Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Waiting Game

When you’re father is a former star of Australian Rules Football, it’s fair to assume that having a threshold for pain is somewhat a birth right.
Erin Phillips probably fits into that category, evidenced by suffering a mild concussion last Saturday against the Detroit Shock and not becoming aware of the problem until after the game.
Her father, Greg, knows something about toughness after starring with the Aussie Rules team in Adelaide, Erin’s hometown.
“I rang him up and he knows how frustrated I am,” Phillips said Wednesday, after not practicing for the third time in as many team sessions, “because I don’t like missing out on anything.”
She is cleared for Thursday morning shootaround before the Sun play at the Charlotte Sting, but her status for the game is still unclear. One thing that is certain is Phillips’ desire to return to the court.
The nagging of team trainers and doctors signifies the 21-year-old’s eagerness to get in the mix.
“I must give them credit because I’ve been a pain in the butt because I just went to get out and train,” Phillips said. “And they’re pulling the reins so hard, pulling me up and stopping me. It’s very frustrating but I do understand why they do it.”

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Phillips Fitting In

Erin Phillips’ maturation appears to be in full swing.
With Lindsay Whalen still on the mend, Phillips was the only point guard for the Sun in their fourth-quarter comeback Tuesday against Minnesota. (Whalen probably could have played, but why mess with a good thing?)
After forcing shots and plays in the season opener, Phillips demonstrated more poise in her second professional game. The result was a time-effective 13 points in 19-plus minutes. She added four rebounds and two assists, against, perhaps most importantly, no turnovers.
Phillips should only improve as she grows more familiar with Connecticut’s system, but her presence is already adding to the backcourt’s firepower. After 28 points against the Lynx from Katie Douglas, teams might have more to fear out of the Sun’s guards than ever before.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Random Thoughts

I’m taking in the Seattle Storm-Los Angeles Sparks game on NBA TV tonight — in between updates from the Mets and NHL playoffs — and it’s odd to see Barbara Turner in different colors.
I thought the same thing when watching Ann Strother and Phoenix during the preseason. I guess it takes some getting used to after watching these players in UConn colors.
Speaking of UConn, it appears the New York Liberty are going to rely heavily on Huskies products Kelly Schumacher and Ashley Battle. Both played better than 28 minutes in a season-opening loss to the Sun on Saturday.
The pair already has a good rapport after being college teammates in 2000-01 when Schumacher was a senior in Storrs and Battle a first-year player redshirting.
“We have the same kind of mentality coming from UConn and learning from Geno (Auriemma) and the whole organization there,” Schumacher said before Saturday’s tip of she and Battle. “There are certain things that we do automatic that maybe other players don’t. It’s nice to know I’ve got her and if I see her she’s going to read me.”
Schumacher came to the Big Apple after an offseason sign-and-trade following four years with Indiana. Battle signed as a free agent after appearing in just two games with Seattle last season as a rookie before getting cut.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Clock Is Ticking

If Sun coach Mike Thibault is up as late as I am currently, the thought of making the team’s final cuts has undoubtedly crossed his mind.
Friday’s deadline is steadily approaching and there are still two more players who must be waived. Trying to find the weak link at this point in training camp — the most competitive in Connecticut history — is nearly impossible.
I don’t envy the task.
“It’s so hard that I am agonizing,” Thibault said after Wednesday’s practice. “Pretty much what I think about when I’m not here, out on the court for practice. It’s just hard. It’s the worst part of the job. I don’t look forward to it.
“I’d love to have somebody else to for me but that’s my job. It’s not easy. I’m not looking forward to it.”
Adding to that difficulty is the recent signing of Ambrosia Anderson off waivers — you can read about her in Thursday’s Norwich Bulletin — who has looked comfortable and blended in during her brief stint.
If I had to guess, either Jamie Carey or Jen Derevjanik will not be retained. The effort to get Erin Phillips here and her abundant potential makes her a virtual lock to be the backup point guard to Lindsay Whalen for now. There isn’t likely to be pressing need for four point guards, regardless of how effective Carey and Derevjanik each have been.
The other final cut I see — Connecticut needs to get from 14 to 12 — comes from the trio of Anderson, Megan Mahoney and Le’Coe Willingham. Thibault has been public in his praise for both Laura Summerton and Donna Loffhagen, which give them the appearance of being safe.
Despite her effectiveness in practice, Anderson is still far from safe considering the timing of her arrival. Struggling through a series of injuries, Mahoney hasn’t been overly effective in any of the three preseason games, although Thibualt likes her versatility as either a guard or small forward.
Willingham has been effective in her shot making, but has also struggled through spells of turnovers during the exhibition season. If she doesn’t make the team, I see it as a result of having less versatility than some of the other players competing for a spot.
When asked if whoever gets cut is capable of being a WNBA player, Thibault’s answer was blunt.
“No question,” he said.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Wanting Sleep

For everyone out there who wants to be a sports writer and only see the glory in it, let this be a lesson that our lives are about more than simply getting good seats at basketball games.
As you can tell by the time of this post, I am up quite late. That is the result of having to finish my stories in time for a special section we’ll be putting out on the Sun this Friday. I was hoping to have more done by now, but I got derailed with a couple of stories earlier in the day, including Willnett Crockett being cut somewhat unexpectedly by Los Angeles.
I still love what I do, but I figured it’s worth pointing out that us writers are also capable of having odd parts of our jobs.

Monday, May 15, 2006

A Reason to Stay Interested

In preparation for the upcoming season, which kicks off this Saturday, I’ve been speaking with some season-ticket holders to find out why they initially became interested in the Sun and what keeps them coming back.
I had already heard stories of how great WNBA players are in the community and seen glimpses of it this training camp, but hearing it from you fans has reinforced things I was previously told. Talking to Diana Taurasi last week only furthered these thoughts.
There is no overwhelming reason why this league is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary. No magic, or reinventing-the-wheel business scheme. The players deserve most of the credit, and plenty of that has to do with what they do off the court.
Fans feel an attachment to the teams and players they follow with good reason. There are numerous opportunities to get up close and talk to these athletes, which in turn makes spectators feel a greater to reason to remain interested. The players understand their roles, and they embrace the league’s desire to consistently reach out to fans.
If you’re a fan, there are few leagues out there that offer similar benefits.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Thoughts From The Thruway

Although I didn’t walk into my door until nearly 2 a.m., making the drive up to Albany and back for Thursday’s preseason game between Phoenix and Detroit proved worthwhile.
First off, it was nice to catch up with Ann Strother, and hopefully I’ll have more of those stories to come about Barbara Turner and Willnett Crockett. It also provided a chance to talk with Diana Taurasi, who I had never met because I didn’t cover the team when she played.
But perhaps the most enjoyable part of the experience was based on where my seat was in Pepsi Arena. I was placed almost directly behind the Shock bench, which meant I got to hear almost every word out of coach Bill Laimbeer’s mouth. It was great.
There was rarely a moment he didn’t have some type of comment for the officials. Often times I was left laughing to myself with some of his phrases, and there were plenty of times both he and the officials let out a few chuckles.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

I'm Back

Sorry for the delay since my last post. I’ve been doing a lot of writing for the paper, but I should have done a better job of giving this blog some updates.
So here are some random thoughts between then and now, and how they pertain to the Sun:

*How about Asjha Jones. She had 14 points and seven rebounds in the team’s second exhibition game the other night in New Mexico, furthering the belief of coach Mike Thibault that this could be a big year for the former UConn star.
She may not have produced similar numbers against Detroit in the preseason opener, but Jones showed the ability to create open shots, which will pay off more nights than not.
*As a journalist, you look forward to the beginning of each season because it creates new opportunities to find players you enjoy covering. A lot of times that means finding someone engaging and fun to talk to. We’ll call them go-to quotes, although there are plenty of other ways to describe them.
Erin Phillips, the fiery young point guard from Australia, might be that new face all the reporters will be spending time with. Aside from being a great quote — she’s very comfortable with media attention, and seems to enjoy it — this kid can play. It may take a little time, but Phillips could one day be a star in this league, just like she is back home.
*Cuts are approaching, and if you ask anyone involved in Sun training camp, they’ll tell you how close the competition is. The most interesting race seems to pit Jen Derevjanik against Jamie Carey in a fierce battle for the third, and likely final, point guard spot. (Phillips and starter-once-healthy Lindsay Whalen should be locks)
I can’t guess who’s staying or going, but I also can’t imagine both making the team. I’d bet plenty of WNBA teams are paying close attention to Thibault’s decision, because either of these players can be effective in the league. It’s a nice luxury for the Sun to have considering the tremendous depth of guards they possess.

Well, that’s all for now. It’s way too late, and I’ve got to drive to Albany, N.Y., tomorrow to catch up with Ann Strother and Diana Taurasi, who are in town with their Phoenix team to play Detroit. It will be the first time I’ve seen any of UConn’s three drafted players from this year, and I’m looking forward to hearing how Strother has progressed.

Til then …

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Phillips In Camp

So Erin Phillips is finally in the United States. Despite missing the first two weeks of training camp, she looked pretty good for someone stepping into practice for the first time on just a few hours sleep.
It will be interesting to how Phillips fairs in Sunday’s preseason opener.
If she has some success it would be indicative of the hype she carries over from Australia. Even if she’s not entirely effective, don’t take that as a negative. Looking good early on in practice is completely different than proving effective in a game with virtually no prep time.
Based on first judgments, Phillips did seem very relieved to finally be here. There was a great sense of frustration in her voice when discussing the delays in her visa.
But all of that is in the past and Sun fans should be pleased to see the arrival of Phillips. She has a chance to be very successful.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Mahoney Making Moves

The race to secure the final spots on the Connecticut Sun’s roster is too close to call. But if there’s one player who has made the job of coach Mike Thibault a little bit more difficult, it is likely Megan Mahoney.
One day after missing the last stretch of practice because of a vicious fall to the ground — another player also fell on her back — Mahoney was back at it on Wednesday. Toughness, both mental and physical, is a phrase coaches often throw around, and Mahoney clearly has it.
She has looked very good so far in training camp. Mahoney possesses the ability to get to the basket and she also has an effective shot from outside. After seeing some time at point guard early on, it seems like more of her practice minutes are coming at shooting guard, a position she looks quite comfortable at.
Like Mahoney said the other day, staying healthy is the biggest concern right. If that takes places, don’t be surprised to see Mahoney earn a spot when the cuts are made May 19.

UConn Draftees Surviving

It seems Barbara Turner continues to impress at Seattle Storm training camp, to the point that there is even talk of her cracking the starting lineup.
I can’t say I’m too surprised that Turner has made an impact. But to be earning such high praise this soon shows how far she’s come from being a player some thought wouldn’t get much draft consideration.
Regardless of her relative lack in height (5-foot-10 is probably more accurate than her common listing of 6-foot) and the fact that she is transitioning to a new position as a pro, when Turner wants to be, she can be the hardest worker on the floor. Put that attitude together with all the natural ability Turner possesses and you’ve got one formidable player.
It would appear that simply making the roster won’t be a problem for Turner.
As for UConn’s other two drafted players, Ann Strother and Willnett Crockett — each taken in the second round — remain on their respective rosters.
Strother has survived three cuts so far from the Phoenix Mercury, including a pair of players listed above 6-foot, like Strother. I’d have a hard time picturing Strother not making Phoenix’s roster for two reasons: She was traded for, which shows a serious interest; and Strother’s best years in college came alongside Diana Taurasi, who apparently lobbied for Strother’s acquisition.
As bad as this sounds, the fact that forward Shereka Wright has been lost for the season due to injury shouldn’t hurt Strothers cause, either.
Crockett is the oddball of this trio, although she has plenty of assets to support a decision to keep her on the Los Angeles Sparks’ roster. With a pair of forwards, who appeared like prime competition for Crockett, having already been cut, it seems like Crockett’s stock is rising.
And, considering her penchant for being a big-moment player, we know she has the ability to draw upon an extra level of confidence to pull her through.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Calling All Fans

In case you already didn’t know, there will be a mention in Wednesday’s paper that the Sun are hosting an open practice for fans to attend from 6-8 Friday night at St. Joseph’s College in West Hartford.
The paper is hoping to take advantage of this opportunity by meeting some fans. If you’re from Eastern Connecticut and plan to attend this open practice, please send me an e-mail ( so I can look for you.
We’re committed to keeping in touch with readers who are interested in the team, and I’m looking forward to hearing from all the Sun fans out there.