UNCASVILLE, CT, July 24, 2009 -- The host Connecticut Sun will have only one player representing the team in the 2009 WNBA All-Star Game Saturday at Mohegan Sun Arena and it won't be Lindsay Whalen. Despite being a fan favorite in Uncasville, the Sun point guard, who was the runner-up for the league's MVP award in 2008, failed to garner enough support from fans and coaches to make her first All-Star appearance since 2006. Whalen once again has put up solid numbers this season (11.5 ppg, 4.3 apg, 4.8 rpg) and has her team in the thick of the playoff race. However, her pace isn't as torrid as last year's and that opened the door some of the other talented guards in the East.
Instead, playing in front of the home crowd will be the more understated but no less effective Asjha Jones, who arguably has been more valuable than Whalen to a Sun team that is 9-6 and riding a four-game winning streak into the break.
In her third season as a full-time starter, Jones has put together another dynamite year as the Sun’s impactful presence up front to earn her second straight All-Star nod after being selected as a reserve for the 2007 affair. Among those that have played a majority of the Sun’s 15 games this year, the power forward leads the squad in scoring (17.3 ppg), rebounding (6.1 rpg) and minutes (32.7 mpg).
And on top of playing for the Sun, Jones is also an alum of the University of Connecticut, a local institution with a proud and storied basketball tradition, as evidenced by the five UConn players set to take part in Saturday’s All-Star Game. Put it all together and suddenly Jones finds herself in unfamiliar territory as one of the most popular players around.
We talked with Jones to find out what the experience has been like so far and what she expects the rest of the weekend.
WNBA.com: This is your second All-Star Game. What does it mean to get selected by the coaches again?
JONES: “It’s great. We have the best coaches in the world. For them to think of me as one of the better players in the league is awesome. It makes me feel like I’m doing my job.”
WNBA.com: So you’re a Connecticut Sun player and you also played your college ball at UConn. What kind of impact does that have when you are playing this kind of game here in Uncasville?
JONES: “Well, I have the crowd support. There’s going to be a lot of my friends in the audience. Maybe (UConn coach Geno Auriemma) will get to come around and I’ll get to see him. Finally. We haven’t seen him in a while. He has his own responsibilities, recruiting and working. But since it’s local, it’s like a reunion for us. We have five (former UConn players) here, so it’s going to be fun.”
WNBA.com: Have you talked a lot with the former UConn players that are in the All-Star Game since they arrived?
JONES: “We’ll get to hang out while we’re here. We’ve been pretty busy since everyone got in really early this morning. We’ve been running around all day. So maybe tonight we’ll actually get to hang out and maybe if they are able to stay after the game we’ll be able to hang out some more. It’ll be fun because we never have time to hang out with each other.”
WNBA.com: You are the only player from the Sun here at the All-Star Game. What’s that been like for you and were you surprised teammate Lindsay Whalen wasn’t selected?
JONES: “Going into All-Star things are never really surprising because you never know what to expect. You don’t get your hopes up, really.
"It’s a lot of pressure being the only one. Now when we have all of our events and the media time by default they are going to have to talk to me. So there are a lot of requirements. But I’m able to handle it.”
WNBA.com: There are a lot of first-time All-Stars here this year. Do you remember what your first All-Star experience was like?
JONES: “Yeah, my first time was in D.C. a couple years ago. I was nervous. I was really nervous. I had never played with these guys before, only against them. It was really cool to get to see everyone’s different personalities.”
WNBA.com: Do you have any advice for this year's first-time All-Stars?
JONES: “Just go out and play hard. We play against these people every day, every game. There’s nothing different in that aspect. Just go out and have fun. Enjoy every moment.”
WNBA.com: How are you going to approach the All-Star Game? Do you treat it like it’s just another game or are you out there to entertain the fans? Does it make it different because it’s in Connecticut?
JONES: “It’s totally different. There’s nothing about it that’s going to be like a typical game. People are going to try to have fun, but also you want to win. There’s a fine line, you know? You have like one play you can run, so everyone’s nature is going to come out. I don’t know how many assists there are going to be because we’ll see that the most unselfish team will win.”
WNBA.com: How would you grade the Sun’s performance in the first half of the season?
JONES: “I would have to give us a B-. We’ve been up and down, pretty inconsistent. But going into the break I think we are on the right track.”
WNBA.com: What has gone right for you guys?
JONES: “We finally got our roster set. We made a couple key adjustments to our offense to make people more comfortable. You don’t have to think as much; it’s playing more on instinct.”
WNBA.com: What has gone wrong?
JONES: “We miss a lot of shots. We have really good shooters, but a lot of times shots don’t go in. That lowers your mood. You can get frustrated and I think we let those things carry over.”
WNBA.com: What does your team need to do down the stretch to ensure that you make the playoffs?
JONES: “We need to increase our defensive pressure and let our defense dictate the game, not our offense. There’s always going to be times when you won't make shots, but you can control your defense.”
WNBA.com: What predictions do you have for this team in the second half?
JONES: “Well, I think we’re going to be playing at a higher level. We’re going to try to put up more points and try to keep our turnovers down.”
WNBA.com: What has been the biggest surprise in the WNBA for you this season?
JONES: “Probably how difficult every game is. It’s a fight every night. There’s no more gimme games. If you look at everyone’s record everyone’s pretty up and down and everyone’s pretty even. With the 11-player roster it’s tough.”
Connecticut's Asjha Jones is surrounded by members of the media following the East team's practice on Friday.
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