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For Sun, suffering will make winning all the sweeter

It is either ironic — or entirely fitting — that the Connecticut Sun can look to the man from the old days, the man who built this, as a beacon for the days ahead.

Yes, the ache of defeat will linger long after Thursday night's loss in the championship game to the Mystics. But the Sun need only look at Mike Thibault, the Washington coach and original Sun architect, for inspiration.

And it's nothing more complicated than this: If you keep showing up and doing things the right way, opportunities continue to present themselves. That's Mike Thibault. He's done it the right way every day, even during the ignominy of his dismissal as the Sun coach in 2012. He showed up in Washington when the franchise was — in guard Natasha Cloud's words "complete trash" — and built them into a champion.

Few, if any, other coach in WNBA history has endured more injuries and bad bounces in the WNBA Finals than Thibault. But he kept showing up, steadfast in his principles. And darn, if kismet finally arrived at this door. Funny thing about kismet: It has a rather subjective timetable.

And so, the Sun franchise, resurrected under Curt Miller, should be smart enough to see the excitement through the melancholy. This was one hell of a season in Neon Uncasville. It fell a gnat's eyelash short. No shame there. And if this group keeps showing up and doing things as they're doing, they'll be awash in the pixie dust one day, too.

"We have an introductory song with the introductory highlight video that we play (at Mohegan Sun) right before we announce the starting lineups," Miller said. "It talks about being 'legendary.' I told them that they became household names in this series. Everyone is going to know their name now. And where we were considered a team without a mega-superstar, we were forced to trade a No. 1 overall draft pick weeks before the start of the season (Chiney Ogwumike), and that locker room bonded together and said, nothing can derail us. So, they became legendary. They became household names."

They did indeed. And if they stay together and channel their inner Jimmy V — don't give up; don't ever give up — there is no reason to think they won't be in the finals next year, too.

Bold prediction? Perhaps. But they're doing too many things right.

"They were not considered megastars. Well, that locker room is filled with a bunch of megastars, and they proved that, and everyone is going to know who they are for the rest of their careers," Miller said.

"So, I'm really excited. The fan base is reenergized. We took the next step after a couple disappointing playoffs, and we all know it's not an easy market always. We're trying to fight for the small market franchise in pro sports, and so proud of our fan base and so proud of where the organization and franchise is again."

Offseasons are often dicey in the WNBA, what with so many players allowed to dictate where and for whom they want to play. But if this group is truly committed to winning and each other, they'll be back. And if most or all return, all that's required here is a lube, oil and filter rather than an engine overhaul.

Times like this I always refer to Kathy Auriemma, wife of Geno, who stood in the hallway of an arena in godforsaken Fresno one night in 2007. The Huskies fell short of the Final Four that night and, like the Sun, faced a long, long, loooooong offseason of shouldas, couldas and wouldas.

Then Kathy said this: "They've all suffered. There hasn't been one championship team here that hasn't."

Kathy Auriemma meant this: All five national championship teams (to that point in time) endured bitter disappointment in the NCAA Tournament before hanging the banner.

It took Rebecca Lobo until her senior year to make the Final Four. It took Jennifer Rizzotti and Jamelle Elliott three years. The 2000 team was the first Connecticut team to make the Final Four in four years. The Shea Ralph/Svetlana Abrosimova team went out in the Elite Eight in 1997 and 98 and then to Iowa State in the Sweet 16 in 1999.

The undefeated team of 2002 used the angst of a blown 15-point lead against Notre Dame in the 2001 Final Four as its primary fuel. It is doubtful the 2002 team would have gone undefeated had the sting of the '01 national semifinal not caused so much heartburn.

You get the point: Suffering makes winning all the sweeter.

Mike Thibault has suffered plenty. He kept showing up. Now he has his ring.

The Sun are suffering now.

All part of the grander plan.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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