After winning gold with Team USA, Connecticuts Charles is hungry for a WNBA Championship.
Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images
NEWARK, NJ Already an NCAA national champion, a WNBA Rookie of the Year, a gold medalist after starring for Team USA to a romp through the London Olympics earlier this month and the fastest WNBA player ever to 1,000 rebounds, Tina Charles now has one goal in mind.
And shes not afraid to tell you about it.
When asked what her goal was for the rest of her season, a normally reserved Charles smiled and gave a direct, two-word answer, as if the question was almost wasting her time.
A championship, Charles said.
Charles later added that she knows that the team has to actually win in the playoffs first -- Connecticut hasnt won a playoff series since 2006. But with the jet lag from London barely worn off, Charles has already turned her focus toward rounding out her already impressive basketball resume. And while winning a gold medal ranked as the No. 1 achievement of her career, Charles said, the year wouldnt be complete without another trip atop a podium.
For the Sun to get there, though, theyll need Charles at the top of her game, especially with Asjha Jones, Charles former Connecticut teammate and fellow Olympian, out for about two weeks to rest her Achilles tendon. But Connecticut coach Mike Thibault said he has no doubt that Charles will be able to devote her energies to the Sun right away even after a quick Olympic turnaround.
This is her daily job, Thibault said. Shes become a great leader. Wants to win, wants to win a championship. So youre in a position where you have your most talented player highly motivated and thats a good combination.
Charles has already showed signs of being that player in the second half. After a shaky performance for a season-low four points in a Connecticut loss to New York on August 16, Charles bounced back to score 23 points (on 11-for-17 shooting) and grab nine rebounds in an 85-74 win over New York just two days later. In that second game, Charles also grabbed her 1,000th rebound, accomplishing the feat in just 89 career games to break Yolanda Griffiths previous record of 92.
Charles may only be in her third season, but its on her to drive the Eastern Conference-leading Sun to heights this franchise has never seen. While shes been dominant since entering the league as the top pick in the 2010 WNBA Draft, the opportunity to play for Team USA and thus play with 11 of the best womens basketball players in the world might help Charles get her team to that championship apex faster, she said.
So youre in a position where you have your most talented player highly motivated and thats a good combination. - Thibault on Charles
I think just mentally and just taking a leadership role. Charles said of how her Olympic experience helped her game. I think being around Tamika (Catchings) and (Diana Taurasi) and Sue (Bird) definitely helped me in that mindset and how to prepare for games and such.
While their Olympic experiences appear to have the potential to help both Charles and Jones game, they say it was also a great thrill to have an entire country -- including their Sun teammates, who had a team lunch together to watch Team USAs semifinal matchup versus Australia -- rooting them on.
It was great for us, Jones said. As a basketball player theres no higher honor than being able to represent your country and actually being able to come away with a gold and just maintain the USAs dominance in the basketball area.
While Team USA technically only played together for about a month before accomplishing its ultimate goal, the Sun will have to take it day-by-day in what will be a much longer journey -- one that started in May -- if they want to give Charles her wish.
We havent talked about games down the road, Thibault said. Weve talked about the next game. And if you stay in the narrow focus then things have a way of taking care of themselves. I think were not going to try to deviate from that. Everyones goal in the league is to win a championship but it gets there in steps. Theres no big leap to it. So we gotta take care of the first couple steps along the way.
Charles, especially if she plays like she did on Saturday, will be the biggest ingredient to that.
Shes the anchor, Jones said. Shes our big person in the middle. Without her, everything else is difficult. When shes playing well, we get the inside going and she can take a lot of attention away from our guards. And if shes drawing a lot attention inside, its going to be tough to guard our guards. Her play is key. As well as shes playing is as well as were going to play.
Charles will not have the benefit of teaming in the paint with Jones, who averaged 13.1 points and 7.7 rebounds in the seasons first half, for a few more games, but as weve seen thus far, the Sun have more artillery than just Charles and Jones.
Look no further than 10-year veteran Kara Lawson, averaging career highs in points (14.5), rebounds (3.8) and assists (3.6) this year.
Shes been terrific, Thibault said. Great, great shape. I think she feels the total freedom to be a coach on the floor right now, to run our team. Shes obviously put in all the work in the offseason to get herself to that point and thats key. I think shes ready to pick up where she left off.
Picking up where they left off is a key theme for Sun (16-5) in the second half -- even for Charles who is still waiting for the ink on her passport to dry.
Its definitely a whirlwind, Charles said of her schedule the past two weeks. I just have to get back and get focused with the Connecticut Sun right now and the position we left ourselves in.
That position being, of course, first place. Thats where they are and where they want to stay. Simple as that.