians who might get treated differently — friendlier whistles, perhaps — on occasion.

"I feel like we're in this constant fight for respect, not only from the league, but also from the officials and players on other teams," Ogwumike said after Monday's practice.

Remember: This is Chiney Ogwumike talking. The woman her teammates affectionately call "Chi Chi" is one of the league's smartest (Stanford grad), most recognizable players, a regular now on ESPN. Her words resonate.

"Our team is not a one or two person show," Ogwumike said. "(Coach) Curt (Miller) calls it a pack. So we have to take that whole pack mentality against these certified superstars and certified Olympians. We've tried everything. We've tried to be good, tried to reason, play in the flow of the game. Now we're like, 'we might as well be us.'

"Sometimes, it can be overwhelming. Like the game Saturday, a lot of teams would have folded under those circumstances. At this point we have to own it and embrace it. They want us to be complacent and happy with the way the game goes."

The worst kept secret in basketball: stars get calls. It's accepted practice because stars, by definition, are perceived differently. It's usually one or two players per team. But what happens with a unique outfit like Connecticut, which has a whole-greater-than-sum-of-the-parts thing going, a cast of very good players who haven't yet reached stardom?

"We are all mobile pieces of this puzzle," Ogwumike said. "It's different. I don't know another team that has so much production from so many people. I think we're on the verge of being something different in this league. It's a style people aren't really used to."

Miller admitted after Saturday's win that his team "complains too much." He also took full responsibility, given his penchant to protest. Is it perceived as whining? Bad optics, as the millennials might say? Maybe. And the Sun don't care.

"I think we're being authentic," Ogwumike said. "For so long now, everyone wants WNBA players to fit into a certain type. We are role models, yes. But we are also strong, fierce women. And I think a lot of times people assume women have to be on their best behavior at all times. We aren't most of the time. But we care for each other as a team. We care for our fan base and the kind of basketball we play. But I think people want to keep us in that mold. We can be tough and fierce."

Ogwumike used Lisa Leslie as Exhibit A. Leslie and Ogwumike talked on ESPN the other day about career technicals. Leslie drew 36, an illustration that she, while a star, wasn't taking any Shinola from anybody.

"And then I got a technical the next day," Ogwumike said, alluding to the T she earned Saturday, along with teammate Alyssa Thomas. "It's not because I wanted it, but because we have to fight for everything."

All of this illustrates a fascinating juxtaposition for the Sun of 2018 and beyond. This is a team of really goofy, funny and engaging souls. And yet that's the part of their personalities that officials and opponents aren't going to see.

"We have Jazz (Jasmine Thomas), one of the nicest human beings you'll ever meet," Ogwumike said. "Me? You always catch me smiling. JJ (Jonquel Jones) is always smiling. Courtney (Williams) is a walking smile. You meet us as individuals and we're fun people. But we realize that we have to push through so much, we might as well start owning it instead of trying to be what everyone expects us to be. Instead of waiting for our time, we're going to force it."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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