Saturday, April 29, 2006

Cuts Add Up

Sorry for the late posting. I was out covering boxing at Mohegan Sun, and by the way, I learned that seeing two guys exchange vicious blows in person is a lot different than on TV.
Anywho …
This may sound strange, but you have to chalk up the Sun’s early wave of cuts to good coaching and scouting in many ways.
Two of the three players waived from camp thus far were drafted this year. Since Connecticut didn’t have a first-round pick that means no one remains from the draft of less than a month ago.
How is that possible you ask? It is a credit to the homework done by Mike Thibault and his staff.
First off, this team is going to be good regardless of who fills in those final spots. At the same time, the players who survive the last batch of cuts could help be the difference between celebrating a third straight Eastern Conference title or the franchise’s first WNBA title.
Whether it be by scouting internationally, making the right free agent signings or scouring the ranks of lesser-known leagues for a hidden gem, the Sun have obviously established a system that works. The draft is a great tool — particularly if you’re not making you first pick with the second round’s last selection, which was the Sun’s case this year — but Connecticut is proving it’s not the only one.
As for Debbie Merrill, the most recent player to be released, no one can say this is a big surprise.
Teams are only allowed 11 active players when the season starts, plus one or two more on injured reserve. (With its payroll, the Sun will probably have a total of 12.) With that in mind, consider the group of players the 6-foot-1 Merrill, who can only play as a four or five, had to deal with.
Margo Dydek and Taj McWilliams-Franklin are virtual locks for the two starting post positions, while Donna Loffhagen was a free-agent signing after two years of effort by the Sun to bring in one of New Zealand’s top players. Add to that mix Laura Summerton, Le’Coe Willingham and Jessica Brungo, who were each reserves last season, and suddenly there isn’t much room for a first-year player out of school who wasn’t going to be a real difference maker.
If anything, it might prove to be a blessing for Merrill. Maybe Connecticut wasn’t the right fit, but that doesn’t mean someplace else won’t be. At least she might have a second chance by being cut now as compared to a week or so down the road.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Tough Choices

The task is not an easy one for Sun coach Mike Thibault. And it’s the case for most coaches across the WNBA.
The reality of professional sports is that anyone worthy of being invited to a tryout or training camp possesses enough ability to make it in the league. That’s why it’s not surprising to struggle for anyone resembling a weak link at a typical Connecticut practice.
Of the 13 players currently at Sun camp — point guard Lindsay Whalen is not actually participating, but she is there everyday doing rehab work — each one looks very good on paper and shows that ability in some capacity on the court. Versatility will likely be the difference between who makes the roster and who gets cut, which shouldn’t start taking place until the team’s veterans begin trickling in sometime next week.
Thibault views the ability to be versatile as a means to expanding his roster. GM Chris Sienko echoes that belief, and stressed at team media day that the organization doesn’t aim to simply fill a specific hole.
“We want athletic kids that can really compete,” he said. “We don’t want to have just a particular position in mind.”

The Sun will hold a practice open to the public from 6-8 p.m. on May 1 at Rhode Island. If you’re a fan, I highly recommend taking advantage of this opportunity.
Plus, for you collectors out there, the players will be signing autographs afterward.
But getting to watch the team practice will not only give you a better appreciation for how competitive the tryout process is, it will also demonstrate the speed of the professional game in different way than simply watching a regular-season game.

If you’re interested in keeping up with news around the WNBA a good place for information is Matt Wurst’s league blog. Below is the link.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Waiting Game

It's a reality of professional sports, although the typical fan doesn't much about the subject.
Well now Eastern Connecticut residents are going to be introduced to the world of professional athletes from other countries seeking visas in order to compete in the U.S. There is plenty of hope for young Erin Phillips to have a successful career in the WNBA with the Sun, that is once she gets into the country. Don't worry too much, her paperwork is all in and she should be to training camp later this week or early next week.
This holdup isn't common for American athletes, at least the most prominent ones. Soccer players deal with this all the time - and aside from the fact its Premier League features some of the world's top players -— many U.S. talents can't try their trade in England because the country has very strict rules on athletic work visas, which are normally reserved for some of the planet's highest-paid talents. That's why many Americans get their start is Holland, which has much more liberal rules, but I digress.
As for the WNBA, I think it's great that the league is taking on a more international look, just like the NBA. Entering year No. 10, it's fair to say that WNBA has proven its staying power. By recruiting the world's best - and remaining patient through the occasional hiccup - the fan base only stands to rise.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Fresh Start

There is something special about any type of opening day in sports.
The moment is usually accompanied by renewed optimism, regardless of how the previous season turned out. For the Connecticut Sun, who today held their annual media day, a sense of excitement is well deserved.
With its core back from a last season, the two-time reigning Eastern Conference champions are hoping to take that final step by winning the WNBA title.
Opening day is also fun for the media, whether you’re covering the team for the first time, like me, or returning with multiple seasons of experience. For us, it’s a chance to see some new faces and learn some new stories that develop into what our readers see.
It was also my first chance to see the Mohegan Sun Arena, and I was very impressed. I’m looking forward to seeing the atmosphere on game, which I’ve been told is among the league’s best.