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    Monday, December 11, 2023

    Shekinna Stricklen, the agent of orange, has won us over

    Connecticut Sun guard Shekinna Stricklen celebrates a three pointer against the Chicago Sky in WNBA Eastern Conference action Friday, September 6, 2019 at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Mohegan — She used to be an agent of orange. Yikes. Them's fightin' words here in Connecticut. You know.


    Rocky Top.




    But then we got to know her a little, watching her rain threes on opponents like hailstones. We see her joie de vivre and popularity among her Sun teammates. And, yes, we process the idea that not all orange is bad. It is the primary hue, after all, of the Connecticut Sun, whose fans are perhaps rethinking the whole hating-on-Tennessee thing now.

    Shekinna Stricklen: We have met the enemy and she is ... ours?

    "No matter where they see me now, they're holding up the '3' sign," Stricklen, the three-point champion at the recent WNBA All-Star game, was saying after Thursday's practice at Mohegan Sun Arena. "Even in public. It's funny. They'll see me in a store and go 'Striiiiick!' And flash the '3.'"

    Indeed, "Striiiiick" has become perhaps the most popular Tennessean ever here in the land of steady habits. She is among the loudest cheered at Sun home games. And there is quite the crowd buzz every time she launches a 3-pointer. They expect them to go in.

    Stricklen, who shares her hometown heritage of Conway, Ark. with Scottie Pippen, has found a home in a place both geographically and demographically distant from home. Now, though, with a place on a successful team and a fan favorite, she says "it looks like everything has worked out pretty well."

    "We love her," said Ann LaPlante of New London, who is a first-year season ticket holder with her sister, Janie Sherwin. "We met Strick before the season on a night when we could pick our seats at the arena. We started talking to her. She told us which seats to pick, because those were the ones close to where she warms up. She said she'd look for us before every game. And she does. Before every game, we give each other the 'thumbs up' sign."

    It was not always rainbows and champagne here for Stricklen, who came here five years ago with Camille Little in a trade that sent Renee Montgomery to Seattle. Turns out former Sun coach, the late Anne Donovan, engineered a beauty there. Lest we forget Donovan brought Stricklen and Jasmine Thomas (for second-round draft pick Brittany Hrynko) here for what amounts to a song.

    Stricken chuckled, somewhat darkly, at the early days.

    "The first couple of years were tough here. I'm not gonna lie," Stricklen said. "Totally different from a big city to here. But it wasn't as hard for me, because I'm not a big city person. I'm from Arkansas. Now it did take a lot to adjust when I was in Seattle with the traffic and everything. This is more my pace, more me.

    "The first two years were an adjustment process in different ways. But then, it helps with the team we have, the chemistry we built. A.T. (Alyssa Thomas) has been here six years and Jazz (Jasmine Thomas) and I have been together for a while. We're all still very close. Makes things so much better."

    Still, imagine: the culture shock of Seattle to Uncasville. The Space Needle to the Brown Derby. A new team that wasn't winning. And there was the Tennessee thing. Stricklen graduated from college in 2012 and hadn't played UConn while in Knoxville. But memories tend to linger.

    "I grew up watching those games and I understood it all," Stricklen said. "I knew some Tennessee players who played here, like Kara Lawson. At the beginning, I think I felt it a little bit. But then they started to warm up to me. A big factor is hitting threes."

    Stricklen was a longshot to win the three-point contest at the All-Star game. Funny thing, though, about how life tends to flow better from places of comfort. And "Striiiick" is comfortable here.

    "A lot of teams respect me a lot more," she said. "I remember the first time we played Chicago, this year, they face guarded me. I was like 'wow, really?' They don't rotate off me anymore. I think they're paying attention to me more. I've earned my respect."

    Both on and off the court.

    Go figure.

    We cheer Tennessee here now.

    How long till we start singing "Rocky Top," too?

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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