Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Swanson looks ahead

Among the interest spectators at Monday's Connecticut Sun practice was Sacred Heart coach Ed Swanson who was on hand to watch his former player Kaitlin Sowinski take part in training camp as an undrafted free agent.

With Sacred Heart set to play UConn on Dec. 5, naturally I spent some time with Swanson before doing my interviews with Sun players to get his take on playing the Huskies for the second time (UConn won 82-40 on Dec. 31, 2006).

At least one high-ranking official at Sacred Heart basically asked Swanson
"are you nuts" when news surfaced that the Pioneers was facing UConn. But with a veteran squad capable to win the Northeast Conference title, Swanson believes the time is right to play the Huskies again.

"With a senior-laden backcourt, a couple juniors so I think we have some people who can handle that situation," Swanson said. "It's the best RPI game in the country and it is an experience. Our players want to experience it. They grew up watching UConn and watched it the last two years (when UConn won an NCAA Division I record 78 straight games). It is as much about the experience from the game and helping us grow a little and gain a little bit more exposure for our program.

"They call specific years but I don't think if a team is young ... We have Alicia Apo, Maggie Cosgrove, Mo Reilly will be seniors and Callan Taylor will be a junior, that will help them a little bit and help our program mature at a different pace."

Swanson has positive memories from that 2006 game against UConn.

"If you remember that game, we were up five with five minutes to go in the first half and from that point on, I wish the game could have ended then," Swanson said. "They were a top 10 program and we got something out of it. That was the game where we kind of gained a lot of momentum for the rest of the year.

"We got exactly out of it what we wanted to and hopefully next year we will take that same mindset into the game. They say that everything is great leading up to the game except for the game and I look at it the other way, I'm hoping we get something out of it that we can parlay (into the NEC season)."

Naturally Swanson was fired up to see Sowinski getting a chance to earn a spot on the Sun. While the odds are stacked against her, it was still a special moment for Swanson and his two assistant coaches who were also in attendance.

"It is exciting to see one of our players at this level," Swanson said. "I thought a couple years ago Amanda Pape could have been (in a WNBA camp). She played overseas and didn't have as good of an experience as Caitlin did but it is great to see a kid who came in and as a freshman averaged 3 points and 3 rebounds on our '06 (Northeast Conference championship team) and now is in a WNBA camp."

Now for a few notes from Monday's practice. Tina Charles was not there, she was back at UConn taking a final exam and will graduate on Sunday. Her fellow rookies will be bypassing their graduation ceremonies. Nebraska's graduation is Saturday but Kelsey Griffin is not planning to fly back for the ceremony. LSU's graduation is May 21 but rookie guard Allison Hightower will be in uniform with the Sun for a game at Atlanta that day rather than accepting her degree. Hightower did say that LSU was willing to allow her to walk across the stage during the graduation ceremony in the fall so her family can bask with her in her special moment.

Asjha Jones missed practice again as she recovers from surgery to clean out debris in her left Achilles tendon. She is hoping to be cleared to practice next week. Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault said she would probably need to practice at least twice before he would consider playing her in the May 15 season opener against Chicago.

"I don't want her playing until everybody is comfortable. I want her being comfortable, I want them to be comfortable with it," Thibault said. "If it is the first game, great. If it is the second game, OK, I'll live with that. It is the long haul that is important. The plan is still for her to practice next week, we'll see. I don't want her reinjuring herself because she came back too soon."

Thibault said Anete Jekabsone-Zogota could practice as soon as Sunday which means she could see time in the preseason finale against New York on May 11. Sandrine Gruda is still planning to stay in Europe for a bit and probably won't report until the first week of camp.

Kara Lawson, Renee Montgomery, Kerri Gardin, DeMya Walker and Charles is the expected starting lineup for Tuesday's 11 a.m. exhibition game against Atlanta. Guard Sha Brooks, slowed by a quadriceps injury, missed practice on Monday and is questionable for Tuesday's exhibition game.

Although Thibault doesn't have to make a cut until Jekabsone-Zogota reports, he said he may make some moves in the middle of the week. However, it will be a one-way street as a lack of cap space will prevent the Sun from claiming a veteran off waivers without cutting another veteran.

It seems rather clear that Connecticut's roster will consist of Montgomery, Lawson, Jones, Gardin, Walker, Charles, Griffin, Hightower, Tan White, Jekabsone-Zogota and Gruda. One spot is available until Gruda reports meaning one of the six free agent invitees (Sowinski, Brooks, former Columbia star Judie Lomax, ex-Vermont standout May Kotsopoulos, Southern Mississippi product Pauline Love and former Cleveland State star Kailey Klein) appear to be vying for the one roster spot available until Gruda is added to the active roster.

If the Sun is looking to add a candidate for the WNBA's All-interview team to the roster, it would be wise to put in a claim for former Penn State star Tyra Grant, who was cut by Phoenix on Monday.

Grant was the Mercury's second-round pick (No. 24 overall) in April's WNBA draft. During Grant's junior season, Penn State was playing UConn in the Maggie Dixon Classic. With Penn State having a home game against Dayton the same weekend that the Yale volleyball team was playing in the NCAA tournament at Penn State, my bosses sent me down there to cover the volleyball tournament while getting some advance stuff for the upcoming Penn State game. Talking to Grant was a memorable enough experience that when I was in Colorado Springs for the U.S. Basketball training camp, I mentioned to USA Basketball's Jenny Maag that if she was looking for a quotable player to focus on, she should consider interviewing Grant. She took my advice and was not disappointed.

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