Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Turner let go

With Anete Jekabsone-Zogota, the 2007 FIBA Europe Player of the Year, taking part in her first practice with the Connecticut Sun on Sunday one player had to let go.

Former UConn star Barbara Turner, who at this point last year was being touted as a candidate for the WNBA's Sixth Player of the Year award, got the bad news that her run with team was over.

Turner was acquired in a trade with the Houston Comets last season and provided a spark off the bench. She worked hard on improving her perimeter game, spending time working with former NBA guard John Lucas the last two years. However, she never could get going offensively this season and even more damaging to Turner's chances of staying with the squad, she began to hesitate when given an open look. With the addition of Kiesha Brown, who can also play point guard, and Tan White, who were both picked up off waivers, something had to give. Although Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault loves Turner's toughness, the fact is that with shortened rosters in the WNBA, he could not afford to keep a reserve wing reluctant to shoot.

The Sun are not done adjusting its roster. With Sandrine Gruda expected to join the team later this week in Indiana, another player will need to be let go.

If the Sun let go rookie Lauren Ervin as expected, the roster will be rather imposing with Jekabsone-Zogota and Gruda joining starters Asjha Jones, Lindsay Whalen, Erin Phillips, Kerri Gardin and Chante Black (who may be back in time for Thursday's game at Indiana). Add in veteran Tamika Whitmore, Amber Holt (expected back at some point in July after suffering a hand injury in the preseason), Brown and White and the Sun have a roster capable of securing the franchise's elusive first WNBA title.

Labels: , , , , ,

Decision time

At some point in the next five, one member of the Connecticut Sun will be let go as Anete Jekabsone-Zogota will be activated.

Maybe I was imagining things, but I could have sworn that former UConn star Barbara Turner received louder cheers last night than at any other game I have been at. Perhaps the Sun faithful realize that it could be Turner's swan song? Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault, who handles all the player personnel decisions, wasn't about to spill the beans if he has already made his decision.

It is not a moment Thibault is looking forward to. Making matters worse for Thibault, a second player will need to be let go when Sandrine Gruda joins the team when they are in Indiana later this week.

Here are the options listed alphabetically:
Kiesha Brown: The guard was picked up in the preseason after she was waived by Washington and has made an impact both on the court and in the locker room. She gives the Sun another point guard which enables Thibault to rest both Lindsay Whalen and Erin Phillips and utilize Phillips more at the off guard. Brown is also emerging as a team leader in the short time she has been in Connecticut. I'd be surprised if she was let go.
Lauren Ervin: Showed some range on her jumper last night but with Chante Black possibly back for the Thursday game at Indiana and Gruda also coming in, Ervin like a likely choice to be cut although she may be the second one waived just in case Gruda and Black aren't available.
Barbara Turner: Turner was acquired last year to give the Sun some instant offense off the bench. However, Turner has become a shooter who either is reluctant to shoot or can't find the range. That's a tough combination. Turner is shooting 20.9 percent from the field and is 4 for 25 from 3-pointer range (16 percent). Ouch. Thibault loves her toughness. Turner was the first sub he summoned last night when Kerri Gardin was struggling to guard Chamique Holdsclaw and Turner's physical play seemed to bother Holdsclaw.
Tan White: Another veteran picks up off the waiver wire, White is a gifted offensive player who trails only Asjha Jones in shots per 40 minutes which is just fine by Thibault. She understands her role and has added a spark off the bench since she joined the Sun.
Tamika Whitmore: The longest of the long shots to be let go. Whitmore has struggled at times offensively this season but she is fourth on the team in minutes played. She just offers too much in the leadership department and getting caught short with post players is never a good thing so expect her to stick around.

We should know in a few hours but I believe Turner will be the first cut and Ervin will be the second to go. Then again, I thought second-round pick Lyndra Littles was going to make the team out of training camp.

One last thought - Latvia certainly takes its basketball seriously. There was a member of the media from Latvia at Mohegan Sun Arena awaiting Jekabsone-Zogota's arrival. She was supposed to be touching down in New York around the time the Sun's game was wrapping up. With the Sun expected to take the floor at about 3, look for the move to be announced before that since the team will need to stay at the 11-player limit.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Black out - for the time being

The good news is that the elbow injury suffered by Connecticut Sun center Chante Black does not appear to be a season-ending one. The bad news is that the Sun will be without its tallest player when the Atlanta Dream, which headed into today's game against Chicago second in the WNBA in rebounding and rebounding margin, comes to the Mohegan Sun on Saturday.

According to team officials, Black suffered a moderate sprain of her left elbow during Sunday's victory over San Antonio. She is not expected to play on Saturday against Atlanta. Her condition will be evaluated following that game by team
physician Ammar Anbari.

Black was injured in the third quarter of a 71-58 Connecticut victory when
she tried to brace herself while falling after colliding with a San Antonio player. She scored a career-high 11 points and her eight rebounds was one shy of her career high. Black started the first six games of the season. She was averaging 4.2 points, 4.3 rebounds and 0.5 blocks for the 3-3 Sun. Veteran Tamika Whitmore, who started 33 games for Connecticut last season, is a likely choice to replace Black in the starting lineup.

With Amber Holt still sidelined with a hand injury, the Sun will only have nine healthy players until either Black or Holt are cleared to play. Following Saturday's game two players will need to be let go as Anete Jekabsone-Zogota and Sandrine Gruda are expected to report to the team before the Sun plays its next game on July 2 at Indiana. It is safe to say that neither Black nor Holt are being considered as possibilities to hit the waiver wire.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, June 22, 2009

Riley takes look back, a peek ahead

There have been no lack of news to report since UConn cut down the nets in St. Louis following the program's sixth national championship.

But in my mind, one of the most intriguing moves was the Big East's decision to end the annual home-and-home series between UConn and Rutgers. Now Notre Dame will be the conference opponent to face UConn twice during the regular season. The UConn/Rutgers has certainly been good for the Big East (most of the time) but obviously those entrusted in the future of the league view Notre Dame as the latest challenger to UConn's Big East dominance. There was a time when the Fighting Irish managed to find itself on equal footing with the Huskies. Back in the 2000-01 season Notre Dame defeated UConn 92-76 at home and after losing a thriller in the Big East tournament final to the Huskies, Notre Dame won the rubber match with a stirring rally in the national semifinals.

Despite wins in 2004 and 2005 over UConn, the Fighting Irish were never able to build on creating a true rivalry with the Huskies. With the teams playing twice now, maybe that will change.

When the San Antonio Silver Stars were in town, I took the opportunity to sit down with its starting center Ruth Riley, the star of that 2000-01 Notre Dame team.

"It is a great matchup," Riley said. "In college basketball, you live for the great matchups. Just a lot of fun and great competition and a lot of history between the two teams. I am sure the girls will be were excited to play in those games and it is great for your home crowd to see UConn play both at Notre Dame and here as well.

"We are going to have a good team. I think Coach (Muffet McGraw) has had to deal with some injuries, that is tough when you lose two girls to ACLs in the same year. With those girls coming back and (national high school player of the year Skylar Diggins) coming in, they are going to be exciting to watch. I wish them the best."

Despite her busy schedule in the WNBA and playing professionally overseas, Riley tries to keep tabs on her alma mater.

"Well I still talk to Niele (Ivey, the starting point guard on Notre Dame's national championship team), she is an assistant coach (at Notre Dame). Also, I am from Indiana so when I go home to see my family I am only an hour away from Notre Dame so I am able to stay in touch."

I asked Riley of her best memories from the UConn/Notre Dame games, prefacing the request with a "other than obviously winning the national championship."

Here's what she had to say.

"Without a doubt winning at home senior year and that assured that we got our first No. 1 ranking and that was the landmark with how we are able to play together as a team."

While having three teammates on the U.S. squad heading to the World University Games is an impressive achievement, UConn's trio of Tina Charles, Tiffany Hayes and Maya Moore have some company.

Here's a list of trios from the same schools playing together in the World University Games

Wayland Baptist 1973: Janice Beach, Brenda Moeller and Cherri Rapp.
North Carolina State 1979: Genia Beasley, Debbie Groover and Ginger Rouse.
Tennessee 1983: Shelia Collins, Lea Henry and Mary Ostrowski
Southern Caifornia 1987: Karon Howell, Monica Lamb and Rhonda Windham
Auburn 1991: Ruthie Bolton, Linda Godby and Carolyn Jones.

Charles, Hayes and Moore become the foruth, fifth and sixth UConn players to play for the U.S. in the World University Games.

Kerry Bascom was the first in 1991
Kara Wolters was on the 1995 squad and also made the 1997 team as did Nykesha Sales. All three are still in the U.S. record book.

Bascom's 58.8 3-point percentage in 1991 in a mark for U.S. players that still stands. Wolters' 13 blocked shots is a U.S. record and her five blocks in an Aug. 21, 1997 game against Latvia tied Cindy Brown's mark set in 1985. She also set a record with a 70.7 field-goal percentage in 1997 which was broken by Sylvia Fowles in 2005. Sales had 32 points in an Aug. 29, 1997 game against Cuba, the third highest for a U.S. player in the event and her field-goal percentage of 68.2 is fifth in the U.S. record books.

Since Hayes just completed her freshman year, she could make the WUG squad again following her junior season. Wolters is the only other UConn player to accomplish that feat.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Charles, Hayes, Moore bound for Serbia

UConn teammates Tina Charles, Tiffany Hayes and Maya Moore were all named to the 12-member U.S. squad which will be competing in the World University Games next month in Belgrade, Serbia.

They were among the original 14 candidates named among the 27 who accepted invitations to try out for the team last month. When Stanford's Jayne Appel underwent knee surgery, she removed her name from contention but Boston College's Carolyn Swords and Amy Jaeschke of Northwestern were added to list of players invited back to training camp.

On Monday, the team was announced. Swords and Jaeschke were cut (which is not all that surprising since they would have made the original list had they impressed the committee that much and they have some tough odds going against a talent pool full of talented post players). Oklahoma's Whitney Hand was the only player originally invited back to make the cut. According to Oklahoma's official website, Hand had a family emergency and left the U.S. Olympic Training Center on Monday to return home.

It was also interesting that four other players (Jeanette Pohlen and Kayla Pedersen of Stanford, Oklahoma's Danielle Robinson and Jacinta Monroe of Florida State) who will play against UConn in the upcoming regular season also made the squad. The other members of the team are Jantel Lavender of Ohio State, Alexis Gray-Lawson of California, Georgia's Ashley Houts, Danielle McCray of Kansas and Xavier's Ta'Shia Phillips. The team will remain in Colorado Springs until Thursday before leaving for Serbia.

Labels: , ,

Kupets wins Honda Broderick Cup

University of Georgia gymnast Courtney Kupets was named Collegiate Woman Athlete of the Year or Honda Broderick Cup, beating out four other finalists including former UConn guard Renee Montgomery.

Kupets won the all-around, bars, beam and floor exercise events at the NCAA championships to lead Georgia to its fifth straight NCAA title.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

No word on Black

Even before the question was raised at the post-game press conference, Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault thought it best to be proactive.

So he let the media know that he had nothing concrete to report on the status of rookie center Chante Black who injured her left elbow in the third quarter of Sunday's win over San Antonio.

Thibault said Black would have x-rays taken tonight with an MRI set for tomorrow. Expect an update on her status at some point tomorrow afternoon.

The fact that Black was sitting comfortably in the locker room after the game, fielding questions from reporters seems to indicate it is not that serious but since I have no medical background, I will wait until I let the experts do their jobs before I further update Black's status.

"I just wanted to shut up from screaming as fast as I could," Black said. "You just don't know what is going on exactly, you just know that you are hurt and want to know what it is. I don't know but I am sure it will turn out for the best."

Black, who scored in double figures for the first time in her young WNBA career, had 11 points and eight rebounds.

Thibault said the timetable has not changed for European stars Anete Jekabsone-Zogota and Sandrine Gruda. Thibault said they should arrive in between Saturday's home game against Atlanta and a July 2 contest at Indiana. What that means is that Saturday's game will be the final one with the current roster and Thibault will have some tough choices to make as he will need to cut two players when Jekabsone-Zogota and Gruda report to camp. The play of Kiesha Brown and Tan White, both picked up on waivers, will make his decision all the more difficult. It was not a good sign that former UConn star Barbara Turner passed up open jumpers for most of the game while Brown and White were more assertive.

Labels: , , , ,

Will eight be enough?

The visiting San Antonio Silver Stars suddenly are running a bit short of guards.

With All-Star Becky Hammon not joining the team for a few more days because of her obligations playing for Russia in the EuroBasket Championships and Vickie Johnson missed her second straight game because of the death of her brother, San Antonio knew it would be short-handed like it was in Friday's loss at New York. Now word is that Shanna Crossley will miss the game with an injured knee.

The Silver Stars have six guards on its roster and three will be out of action. Helen Darling and Edwige Lawson-Wade will start in the backcourt with Belinda Snell the only reserve guard available.

"As a team, you are used to that at some point during the season being down (players) because of injuries or circumstances with a death in the family but as a team you just pick each other up," said Ruth Riley, San Antonio's starting center. "I think that is our strength, our chemistry and our ability to play together so we our going to our best.

"We are excited we have another game coming up (after a loss to New York), obviously we had a lot of mistakes so hopefully we can go out today and execute our game plan."

I will have more from Riley on the subject of UConn and Notre Dame playing twice in the upcoming season either later today or tomorrow.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Gruda leads France to title

While the arrival of Becky Hammon to help Russia in its attempt to defend its Eurobasket title drew the most headlines, it was the efforts of another WNBA player which proved to be the difference.

Sandrine Gruda, expected to join the Connecticut Sun in time for the July 2 game at Indiana, had 12 points (on 5 of 7 shooting), seven rebounds, one assist and two steals as France defeated Russia 57-53 to win the title. Gruda scored in double figures in all nine games in the tournament and finished fifth in scoring with an average of 15.4 points per game, fourth in rebounding (7.7 per game) and ranked in the top 10 in 13 individual categories. She led the tournament with the most 2-point field goal attempted and converted. Still waiting for the game report to be put up on the FIBA Europe tournament site but here is video of an interview with Gruda following the semifinals.

The aforementioned Hammon missed all eight of her 3-point attempts and had nine points for Russia. Former UConn star Svetlana Abrosimova was just 2 of 11 from the field. She finished with four points, 11 rebounds, four assists and three turnovers.

One interesting fact about the tournament is that - according to my count - 33 players on the 16 teams played collegiate basketball in the U.S. including Abrosimova of course. Led by former George Washington star Anna Montañana of Spain (who was the tournament's No. 3 scorer) six of the tournament's top 19 scorers played stateside. Here's the list
3. Anna Montañana (Spain) 16.2 George Washington 2001-05
11. Kristin Newlin (Turkey) 12.7 Stanford 2003-07
13. Gunta Basko (Latvia) 12.4 Siena 1999-2003
16. Svet Abrosimova (Russia) 11.2 UConn 1997-2001
17. Zane Tamane (Latvia) 11.0 Western Illinois (2003-06)
19. Yelena Leuchanka (Belarus) West Virginia (2003-06)

That doesn't include former WNBA players like Evanthia Maltsi, Zuzana Zirkova, Maria Stepanova and Raffaella Masciadri, who all finished among the top 10 scorers so there although it was an event featuring the best and brightest stars in Europe, there were many familiar names. Maltsi, who played in 26 games for the Sun in 2007, was named the tournament's MVP
Word has it that UConn coach Geno Auriemma spent his share of time in Latvia scouting the tournament since he will be devising game plans to slow down many of these star players as the U.S. coach in the 2012 Olympics. While it is currently a "quiet period" until July 5 meaning Auriemma or any college coach for that matter is prohibiting from contacting recruits, that doesn't mean that one of the talented youngsters in the event COUGH Latvia's Sabine Niedola COUGH COUGH might not have caught his eye. The 18-year-old forward only played in five of Latvia's first eight games and managed 10 points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes. In Saturday's seventh-place game the 6-foot forward had 16 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and one steal in 24 minutes. A quick look at the rosters shows that she was one of five players born in the 1990s. Will Auriemma look overseas in his recruiting efforts, I never got the sense that it was a priority of his but he certainly knows talent when he sees it so if somebody catches his eye, rest assured he will remember their names and pursue them if it is in the best interest of his program to do so. It should be noted that five players on Latvia's roster for the European championships (Basko, Liene Jansone, Dita Krumberga, Aija Putnina and Tamane) played collegiately in the U.S. That doesn't include former Virginia Tech star Ieva Kublina who was injured and not on the Latvian roster. The one thing to keep in mind is that if a European player is good enough to play for a school like UConn, they are also good enough to earn lots of money playing professionally in Europe. Gruda is a perfect example of that, she would have been a sensational collegiate player but something tells me she is fine with how things have turned out for her.

My last thought as I leave European basketball in my rear-view mirror, when I spoke to Carol Callan, who overseas the women's progams for USA Basketball, she said there was no hurry to name Auriemma's Senior National team staff since court coaches can be used when they hold a training camp next year but I'll offer my opinion of who would make the ideal staff bearing in mind that two WNBA coaches and one college coach are expected to comprise the staff with at least one minority on staff. So here are my picks:

Marianne Stanley: I don't know if she will be promoted to head coach when Michael Cooper leaves the Los Angeles Sparks to take over the Southern California program. Frankly I don't care. When it comes to credentials, she has them all whether she is a head coach or assistant coach in the WNBA. I believe at least some attention must be paid to previous service to USA Basketball and Stanley was the head coach of the 1986 of the gold medal winning U.S. World Championship team and she was actively involved in coaching various U.S. teams from 1983-96. She also coached UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia over the winter, experience that allowed her and coach some of the best players in the world. She won more than 400 games in 21 years as a head coach and reached three Final Fours as a head coach. I don't think it is a coincidence that some of Rutgers' best seasons came when Stanley was on the staff of Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer. Stanley is also a former WNBA coach of the year when she was with the Washington Mystics.
Mike Thibault: Just look at his roster, a starting guard from Australia, a former forward from Russia and now a forward/center from Russia and guard from Latvia ready to join the squad. He scouts Europe better than anybody else in the WNBA and was an assistant on the 2008 Olympic team. He would fit well on Auriemma's staff.
Carol Owens: As I said, one coach will be a minority and this was an easy choice. She was named USA Basketball's 2008 Developmental Coach of the Year after guiding the Under-18 team to a 5-0 record and a gold medal at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship for Women. She will coach the U-19 team this summer and is a respected, popular figure in USA Basketball circles. Other than Owens, the other pick in my eyes could be Penn State coach Coquese Washington.

Bear in mind, I have no say in the process and this is merely my opinion and should not be in any way viewed as anything but idle chatter.

Labels: , , ,

While I was away ...

Using this week as some much-needed R&R, it is time to start catching up.

So let's see what I missed in the world of women's basketball.

Bill Laimbeer quits after leading Detroit Shock to three WNBA titles and Hartford native Rick Mahorn takes over as head coach with assistant coach Cheryl Reeve becoming the new general manager. Detroit promptly loses its first game under the new regime to Indiana to fall into a tie for last place in the Eastern Conference with New York. It would be pretty hard to top that in terms of news value, wouldn't you say?

OK, maybe not. Word that Rutgers Epiphanny Prince, the top returning scorer in the Big East, is bypassing her senior season to get a jump start on her pro career, now that is a stunner and even beats out Trader Bill in the "shock" value scale. It's not the first time a player has left school early in pursuit of making some big bucks in pro ball but it is very rare in women's basketball. It leaves Rutgers returning a young but relatively untested nucleus. The Scarlet Knights never seemed to hit their stride without Essence Carson and Matee Ajavon in the lineup and now they have to place not only Prince but Kia Vaughn. With Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer's system usually baffling incoming freshmen, the three players remaining from last year's highly-touted recruiting class (April Sykes, Nikki Speed and Chelsey Lee) better be a heck of a lot more effective as sophomores than they were as freshman or Rutgers could in a world of hurt.

Jayne Appel of Stanford had knee surgery and pulled her name out of contention for one of the 12 spots on the U.S. World University Games squad. So what exactly is in the water in Palo Alto, California? Reports also have Stanford rising sophomore Sarah Boothe pulling out of the U-19 trials meaning that 13 players will head to Colorado Springs next month fighting for the 12 spots unless a player or two is added to the list of candidates invited back.

Seimone Augustus of the Minnesota Lynx, expected to be in contention for MVP honors, tore the ACL in her left knee in a loss to Phoenix and will miss the rest of the season. Now former UConn standout Charde Houston is Minnesota's top scorer averaging 17.8 poinrs per game. With Houston, Nicky Anosike and Candice Wiggins, Minnesota has a pretty solid nucleus of offensive players to build around. I found it interesting that Roneeka Hodges has given the start in place of Augustus in Friday's loss to Phoenix. Hodges was also the player who saw the biggest jump in playing time. She averaged 8.4 minutes in the first five games but played 22 against the Mercury. Anosike, Houston, Wiggins and former UConn star Renee Montgomery also saw an additional 2-3 minutes each. It was just one game and it is hard to read too much into the substitution patterns of a game the Lynx lost by 24 but it bears watching.

Not only did Becky Hammon have to miss the San Antonio Silver Stars East Coast swing because she was playing for Russian in the Eurobasket Championships in Latvia, but a death in Vicky Johnson's family forced her to leave the team as well. Not surprisingly, the reigning Western Conference champions got blown out by New York Friday night. They play in Connecticut tomorrow.

Just so you think I am only focusing on the bad news to hit the women's basketball world, I urge you to read on.

UConn incoming freshman Kelly Faris averaged 10.5 points, 8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks per game as the Indiana squad swept a two-game series from Kentucky's top seniors in the annual North/South Classic.

Her future teammates Tina Charles, Maya Moore and Tiffany Hayes headed back to Colorado Springs for the World University Games training camp.

The Connecticut Sun, looking for anybody who can hit a 3-pointer until Anete Jekabsone-Zogota arrives in the next week or two, may have found a keeper in Tan White. The former first-round pick of the Indiana Fever was one of the surprise cuts in the preseason. Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault was hoping his top perimeter shooters would find the range but when that didn't happen, he reluctantly cut rookie point guard Kristi Cirone and picked up White. Proved to be a good move as White hit four 3-pointers as the Sun snapped a two-game losing streak by beating Chicago on Friday.

Speaking of the WNBA Friday night action, all 10 UConn players currently in the league were in action. Here's the breakdown
Asjha Jones Connecticut vs. Chicago 17 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block
Diana Taurasi Phoenix vs. Los Angeles 17 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals
Charde Houston Minnesota vs. Seattle 11 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists
Swin Cash Seattle vs. Minnesota 10 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists
Barbara Turner Connecticut vs. Chicago 7 points, 2 steals
Sue Bird Seattle vs. Minnesota 4 points, 10 assists
Renee Montgomery Minnesota vs. Seattle 4 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist
Ashley Battle New York vs. San Antonio 2 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal
Jessica Moore Indiana vs. Detroit 0 points, 1 assist
Ketia Swanier Phoenix vs. Los Angeles 0 points, 1 rebound

Perhaps the most remarkable part of how the UConn products fared is that with the exception of the Seattle/Minnesota game which had a pair of ex-Huskies on each team, every team with a UConn player in action won last night.

The last item (I promise) is the play of former and future members of the Connecticut Sun at the Eurobasket Championships.

Heading into the championship game between France and Russia, the top scorer is ex-Sun guard Evanthia Maltsi (22.6 points per game). Jekabsone-Zogota, who is expected to make her debut with Connecticut early next month is second at 20.3 points a game. Sandrine Gruda, also planning the join the Sun after taking some time to relax after playing a heck of a lot of basketball in Europe in the last several months, is fifth but would finish third if she scored at least 20 points against Russia. Jekabsone-Zogota is also fourth in assists and 3-pointers made while Gruda ranks fourth in rebounding.

The Russia/France game is set to tip in about a half hour for those interested in such things.

Other than that, it was kind of a slow news week.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, June 15, 2009

Montgomery makes the cut

Former UConn guard Renee Montgomery was named one of five finalists for the Honda-Broderick Cup.

Montgomery was one of the 12 candidates before the list was cut down to the final five for the premier female collegiate student-athlete. Lisa Fernandez, a former pitcher/third baseman for the Stratford-based Brakettes softball program will present the award to the winner at a luncheon on June 22 in New York.

Here is the release


-- Collegiate Woman Athlete of the Year to be Announced on June 22nd --

New York, NY, June 15, 2009 —
The Collegiate Women’s Sports Awards today announced the five finalists for the prestigious Honda-Broderick Cup, its annual top honor designating the Collegiate Woman Athlete of the Year. This year’s finalists are, in alphabetical order: Jennifer Barringer, University of Colorado (track and field); Nicole Fawcett, Penn State University (volleyball); Courtney Kupets, University of Georgia (gymnastics); Danielle Lawrie, University of Washington (softball); and Renee Montgomery, University of Connecticut (basketball).

The finalists were chosen from previously announced Honda Sports Award winners in 12 different NCAA-sanctioned sports, by a vote from among more than 1,000 NCAA-member institutions. The winner will be named at a special press conference on June 22nd at Columbia University in New York, where she will be presented with her award by softball legend Lisa Fernandez, winner of the Honda-Broderick Cup in 1993.

Career Highlights of the Final Five

Jennifer Barringer (senior, track and field) – Barringer capped off a historic college career on the track as she became the first Buffalo to win three NCAA titles in the same event over the course of four years. The Oviedo, FL native captured the 3,000-meter steeplechase crown at the 2009 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championship last week at the University of Arkansas in an NCAA and meet record 9:25.54 – the fastest time recorded in the world this season. She won her first NCAA title in the event as a freshman in 2006 in a then-school record time of 9:53.04 and her second in 2008, when she defeated the entire field by 25 seconds. She holds a total of 6 NCAA records (indoor mile, 3k, 5k; outdoor 1500, steeplechase, 5k). She competed for the U.S. Olympic team at the 2008 Games and finished ninth in the 3,000m steeplechase, setting an American record of 9 minutes, 22.26 seconds. She is a four-time All-American USTFCCCA and Big 12 Women’s Indoor Track Athlete of the Year. The eight-time member of the Big 12 Commissioner’s honor roll carries a 3.564 GPA. She has been a member of the Dean’s List four times and is a three-time member of the Big 12 All-Academic First team.

Nicole Fawcett (senior, volleyball) – A 6’ 4” left-side hitter, Fawcett is a native of Zanesfield, Ohio. She led the Lions to their second consecutive NCAA title, serving the championship point, and helped her team become the first-ever with a no-loss regular season record (96-0). She also helped her team to the national title in 2007. The AVCA National Player of the Year, Fawcett was named the Big Ten Player of the Year and is a three-time AVCA First Team All-America selection. She averaged 3.78 kills per game (the second best on her team), and her .358 hitting average for the season (as an outside hitter) ranked 32nd in the nation. She was tops on her team for 40 service aces and added 210 total blocks for the year. Her mother played volleyball at Wright State University and her maternal grandfather was a pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles in 1945. She is a Human Development and Family Studies major. She is currently playing professionally for Gigantes de Carolina (The Carolina Giants) in Liga de Voleibol Superior Femenio, Puerto Rico’s professional league.

Courtney Kupets (senior, gymnastics) – A native of Athens, GA, Kupets led her team to its fifth straight NCAA Championship title, winning the all-around, bars, beam and floor competitions and becoming the first gymnast ever to win a national title in each event. She finished the season ranked #1 in all-around, bars and beam, and second on floor and vault. She received five First-Team All-America honors, making a total of 15 for her career (the maximum for only competing three years). She is the all-time NCAA leader with nine individual championships and was named SEC, AAI National Senior and NCAA Southeast Regional Gymnast of the Year. At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Kupets won a Silver Medal with her fellow U.S. team members in the team all-around competition, as well as an individual Bronze Medal in the uneven bar competition . She is a National Honor Society member and was c hosen as ESPN The Magazine First Team Academic All-American in both 2009 and 2007 and is a recipient of NCAA and SEC postgraduate scholarships .

Danielle Lawrie (junior, softball) – A
native of Langley, British Columbia, Lawrie struck out 12 batters and hit two home runs in this year’s deciding Super Regional win over Georgia Tech and hit a Grand Slam in the semifinal of the Women’s College World Series to send her Huskies to the Championship Series, where she led the team to its first-ever softball championship title. The 5’ 7” right-hander led the nation this year in strikeouts (521) and wins (42), was third in shutouts (21) and sixth in ERA (0.97). She was named 2009 USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year and Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year, and with her 42-8 record the 2009 season has been her best ever. She set UW single-season school records in six categories this year: wins (42), strikeouts (521), innings pitched (352.2), shutouts (21), starts (50) and complete games (46) and broke career records for strikeouts (1,365), shutouts (41) and complete games (108). She also set season school records in strikeouts in each of her prior two seasons at UW: 387 as a freshman in 2006 and 457 in 2007. She competed for the Canadian National Team at the Olympic Games in Beijing, where they came in fourth. She is as an Education and Communications major.

Renne Montgomery (senior, basketball) – Montgomery, a native of St. Albans, WV and a four-year starter as point guard for the Huskies, captained her team to an undefeated season this year, culminating with the NCAA championship in which she scored 18 points in the final game. She received both the Big East Sportsmanship Award and the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award and was a WBCA, USBWA, and AP First Team All-American. Montgomery is one of only three players ever at UConn to boast 1500 career points and 500 assists, and she is the only player in school history to rank in the top-10 in points, assists, steals and 3-pointers. She started 139 consecutive games in her college career – the longest streak in the nation – and also played in 150 games, a program best. Montgomery was the #4 pick in the WNBA draft this year, chosen by the Minnesota Lynx. A communications major with a 3.1 GPA, she is also the first-ever active player inducted into the University of Connecticut’s Huskies of Honor.

Other Honors to Be Presented on June 22nd

In addition to the annual Honda-Broderick Cup, the Collegiate Women’s Sports Awards Program also presents its annual “ Honda Inspiration Award” to a deserving collegiate female athlete.
This year’s recipient is Nicole Hester, a star basketball player at Drexel University who was forced to withdraw from classes and miss an entire basketball season due to Hodgkin’s Lymphoma but courageously came back and this year led her team to a school-record 24 wins, including a 16-2 record in conference play and their first-ever berth in the NCAA Tournament.

The program also honors “Athletes of the Year” from both NCAA Division II and Division III colleges.
Lock Haven University softball pitcher Kristin Erb won the Division II award for the second time, having received it as a freshman in 2006. She capped her college pitching career by leading the Lady Eagles to their second National Championship in four years, pitching a 50-5 season with a 0.47 ERA and finishing with a 168-18 record, the most victories for a Division II pitcher. She will play professionally for the Philadelphia Force.

The Division III Athlete of the Year Award goes to Hardin-Simmons University track and field standout Ashley Huston. In her senior year at Hardin-Simmons, Huston won both the indoor pentathlon and outdoor heptathlon NCAA Championship titles as well as the NCAA outdoor long jump title. She set a new meet record at the outdoor championship of 5,244 points by winning the heptathlon and also won the long jump.

Last year’s Honda-Broderick Cup winner was basketball superstar and previous two-time Honda Sports Award winner (2007, 2008) Candace Parker of the University of Tennessee. Other past winners of the Honda-Broderick Cup include some of the most talented and accomplished collegiate athletes in recent history: Jackie Joyner-Kersee (track & field, 1984); Mia Hamm (soccer, 1994), Cheryl Miller (basketball, 1983), Ann Meyers (1978, basketball), Tracy Caulkins (1982, 1984, swimming & diving), Chamique Holdsclaw (basketball, 1998) and Lisa Fernandez (softball, 1993). In 2001, Joyner-Kersee was honored as the “Top Collegiate Woman Athlete for the Past 25 Years.”

American Honda Motor Co., Inc. sponsors the Collegiate Women Sports Awards Program.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Hammon update

The WNBA finally put out a statement on the fact that San Antonio Silver Stars guard Becky Hammon will miss the games against New York and Connecticut on June 19 and 21 because of her Russian national team obligations at the Eurobasket championships.

Hammon played for San Antonio last night and helped the Silver Stars beat her old team, the New York Liberty. As we speak, she is en route to Latvia to join up with the Russian squad which improved to 5-0 with a 67-59 win over Italy on Sunday (former UConn star Svetlana Abrosimova had a game-high 19 points and nine rebounds to lead Russia).

My question is why has this been kept so quiet? Something tells me that if Connecticut Sun stars Asjha Jones or Lindsay Whalen were in a similar predicament, there would have been multiple reports, columns, so on and so forth. Yet, a quick scan of the coverage in the San Antonio paper this morning does not include one comment from Hammon on the issue. The only story on the issue does not include a quote from Hammon which is certainly hard to believe. I am sure there are people who bought tickets to either the game in New York or the one in Connecticut to see Hammon. There figure to be some rather upset ticket holders, especially in New York since Hammon was one of the most popular players in the history of the New York Liberty franchise. The silence surrounding this story is not only deafening, it is inexcusable.

Going back to the Eurobasket event, Latvia and France have secure berths in the quarterfinals meaning that Anete Jekabsone-Zogota and Sandrine Gruda, the leading scorers for the Latvian and French teams, will not get an early start on their trip to the U.S. to join the Connecticut Sun. Since the event is being held in Latvia, Jekabsone-Zogota will flying straight to the U.S. and should join the Sun later this month. Gruda has been given permission to go home to France for a few days before heading to the U.S.

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Off-court happenings

The Connecticut Sun return to the court tomorrow after a week off and the action on the court is not the only show in town.

WNBA president Donna Orender, former Olympic starting point guard Dawn Staley and former UConn/Connecticut Sun forward Tamika Raymond will be on hand for a press conference held in conjunction for the release of the All-Star ballot.

The four girls' high school state championship teams will be honored by the team at halftime and the Sun will conduct a collection drive for female armed service personnel.

Fans are encouraged to donate such items as baby wipes, lip balm, sunscreen
(45 spf or stronger), shower gel, soap, baby powder, foot powder, powdered
drink mixes, and power bars. No glass or aerosol items will be accepted.


Friday, June 12, 2009

Hillhouse, Old Lyme to be honored

The four girls' high school state championship teams including Class L champ Hillhouse and Class S champ Old Lyme will be honored at halftime of Sunday's Atlanta Dream/Connecticut Sun game at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Here's the release from the Sun

The Connecticut Sun will continue a tradition of honoring high school girls' basketball Sunday, recognizing CIAC Class LL champion Norwich Free Academy, Class L champion Hillhouse, Class M champion Bacon Academy and Class S champion Old Lyme during an on-court ceremony at halftime of the game with the Atlanta Dream at Mohegan Sun Arena.

WNBA President Donna Orender will also be on hand for a special
presentation and halftime entertainment will be supplied by the USO Liberty

Each high school champion will receive a commemorative plaque from the
Connecticut Sun, and one framed jersey from each of the four teams will be
displayed on the Mohegan Sun Arena concourse during the 2009 season.

Sunday's festivities cap off a series of initiatives undertaken by the
Connecticut Sun to highlight local high school girls' basketball, where
future WNBA stars are already competing. Throughout the high school season,
Connecticut names a Team of the Week, and the Sun also hosts a CIAC
Championship luncheon for the eight schools that compete for the four state

Montgomery/Honda Award update

Former UConn guard Renee Montgomery is one of 12 candidates for the Honda's Collegiate Female Athlete of the Year which will be announced at a press conference at Columbia University in New York on June 22.

Montgomery was the Honda Cup winner for women's basketball, making her eligible for the award along with the award winners from the other women's sports:

Jennifer Barringer, Colorado (women's track and field)
Mallory Cecil, Duke (women's tennis)
Nicole Fawcett, Penn State (volleyball)
Maria Fernandez, Purdue (golf)
Sally Kipyego, Texas Tech (cross country)
Courtney Kupets, Georgia (gymnastics)
Danielle Lawrie, Washington (softball)
Hannah Nielsen, Northwestern (lacrosse)
Casey Nogueira, North Carolina (soccer)
Susie Rowe, Maryland (field hockey)
Dana Fullmer, California (swimming)

Five finalists will be named on Monday with the winner being announced on June 22. It should be noted that Montgomery, now playing with the undefeated Minnesota Lynx of the WNBA, does not have a game that day so if she is a finalist, hopefully they will let her attend the press conference. She can be on a plane and be back in Minnesota later that afternoon or in the early evening to prepare for a home game against New York the next day.

Montgomery, the unquestioned leader of UConn's national championship team, is in some pretty select company. Here are some of the noteworthy achievements of the other finalists.

Barringer recent became the youngest American woman to break the 4-minute mark in the 1,500 meters. She is currently competing in the NCAA track and field championships.
Cecil was the women's NCAA singles champion as a freshman and helped Duke win the team title
Fawcett was a three-time first-team All-American and national player of the year as a senior and led Penn State to its second consecutive NCAA title and 38-0 season. The Lady Lions did not drop a set until the NCAA tournament.
Hernandez was the NCAA champion and is currently competing in the Futures Players Championship in Decatur, Ill.
Kipyego is the first woman to win the NCAA Division I cross country championship three times and won her sport's Honda Cup award three times as well. She headed into the NCAA track and field championships, currently being held, with eight NCAA titles.
Kupets won the all-around, bars, beam and floor exercise to lead Georgia to its fifth straight NCAA championship. Kupets graduates with 10 individual NCAA titles.
Lawrie led Washington to its first NCAA softball title and led Division I pitchers with 42 wins and 521 strikeouts. She was also a member of Canada's 2008 Olympic softball team.
Nielsen led Northwestern's lacrosse program to its fifth straight NCAA title while breaking her own Division I record with 83 assists en route to scoring a national-best 142 points.
Nogueira led the nation with 25 goals and 58 points and had seven game-winning goals.
Rowe broke school records with 28 goals and 74 points to lead Maryland to its third national title in the last four years.
Vollmer won the 100 and 200 freestyle titles and swam on the winning 400 and 800 freestyle relay squads at the NCAA championships to lead the Bears to the team title. She won a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics, swimming on the United States' 4 x 200 relay squad.

Of course Montgomery's resume isn't too bad either. She is only player in school history to rank in the top 10 in points, assists, steals and 3-pointers and she played in a school-record 150 games. She finished her career by leading UConn to a 39-0 season, the program's sixth national championship and the Huskies became the first team to win every game by at least 10 points. She was the No. 4 overall pick by the Minnesota Lynx in April's WNBA draft.


Hammon a no show?

I know San Antonio Silver Stars guard Becky Hammon is a very talented woman but can she be in two places at once? There is a report on the the FIBA Europe site stating that Hammon will be joining Russia for the Eurobasket Championships. Well, Hammon is also a member of the WNBA's San Antonio Silver Stars and will be facing some very serious scheduling conflicts unless Russia somehow fails to make it into the quarterfinal round (highly unlikely since the tournament's defending champions are given credit for two wins in the first stage of the tournament), Hammon figures to miss San Antonio's eastern swing.

If Russia moves into the semifinals undefeated which is not exactly a reach, Hammon will either have to be in Latvia playing for Russia or in New York when the Silver Stars play at the New York Liberty on June 19. Two days later San Antonio will play the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena but the Eurobasket championship game will be played on June 20 beginning at 1:15 p.m. Eastern time (8:15 p.m. in Latvia). Assuming Russia finishes either first or second in Group F, it will play in the quarterfinals on June 18. By finishing third or fourth in the group, the quarterfinal game will be played on June 17. Once a team reaches the quarterfinal round, they are there for the duration since the tournament has playoffs for not only first and second but for the third-eighth spots meaning Hammon will be in Latvia through June 20.

Doing a little checking, I see no commercial flights available from Riga, Latvia to New York after the Eurobasket title game is over (around 10-10:30 p.m. in Latvia). It is possible that if a flight is chartered for Hammon, she could arrive in time for the game against Connecticut but it seems more likely that she either has to choose to play for the Silver Stars against the Liberty and Sun or play in the semifinals and finals for Russia. How do you think the New York fans will react to not seeing Hammon, who played in New York for her first eight seasons, especially if it is not widely reported that she will not be at the game? I have to assume she is leaving for Latvia after the Silver Stars host New York tomorrow night. Hammon is actually a bit fortunate that San Antonio has five days off between the two New York gams or she could be missing more than just two games.

EDITED AT 12:45 P.M.: Upon closer examination, it is not that farfetched that Hammon could arrive in time for the game against the Sun. I am not her travel agent but I book enough of my UConn flights to offer my two cents. If she is so inclined, Hammon could board a flight in Riga, Latvia at 6:05 a.m. local time on the 21st and after a stop in Amsterdam, land at Boston's Logan Airport at 10:20 a.m. (yes, the seven-hour time difference would be a huge help to her in this instance). That is more than enough time to make the drive to Mohegan Sun Arena. Would she be exhausted? I imagine so. But she would be far from the first WNBA star to step off a plane after playing in Europe and play in a game. It would make for a heck of a story to the assorted masses who cover the Connecticut Sun, that's for sure.

Russia just beat Latvia to move to 3-0 in Group F (former UConn star Svetlana Abrosimova had nine points, six rebounds and two assists). If my math is correct, Russia has clinched a spot in the quarterfinals since it can finish no worse than 3-2. Belarus already has three losses while Lithuania and Italy have two losses each and still have to play each other so one of them will have a minimum of three losses. With four of the six teams moving onto the next round, Russia's stay in Latvia will last until June 20.


Faris nets 9 in win

UConn incoming freshman Kelly Faris had nine points (hitting 4 of 7 shots including 1 of 2 from 3-point range) as the Indiana senior all-stars defeated the junior all-stars 118-63. It was the final tuneup before the Indiana team faces Kentucky in the annual North/South Classic. The first game is Saturday at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, the second is at Bellarmine University in Louisville on Sunday.

Speaking of Faris, her chance to making the U.S. team competing in the FIBA Under-19 World Championships appears to have improved with the news that Stanford sophomore to be Sarah Boothe will not be attending next month's training camp because she is undergoing foot surgery. If no replacement is named by USA Basketball, that means only one player instead of two will needed to be cut from the original list of 14 before the team leaves for Bangkok, Thailand.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Houston lighting it up

It may be one of the most obscure statistics out there but to me, efficiency rating is also one of most telling.

I know it is early as some WNBA teams have played only one game but a quick peek at the efficiency numbers shows that former UConn forward Charde Houston ranks eighth in the WNBA in efficiency rating and among those averaging at least 10 minutes a game, Houston leads the way in efficiency rating per 40 minutes. For the record, she has a 20.7 efficiency rating (putting her ahead of established WNBA stars Lindsay Whalen, Alana Beard, Katie Douglas, Deanna Nolan, Asjha Jones and Sue Bird). She has an efficiency per 40 minute rating of 32.5.

Houston's numbers are pretty impressive through the first three games of the season. She is averaging 18 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.7 blocks.

Houston, a third-round pick of the Minnesota Lynx in the 2008 draft, had a solid rookie season averaging 8.8 points and 3.7 rebounds. Houston went to Israel and had an outstanding campaign for Raanana Hertzeliya. Houston was named the MVP of the Israel league, receiving five of the 10 votes. She averaged 23.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2.2 steals and 0.6 blocks. She returned to Minnesota a more confident player and among the areas of her game she has improved is ball security and the range on her jumper.

Last year she averaged 1.67 turnovers a game while playing 17.6 minutes per contest. This season her turnover/game numbers are the same even though she is averaging 25.3 minutes per game. After not attempting a 3-pointer last season, she has hit three of her first four treys this season. Oh by the way, Minnesota is 3-0 and leads the league in scoring offense (95 points per game) and scoring margin (16.7). If you want to see the new, improved Charde and happen to live in these parts, you will have to be patient since the Lynx won't make it to Connecticut and New York until Aug. 22 and 23. However, six games are scheduled to be shown on NBA TV beginning with the June 27 contest against Phoenix and the June 30 Minnesota/Atlanta game will be on ESPN2.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Doty working her way back

As Caroline Doty works her and her surgically-repaired knee way back into shape, there is no such thing as a "minor" milestone.

A couple weeks back the rising sophomore guard was thrilled when she was told she could start running and sprinting. Next up is getting the OK to start cutting, probably in the next couple of weeks. The hope is that she will be able to start playing basketball again by either late August or early September.

"So far so good," Doty said Wednesday during a break in the rehab process. "No complaints at all, it feels great. We kind of go week by week with progressions, every two weeks and go by month marks. I am almost at the fifth month mark and we were really concentrating on jogging, landing right. Now we are working more on plyo (plyometrics), lot of single leg stuff as well as keeping up with the strength, trying to get all the muscles back and working at that. In gym, I'm standing in place and shooting, trying to get my reps up, (doing) a lot of foul shooting and making sure my knee doesn't go in when I bend it to jump. I can't do any cutting yet so I am working on the form and getting that back."

Doty was accompanied by UConn women's basketball trainer Rosemary Ragle who has been stressing patience with Doty even though Caroline wants to be back playing basketball again in the worst way.

"We talked about with her surgeon and because it is her second ACL (tear), it is a different type of graft that it used, we have a different type of time frame," Ragle said. "We can go a little slower and be a little more conservative. Normally people with straight ACLs are going to be back in five or six months. With Caroline, we are looking more at the seven-month mark. At six months (likely somewhere between mid to late July or early August) is where she is going to start some 1-on-1 drills with her teammates, then she will go 3 on 3 and then she will play half-court 5 on 5 so we are looking at having her be a full go by the seventh month."

Doty is taking a biology course in the first summer session and has been taking in some of the pick-up games featuring her UConn teammates. She has been impressed by the amount of work Lorin Dixon had done on her perimeter game as well as the physical fitness of Kaili McLaren who Doty said is working relentlessly on the stationary bike and other cardio machines.

Was also able to speak to Tiffany Hayes who said she (along with Maya Moore and Tina Charles) will be returning to Colorado Springs for the World University Games training camp. The three Huskies are 14 finalists for the U.S. squad and two players will need to be cut to 12 before the team leaves for Belgrade, Serbia. Hayes, who is taking two classes in the first summer session, has only one regret from the summer - she is struggling to find the time to return to Florida to visit her family. Hayes said she did have the chance to chat with UConn incoming freshman Kelly Faris during the USA Basketball trials in May and when she did get to watch the Under-19 trials when she was in Colorado Springs, she was impressed with Faris' game.

Faris' arrival in Storrs is still to be determined. She is currently in training with the Indiana team which will play the Kentucky squad in the annual North/South Classic. Faris is one of 14 candidates for the U.S. team set to compete in the FIBA U-19 World Championship. She has to be in Colorado Springs by July 9 and if she is one of 12 players named to the team, she likely wouldn't be able to come to Storrs until early August since the U19 World Championship will not wrap up until Aug. 2.

Also ran into new UConn assistant coach Marissa Moseley at Gampel. She seems like a pretty nice kid. She has already found a place to live and before long will be hitting the recruiting trail.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Faris delivers

Kelly Faris, UConn's only incoming freshman, had 11 points and four steals and had a basket to key a 16-3 run to break open a close game at Indiana's Senior All-Stars topped the Junior All-Stars 91-78 Tuesday night. Faris was 4 for 8 from the field and missed her only 3-point attempt to add offensive support to Penn State signee's Alex Bentley's game-high 21 points and 19 points, five rebounds and five assists from Notre Dame incoming freshman Skylar Diggins. The teams will play again on Thursday. It will be the final preparation before Faris and the rest of the Indiana squad faces Kentucky in two games as part of the annual North/South Classic.

Speaking of Indiana basketball, if anybody ever questioned the toughness of former Connecticut Sun guard Katie Douglas, you might want to take a look at the photo of Douglas after she collided with Seattle's Janelle Burse in Tuesday's WNBA game. Douglas figures to have a shiner and must have been in intense pain but that didn't stop her from coming into the game in the fourth quarter to help the Fever ice its first win of the season.


Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Breland fighting cancer

When North Carolina forward/center Jessica Breland was a no-show for the World University Games tryouts in Colorado Springs last month, I never got an explanation for her absence.

Well, I think I can figure it out after reading that she is being treated for Hodgkins' Lymphoma

The good news, as the report mentions, it's a curable form of cancer. North Carolina will play UConn in the upcoming regular season either at Gampel Pavilion or the XL Center. Breland led the Tar Heels in rebounding and block shots and was second in scoring as a junior. Breland's playing status for her senior season is not known at the current time. Of course playing college basketball pales in comparison to fighting cancer. I would love to be able to write a piece on Breland's valiant fight against cancer when the Huskies and Tar Heels play, that would mean she is winning the most important battle in the biggest game of all - the game of life.

Lighting it up

If the rest of the WNBA had its way, the Eurobasket Championships would never end because the thought of Anete Jekabsone-Zogota and Sandrine Gruda joining a talented Connecticut Sun nucleus could change the balance of power in the Eastern Conference.

Jekabsone-Zogota isn't going anything to harm her reputation as one of the best shooters in Europe with her performance in the first three games of the European championships.

Jekabsone-Zogota had 13 of her 26 points in the fourth quarter and had two of her five assists in overtime as Latvia edged Greece 70-68 to win the Group B title. After three games, Jekabsone-Zogota is averaging a tournament-best 23.7 points per game and is third with a 63.3 field-goal percentage.

Sandrine Gruda, who like Jekabsone-Zogota will join the Sun after the Eurobasket Championships, averaged 15.3 points and 7 rebounds to lead France to the Group D title. Russia, aided by former UConn star Svetlana Abrosimova's 10.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3 assists a game, won Group C while Spain won Group A as Connecticut Sun third-round pick Alba Torrens averaged 6 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.7 steals. After a day off today, the tournament moves to the next stage.

Latvia and Spain are in Group E while France and Russia will be in Group F. All four teams begin the second stage with 2-0 records as they get credit for wins in the preliminary round. The field will be cut from 16 to 8 teams by the end of play on June 16. The top eight teams will have games until June 20 as there are playoffs for the top eight positions.

Labels: , ,

Monday, June 08, 2009

Jekabsone-Zogota/Gruda continue to shine

It's no wonder that Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault wished that Anete Jekabsone-Zogota and Sandrine Gruda were with his team right now rather than playing in the Eurobasket championships (or European championships if you wish).

Through two games, Jekabsone-Zogota is the second-leading scorer averaged 22.5 points for Latvia while Gruda is fifth in scoring (17.5 points per game) and seventh in rebounding (7.5).

Jekabsone-Zogota hit 7 of 9 shots (3 of 5 from 3-point range) to finish with 25 points, four rebounds and five assists as Latvia topped Hungary 76-59 to move to 2-0 in Group B. Latvia can win the group title today with a win over Greece.

Gruda had 12 points and eight rebounds as France edged Belarus 63-61 to improve to 2-0 in Group D. France can clinch the group title with a victory over winless Israel today.

Former UConn star Svetlana Abrosimova had 11 points as Russia routed 72-37 to go to 2-0 in Group C. A win over Lithuania today will give the Group C title to Russia.

Wait, there is more. Alba Torrens, the Sun's third-round pick in April's WNBA draft, had six points, five rebounds, seven assists and two steals in Spain's 85-59 win over Ukraine. Torrens, who is not expected to report to the Sun this season, will lead her team into today's showdown of undefeated teams when Spain and Slovak Republic play for the Group A title.

The tournament runs until June 20. Jekabsone-Zogota is supposed to fly to the U.S. shortly after the tournament is over to join the Sun. Gruda has been given permission to return home to France for a few days before flying in to join the Sun. With the Sun at the WNBA maximum of 11 players, two players will need to be cut when Jekabsone-Zogota and Gruda report.

Labels: , , ,

Faris honored

UConn incoming freshman Kelly Faris has been named the top high school female athlete in Indianapolis by the Indianapolis Star.

I can't say I have too much knowledge to the other top female athletes in Indianapolis but it's hard to argue with the choice. Faris led Heritage Christian to four consecutive Indiana 2A titles while setting school career records in rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.

It's a busy time for Faris, a 5-foot-11 wing. Last week she played in the Hoosiers' Reunion All-Star Classic on the same court when the movie "Hoosiers" was filmed. She is currently practicing with the Indiana squad which will play against Kentucky in a two-game North/South all-star series.

On July 9 Faris will head to Colorado Springs for the training camp for the Under-19 national team. She is among the 14 finalists for the team, a number which will be cut to 12 before the team leaves for the 2009 FIBA U19 World Championship in Bangkok, Thailand.

UConn recruiting target Bria Hartley was named the MVP of the Rose Classic tournament, leading her AAU team - Exodus NYC - to the title. Hartley had 32 points in a 75-55 win over Swagger Like Us Sunday in Brooklyn to lead Exodus to its sixth straight title.

Labels: ,

Sunday, June 07, 2009

A win, win, win proposition

It was a successful day all around in Connecticut Sun land.

Not only did the Sun avoid opening the season 0-2 for the first time since 2004 but Anete Jekabsone-Zogota and Sandrine Gruda, who will join the Sun when the EuroBasket Championships are over, led their teams to opening-round victories on Sunday.

The Sun, which lost to Washington in Saturday's season opener, rebounded with a 66-57 win at New York. Lindsay Whalen, the runner-up in the league MVP voting last season, had another strong game with 14 points and a career-high 12 rebounds. Erin Phillips, who did not score against the Mystics, had 13 points including a key 3-pointer in the fourth quarter when New York was threatening to steal the game. Tamika Whitmore came off the bench to add 11 points and eight rebounds and Asjha Jones added 10 points. Kiesha Brown, picked up late in the preseason after Washington cut her, had her second straight solid outing off the bench with seven points and four rebounds. Perhaps most importantly, after managing just five offensive rebounds against Washington, Connecticut had 16 offensive rebounds (five by Whalen) and outrebounded New York 47-33. Former UConn star Ashley Battle was a bright spot for the Liberty with eight points, five rebounds and three assists.

Jekabsone-Zogota had a game-high 20 points in Latvia's 85-52 win over Poland. Gruda, despite early foul trouble, had a game-high 23 points as well as seven rebounds in France's 76-61 win over Italy.

Former UConn and Connecticut Sun forward Svetlana Abrosimova had 16 points, five rebounds and four steals in Russia's 74-61 win over Turkey.

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, June 05, 2009

Moore gets cut

Former UConn star Jessica Moore's run with the Los Angeles Sparks ended when she was the final players cut from a team considered to be a favorite to win the WNBA title.

Moore, who began her career by playing six games with Charlotte in 2005, played in 106 games with the Sparks over the last four seasons. She started 50 games for the Sparks in the 2006 and 2007 seasons but simply got caught up in the numbers game in Los Angeles.

She is the third former Husky to be cut in the preseason. Kelly Schumacher was let go by Washington while Ketia Swanier was waived by Connecticut before getting picked up by Phoenix.

Swanier made the Mercury's opening-day roster, one of nine UConn players on WNBA rosters to start the season.

Connecticut (Barbara Turner and Asjha Jones), Minnesota (Renee Montgomery and Charde Houston), Phoenix (Swanier and Diana Taurasi) and Seattle (Sue Bird and Swin Cash) have two ex-Huskies while Ashley Battle will begin her fifth season with the New York Liberty.

By my unofficial tally (and followers of this blog know how great my math is and know that I will never be a candidate to become a CPA if I chose to change careers) Tennessee leads the way with 13 former Lady Vols on the opening-day rosters followed by Connecticut's nine, Georgia (seven), LSU and Rutgers (with six each) and North Carolina with five lead the list of top college feeder programs for the WNBA.

Labels: , , , , ,

Mosby cut by Mystics

Bernice Mosby, who for a matter of hours was committed to play her college basketball at UConn before changing her mind, was waived by the Washington Mystics on Friday.

Mosby becomes the fifth 2007 first-round pick to be let go in the preseason.

Littles, Page cut by the Sun

The Connecticut Sun got down to the 11-player limit by waiving second-round pick Lyndra Littles, second-year forward Danielle Page and undrafted rookie Carrem Gay.

The Sun chose to keep guards Kristi Cirone and Kiesha Brown as well as forward/center Lauren Ervin.

The moves are a bit surprising considering the strong play of Page and Littles in the final preseason game. The feeling was that one of the guards (Brown and Cirone) would be among the cuts but Connecticut coach Mike Thibault does love his guards. When you look at the caliber of player available on the waiver wire, it will be interesting to see if the current roster of Asjha Jones, Lindsay Whalen, Tamika Whitmore, Erin Phillips, Chante Black, Amber Holt, Kerri Gardin, Barbara Turner, Cirone, Brown and Ervin will the one that takes the floor tomorrow for the season opener against Washington.

Two more players will have to go when Sandrine Gruda and Anete Jekabsone-Zogota join the team following the Euro

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Battle staying in Big Apple

The New York Liberty opted to keep former UConn standout Ashley Battle as well as Erlana Larkins, cutting loose former No. 2 overall pick Jessica Davenport and Lisa Willis.

The waiving of Davenport is the latest hit for the draft class of 2007. While Davenport could be picked up by another team, she is the fifth first rounder in '07 not currently on a WNBA roster. The only first-round picks still with the team which selected them are Armintie Price (Chicago), Tiffany Jackson (NY), Bernice Mosby (Washington), Katie Gearlds (Seattle) and Sandrine Gruda (Connecticut). The No. 9 pick Alison Bales, No. 11 Ivory Latta and No. 12 Kamesha Hairston have all been cut in the preseason.

Look for more big names to be shown the door in the next two days as teams struggle to get down to 11 players.

UPDATED at 7:55 p.m.
Some more cuts impacting former UConn players have been made. Kelly Schumacher was let go by Washington two days before the Mystics were set to open the season at Mohegan Sun Arena versus the Sun. Ashley Paris and not ex-Husky Jessica Moore was let go by Los Angeles along with Marta Fernandez.

The Sparks are at 12 players. I have to plead ignorance in regards to its salary cap situation so I don't know whether LA needs to cut another player or if they can carry 11 players until Candace Parker reports to the team. If they have to keep just 10 players because of salary cap considerations, Moore's roster spot could still be in jeapordy.

Tan White, who averaged 9.2 points in four WNBA seasons, was cut by Indiana. With players like White, Fernandez, Latta and Davenport out there, something tells me it is going to be a crazy day tomorrow as teams get down to the 11-player maximum.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Anxious times

Ketia Swanier was the first of the former UConn players to get caught up in the numbers game. But will she be the only one?

Among the ex-Huskies who are probably walking on egg shells these days are Ashley Battle of the New York Liberty and Jessica Moore of the Los Angeles Sparks.

Before Sunday's exhibition game between Connecticut and Los Angeles, I spoke with Moore about the impact the move from 13 to 11 player rosters had on training camp.

"This year it is very difficult because it is not 13 anymore, it is 11 so it is always in the back of your mind," Moore said. "You can't dwell on that. All you can control is how you play, what you bring to practice every single day. As long as you can say to yourself that I am giving it my best, they can take it or leave it, what else can you do?"

Moore has played 106 games (starting 52) with LA over the last four seasons but the Sparks have added high-profile free agents Tina Thompson and Betty Lennox. Los Angeles also brought in veteran Vanessa Hayden and rookies Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton and Ashley Paris. On paper, it looks like Moore could be in some trouble but we will know soon. She very much wants to be there as Lisa Leslie plays her final season in the WNBA.

Moore has become very close with Leslie during her time with the Sparks.

"Playing with Lisa is like a dream come true," Moore said. "She was my all-time (favorite) player growing up and to actually get a chance to play with her, not only play with her but consider her one of my really good friends is awesome. I would be totally thrilled if I could be around her and be with her for the whole season."

I asked Moore to compare Leslie's basketball mindset to that of her former UConn teammate Diana Taurasi.

"What they do share in common is one thing they are great team players and will do anything for their teammates, they are not selfish and they bring that competitive edge on a whole different level," Moore said.

It is going to be an interesting couple of days as WNBA teams have some tough decisions to make to get down to the 11-player maximum.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

A look to the future

As promised, I will share some of the highlights of my interview with UConn recruiting target Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis of Anaheim, Calif.

I found the most compelling part of my 6 minute, 41 second interview with Kaleena being the youthful exuberance she displayed about getting the autograph of swimmer Michael Phelps in her first day in Colorado Springs and reaction of being joined on the U.S. Under-16 national team by fellow Matei Dei High School stars Jordan Adams and Alexyz Vaioletama. But my reporting instincts push me to lead off with the info most pertinent to UConn.

She gracefully handled my inquiry of whether she was annoyed that Mike Flynn of Blue Star reported that he heard "whispers" that she committed to UConn, which much like his rumor that Stefanie Dolson was headed to Duke the day or two before she committed to UConn, was untrue.

"That is somebody who said I was going to go somewhere," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "It is not that big a deal as long as I get to set the record straight and let everybody know I haven't made a decision yet so I am not going to make a big deal over it."

As I mentioned in my blog yesterday, she probably won't a commitment until her senior year.

"I want to get a feel for all the colleges out there," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "I don't want put anybody out (of contention) because if I make a decision early, maybe my wants in a college will change by that time. If I make a commitment, I am not going to be one who wants to go back on my word so senior year is looking like the time I am going to make my decision."

Mosqueda-Lewis took advantage of Mater Dei's trip to New England to play a game in Springfield, Mass. by taking in a UConn practice in January. It was a couple of hours that she won't soon forget.

"It was very intense, non-stop talking, everybody working hard," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "Coach Geno getting on them after everything, passes are crisp, everything has got to be perfect in practice and I think that is a great thing, perfection and that is what Coach Geno expects from all his players. One of the best coach is Coach Auriemma because he pushes his players to be the best they can be and tries to make them be even more if they can be and that is exactly what I want. I need somebody to push me to that limit."

Mosqueda-Lewis has not seen Mater Dei's schedule but she said it was not likely they would come East again this year.

Now to the 15-year-old Mosqueda-Lewis acting like a 15-year-old. I could sense her excitement in getting Phelps' autograph coming through the phone line.

"I got his autograph when he was walking out of the dining area. I know there are a ton of great athletes out there, getting Michael Phelps' autograph, a man who got seven gold medals in one Olympics was incredible. I told everybody as soon as I got it."

She was also emotional about having three of the 12 members of the U-16 team being members of the Mater Dei squad.

"It is incredible, it makes it more comfortable to be able to interact on this team and have people here that I know are always going to be on my side and be with me," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "It is a great thing to have both of my teammates from high school here with me. At first we were all nervous, scared and we said if one of is makes it, two of us make it, if somebody doesn't we are still going to be together but when all three of us heard our names called, we weren't sitting near each other but when we all came together, we all started crying and all happy that we got to do this together."

I spoke with Betnijah Laney of Smyrna, Del. this afternoon. Laney, who also made the U-16 national team, was in the stands, sitting a couple of rows behind the UConn bench when the Huskies beat Seton Hall on Feb. 28 at the XL Center. It was the final regular season home game for Renee Montgomery, Tahirah Williams and Cassie Kerns.

"What I remember the most is that Renee Montgomery struggled (with her shot) in the first half but she stayed with it. I was impressed with that."

Like Mosqueda-Lewis, Laney said she would like to wait until a senior to make a commitment.

"I'd like to see what happens, see who the teams I am interested in recruit," Laney said. "If you commit (early) things can change so I think I will wait until I'm a senior."

Laney has been a regular at Rutgers home games "since she was a baby" since her mother was a member of Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer's team when Stringer coached at Cheney State in the early 1980s. Since entering high school, she has not been able to attend quite as many games. Her connections with Rutgers go a little deeper as her cousin Khadijah Rushdan was the Scarlet Knights' starting point guard.

Laney resisted the lure of basketball until she was 10, opting for cheerleading and dance. She said she came to her senses and has never looked back. Last season she broke the Delaware single-game scoring record with 52 points. Ironically, the owner of the record was Elena Delle Donne who announced today that she would be returning to the basketball court to play for Delaware.

"I think that it should be a really good season for them with her playing there," Laney said.

That is the extent of my Elena Delle Donne coverage in this blog. I am sure another paper in the state will provide more than enough coverage to make up for my lack of interest in this matter. I would rather spend my time focusing on players who will be or could be actually suiting up for UConn than those who will play their basketball for Delaware.

Delle Donne returns to court

Other than Delaware women's basketball coach Tina Martin, who just added the most talented player in the Colonial Athletic Association to her program, nobody may be more joyous about the news that Elena Delle Donne has decided to restart her basketball career with the Blue Hens than UConn coach Geno Auriemma.

Auriemma was in a tough spot in terms of commenting on Delle Donne, a kid he really likes. If he said what he truly believed, he would be accused of piling on a prodigy who was dealing with some issues which led her to leave UConn after spending just two days on the campus in June. Although Auriemma left the door open for Delle Donne to return publicly, privately he knew he did not need the distraction of a player not fully committed to the sport. When the subject was brought up by his former player Meghan Culmo in his television show in the winter, I took the opportunity to ask Auriemma about it. Here's what he said.

"It's funny, the way it was presented," Auriemma said. "Meghan is saying I can't tell you how many e-mails, I am flooded with e-mails that unimpeachable sources are telling us ... As soon as I hear that, I want to throw up. It is what it is. One of the unfortunate things that we've created, it is nobody's fault ... The story surrounding our seasons most of the time have nothing to do with our games because our games have become so predictable. There is too much boredom so let's go to everything else, no matter what that is because there is no mystery of how they are going to do Saturday, how are we going to do Monday. The mystery is all gone, the anticipation is all gone so the people on the Boneyard, the chat rooms hope we (win) on Saturday? We are struggling a little bit, we have to get back on track. What are they going to talk about? So it took me by surprise when Meghan said it. I was like 'what?' I was the most shocked person in the room, I think. I wake up every morning and want to read she is playing basketball at Delaware. She is not playing at Connecticut, if she was going to play at Connecticut, she'd be here by now. People generally just don't do that. You don't go, leave and then come back."

Now for a few of my thoughts.

First, there is no questioning Delle Donne's talent. She is a 6-4 or 6-5 kid with unlimited range on her jumper, a true offensive dynamo. However, when she held a press conference announcing her decision to play volleyball at Delaware, she said she was not ready to fully commit to playing basketball at UConn. I have not spoken to her since she left UConn and can't recall the last time I reached out to her or anybody in her camp but I hope she has regained the passion because if not, it sends a disturbing message that she won't need to give 100 percent to play at Delaware.

Second, I was always amazed when people asked me if Delle Donne would ever play at UConn again. Anybody who has any knowledge of how UConn does business must have known that the day Delle Donne summoned a friend to drive her off the UConn campus and back to her Wilmington, Delaware home marked the end of her UConn "career." I know it is hard for fans to come to terms with the national high school player of the year leaving UConn in her rear-view mirror and certainly a talent like Delle Donne would make any team better. But anybody who thought she was going to play at UConn agai was living in fantasy land. As Auriemma said, "she is not playing at Connecticut, if she was going to play at Connecticut, she'd be here by now. People generally just don't do that. You don't go, leave and then come back. Look at the history of any sport and then come back."

Finally, I hope she enjoys herself on the basketball court. It is still a game and should be fun. I remember when I did my first interview with Delle Donne at the USA Basketball U-19 trials in 2007 and she told me of her dad hiring her a personal trainer at the age of 7 and I cringed. Did her father push her too hard? I can't make the determination but Delle Donne has been searching for some peace and hopefully she will find it with the Blue Hens. It wasn't there in the brief time she was at UConn and since she gave up on college volleyball after her freshman season, that was not the answer either.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Swanier cut loose

When undrafted rookie free agent Kristi Cirone got the call to replace Erin Phillips midway through the first quarter of Sunday's exhibition game against Los Angeles, the writing was on the wall for former UConn guard Ketia Swanier.

Even with the retirement of Jamie Carey, Swanier's play in the preseason just wasn't enough for her to stay with the Sun especially with the WNBA rosters cut from 13 to 11. The end came on Monday when Swanier and undrafted rookie guard Ashley Hayes were cut by the Sun.

The good news for Swanier is by getting cut early in the week, she has a chance to get picked up by another team.

The Sun will still need to make two more cuts by Friday. It figures to come down to Cirone, Danielle Page, Lyndra Littles, Lauren Ervin and Carrem Gay fighting for the final three spots.

Mosqueda-Lewis in no rush

While others may be clamoring for highly-touted Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis to make her college decision including one person spreading a rumor that the sophomore wing from Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, Calif. has committed to UConn, Mosqueda-Lewis said she probably won't be committing until her senior season.

I'll have more on my interview with her including the excitement she felt in acquiring swimmer Michael Phelps' autograph and having two of her high school teammates joining her on the USA Basketball Under-16 national team at some point in the next day or two.

Notre Dame/UConn seeing double

The days of UConn and Rutgers meeting twice in the regular season are over - for the time being.

After six seasons of the Huskies and Scarlet Knights playing a home-and-home series, the Big East has decided to change things up and make Notre Dame the only conference team the reigning national champions will play twice in the regular season. The only scheduled UConn/Rutgers game will be played in Connecticut. As result of the scheduling change is that UConn will play at Marquette for the second consecutive season.

UConn's home Big East opponents will be Cincinnati, Georgetown, Providence, Rutgers, St. John's, South Florida and West Virginia.

The road foes will be DePaul, Louisville, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Seton Hall, Syracuse and Villanova.

The other home and home series in the conference will be:
Georgetown/South Florida
Pittsburgh/West Virginia
Seton Hall/St. John's

The dates of the games won't be known until the conference gets the OK from the television stations. That normally happens in early September.