Connecticut Sun Figuring It Out
After a roster shakeup, the Sun are on the verge of success again.
by Stephen Litel / @stephenlitel
The Connecticut Sun are a young and talented team. They show a lot of promise for both the present and future. As they continue to figure some areas of the game out, most notably finding ways to win on the road, they still find themselves in second place in the Eastern Conference. Imagine when they get rolling in the manner of which they expect of themselves regardless of their youthful age as a team.
“This year, I think coming back, having last year under our belt, we’re a lot more experienced and we know each other a little better,” said Kelsey Griffin. “In training camp, we were able to really focus more not on tendencies, but getting better. Having Asjha (Jones) back healthy has really helped us to gel a lot better and really start off the year good.”
Griffin’s Coach Mike Thibault agrees, but, of course, isn’t satisfied. This is a coach and a franchise that expects to win and after turning over the roster the past couple seasons can see the success returning soon. It is within grasp, but they have to keep pushing.
“We haven’t played our best basketball, I hope,” said Coach Thibault. “We’ve grown up a lot in one year, but we’re still one of the youngest teams in the league. We’ve grown up and you can tell the maturity on the court by how we play together better, pass the ball better, which means we’re shooting the ball better. Defensively, we’re closer, but we’re not there yet. We haven’t played well enough to win games on the road. We’ve played well enough to lose by three or four points. That’s the next hurdle is to start winning close games on the road. We’re better. We have a chance to be pretty good.”
They may be talented and have a bright future, but they have difficulty closing out games on the road is something they have identified as priority number one. In order to achieve their goal of solving those problems in crunch time on the road, they first had to identify what has been going wrong for them.
“I think with us it’s a combination of things,” said Thibault. “Sometimes it’s a turnover late in the game, a foul when we don’t need to, give up an offensive rebound and it’s a possession here and there. You can go back and say that same possession in the second quarter is just as important. I think we all tend to focus on what happens at the end of games, but you can keep yourself out of those problems. It’s maturity when a team has a 6-0 run on you, it’s making sure you get a great possession on the offensive end or making sure you don’t give up an offensive rebound on the defensive end. Those are the little things right now for us.”
After a fine road win Friday night in New York, the Sun are beginning to show they are able to focus in on those little things that have made road wins difficult for the young squad. There may still be some bumps in the road, but as a team the Sun have the right attitude. That only makes seeing success in the future more easily seen.
“We just try to be coachable, we just try to execute the things we do in practice and just try to key in on the game plan,” said Tina Charles. “Every time we come in, there’s going to be things on the board, we’re taking it to heart and just going out there, trying to execute it.”
Every team wants to win no matter what their collective age may be, but the Sun believe they are on the verge of figuring things out for good. They also believe that once they have done so, a Championship—or a run of Championship-level success—is just around the corner.
“We learned from last year,” said Griffin. “We know what goals we have and what we want to accomplish this year. We weren’t satisfied with the result from last year and kind of had that midseason slump, so we’re trying to definitely avoid that and reach our full potential this year.”
The younger Sun players are very fortunate to have veteran leaders on the team to learn from, both on and off the court. However, the process of transitioning the leadership roles has begun and that may take some time. Some players are born leaders, some are able to develop the skills and, in some cases, those skills are never found. The Sun are confident the expected future leaders have those skills within them and the team’s leadership is doing everything they can to help them fulfill the role.
“The leaders are, by acclimation of votes by their teammates and it was almost unanimous for captains, in Asjha Jones and Kara Lawson, but you need your best players to also be leaders too,” said Thibault. “Tina and Renee kind of fall into that category. I think they’ve gotten better in that area, but it’s hard when you come in young with older veterans and try to assert yourself. It’s a slow process, but I think it’s much better this year than it was last year. You just need your best players to be your hardest workers.”
One seemingly under the radar move by outsiders isn’t lost on the team’s coach or those who follow the team closely, especially in the leadership department.
“I think the addition of a Kalana Greene has made a huge difference in the leadership part of it because she’s just kind of one of those no nonsense types of players,” said Thibault. “When you look at the stats, you say, ‘OK, she only averages 6 points,’ but she just does all those little things. A defensive stop, a loose ball and she’s such an enthusiastic person around her teammates that it’s hard to ignore her on the court and off the court.”
The Sun are a team on the right track. They have immediate goals they are focusing on, which when accomplished, will make their mid-range and long-term goals even more attainable.
“I think we’re doing good, but we’ve had some losses that we definitely could have won if we just keyed on little things,” said Charles. “We’re definitely trying to key on getting some road wins especially. Discipline. I think that’s the main thing with every team. You want to just learn discipline from one another and hold a certain standard for one another too. When an individual gets better, the team gets better. I think every day in practice if we continue to push each other and just expect greatness from each other, we’ll be good.”
To go along with their short-term goals, they, obviously, also have mid-range goals.
“You know we want to win games,” said Griffin. “Definitely last year not making the playoffs left a bitter taste, so for sure making the playoffs, making a deep run in it and seeing where we can go from there.”
Thibault’s team is young, but the long-term goal always remains the same. The franchise has a history of success and has been close to achieving their ultimate goal, but after turning over their roster the past two years, they definitely can see the finish line. They are on the right track.
“We always played every year to try and win a Championship and I don’t think that should change. I think that should be your goal from day one, but not having made the playoffs the last two years because we turned over our team completely—we only have one person on our team from a couple years ago in Asjha Jones—making the playoffs is some success. I don’t think we’ll ever be happy just making the playoffs. This franchise wants to win a championship and until we do that, I don’t think anybody is going to be satisfied.”
It would not be a surprise to see the Connecticut Sun hoisting the Championship trophy they have coveted for years in the next couple of seasons if they continue on their current path. If they’re able to win one, a dynasty just may be around the corner.