Connecticut Sun eyeing WNBA title with new head coach
UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) -- Mike Thibault led Connecticut to two WNBA Finals in his decade as the team's head coach, but never won a championship.
That will be Anne Donovan's charge this season.
Connecticut fired Thibault and replaced him with the Hall of Fame standout in the offseason. The move came despite a year in which the Sun posted an East-best 25-9 record before losing to Indiana in the conference championship series.
"Usually, when you're taking over a team, you're restructuring, you're tearing it down, you're building it up again," said Donovan, who won a WNBA title as coach of Seattle in 2004, beating the Sun in the finals. "That's certainly not the case here in Connecticut.
"So, it is different."
Connecticut's weapons include Tina Charles, the league MVP; Renee Montgomery, who won the WNBA's sixth-player award last season, and veteran guard Kara Lawson.
Donovan said the general philosophy of the team won't change. The Sun will still try to emphasize defense and the transition game and will still feature Charles, who averaged 18 points and 10.5 rebounds last season.
"She has been, so far, everything that I had heard about her," said Donovan. "She likes to work hard and has high expectations for herself and people around her, has really matured over the last couple of years and provides great leadership for our team."
Donovan said she's also expecting a lot from Lawson, a 10-year veteran whom she coached in the 2008 Olympics in China.
"Kara is one of those coaches on the floor," she said. "She understands the game, not just from her position, but from every position. She's just a joy to be around, which is why I wanted her in Beijing, and that has not changed. She's just a joy to coach."
Connecticut's biggest challenge will be replacing another Olympian, Ashja Jones. The 11-year veteran forward is taking the season off to recover from a string of nagging injuries.
Donovan said it's likely the Sun will use several players at the power forward spot, but former Nebraska star Kelsey Griffin will get a chance to make the job hers.
"Kelsey has been on the bench biding her time and bouncing between the 3 and the 4, but we've got her mind on that 4 and helping us from that position," she said.
Montgomery said she's also planning on having a big year. The former UConn star said it was an honor to be named the league's best player coming off the bench a year ago, but it's not a role she wants to play this season.
"I did that for the team, because we didn't have anyone who could be that spark," she said. "I was proud of myself for how I handled it, but my goal is to be a starter."
Montgomery, Charles and Jones were among five former University of Connecticut players on the team last year.
The Sun drafted another, Kelly Faris, this spring, just days after she helped lead the Huskies to an eighth national title.
Faris, a 5-foot-10 guard, finished her UConn career with 1,107 points, 821 rebounds, 545 assists and 294 steals. But she is not going to be expected to contribute a lot early, Donovan said.
"To know that I'm coming into a program where people know me and are there to take me under their wing and to show me the ropes, that's been big for me," Faris said.
With Donovan taking over and implementing a new system, Faris isn't the only player at the front end of the learning curve.
Montgomery said the entire team is trying to get up to speed to make sure this isn't just a transition year.
"It's been an adjustment," Montgomery said. "But WNBA players, we're used to changes. A lot of us don't even go to the same overseas team two consecutive years in a row, so it's not like change is foreign to us."
The Sun open the regular season on Saturday at home against New York.