17-17, 5th in the Eastern Conference.
If the Connecticut Sun’s presence in the 2010 WNBA Draft can be categorized as a “big splash,” then perhaps the best phrase to describe the team’s projected involvement in the 2011 Draft is “rain drop.”
After selecting twice in the first round of the 2010 Draft - Tina Charles first overall and Danielle McCray seventh - general manager and Sun coach Mike Thibault traded away a first and second-round pick in 2011 to Minnesota for third-overall pick Kelsey Griffin. He later added Allison Hightower in the second round and Johannah Leedman midway through the third, the latter of whom did not appear on the Sun roster last season.
Considering the presence of Charles, Griffin and Hightower last season and the healthy return of Danielle McCray, who spent all of 2010 recovering from an ACL injury, Thibault drafted enough players in one draft to more or less compensate for this year. If words couldn’t express the team’s focus on rebuilding at the start of last season, then the list of prospects certainly did. Which is why Thibault, slated to use his first pick 16th overall is more concerned about working with what he has, rather than making big moves on the day of the draft.
While not ruling out the possibility of potentially making moves to elevate the team’s draft pick, there are very few openings available on the roster as is.
“Last year was our year to kind of get everything done,” said Thibault. “It was one of those years where everything just kind of comes together at the right time. What we need to do now is let this team grow up a little bit.”
Youth, while promising for any team intent on rebuilding, does require patience. With a player like Charles making her presence in the paint known throughout the league, there was no way anyone could completely rule out the Sun last season.
The 2010 WNBA Rookie of the Year showed she was not only deserving of the award but also prepared to dominate on a whole other level. Her 398 total rebounds and 22 double-doubles stand as a new single-season record and a sign that although the Sun’s future is bright, the potential of last year’s No. 1 pick is blinding.
The good news for Thibault in 2011 is that McCray has fully recovered from her ACL injury and put in a complete season overseas in Israel. Her return, according to Thibault, is essentially a first round pick in and of itself.
“For her having a year overseas of playing, it’s like getting a bonus this year without doing anything extra for it,” said Thibault. “We felt like, had she been healthy last year, she would’ve been in the top four picks of the draft. And so doing it then, and not knowing how the season would turn out, getting her a year ago was like getting another lottery pick, and I think it’s going to turn out that way.”
The development of Hightower may have been a bit slower than the Sun would have liked, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. In fact, for a player who played through a number of illnesses in 2010, culminating with a tonsillectomy this offseason, a lot can be said of her headstrong personality and willingness to learn.
Playing overseas in France has provided Hightower an opportunity to play at a healthy level she was more familiar with from her college days at Louisiana State. Many coaches praise overseas play as a means of rookies developing during the offseason, and Thibault is no exception.
“She got herself healthy and has been overseas and had a healthy year in France, and I think that will make a huge difference for her coming in this year - she’ll just feel better,” said Thibault. “She was drained as it was coming from the college season into our season, but when you’re sick half the season it’s really, really hard.”
Griffin received a nice chunk of court time last season at 20 minutes per game, but her production may have been a bit lost in Thibault’s jostling of the 6-foot-2 forward between small forward and power forward. A player’s adjustment in their first season may take more time than others, but adjusting to two positions can take even longer. Nevertheless, the Sun expects her patience and ability to learn to pose as a big payoff down the road.
“I think in the long run it will help. Just in the short term she had a lot thrown at her at once,” said Thibault. “Now that she’s had a year in the league and a year overseas, I think she’ll be kind of a calmer player than [she was] as a rookie.”
While finishing outside the playoff picture at 17-17 is not a desired outcome for any team, it is just one small growing pain for a young club with plenty of potential. Thibault and his staff may not be the most active team in the 2011 Draft, but given the moves made in 2010, they don’t have to be.
-- Frank Della Femina, WNBA.com
Recent Draft History
|1. Tina Charles||10. Chante Black||9. Amber Holt|
|7. Danielle McCray||17. Lyndra Littles||12. Ketia Swanier|
|15. Allison Hightower||36. Alba Torrens||23. Jolene Anderson|
|27. Johannah Leedham||37. Lauren Ervin|