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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Special night for former Huskies

Before taking the court in search of their first WNBA playoff victory former UConn stars Tina Charles and Renee Montgomery were summoned to the interview stage inside Mohegan Sun Arena along with Connecticut Sun teammate Kara Lawson.

Charles and Montgomery have known for two days that they were named the winners of the MVP and Sixth  Woman of the Year award but it did not become official until the press conference before last year's playoff opener.

WNBA president Laurel Richie captured the essence of both former UConn stars when she recalled the conversations she had with the two of them when she called to inform them that they were winning the prestigious awards.

"When I called Renee two days ago to let her know about this award and said you have to keep this quiet for 48 hours  she said 'oh my God, I think keeping it quiet for 48 hours is going to be harder than everything I ad to do to win the award in the first place.' So Renee I am congratulating twice both for winning the award and for the incredible fortitude it took to keep it quiet."

That was followed by the highlight of the evening's festivities. Montgomery and Richie were posing for photos when the trophy came apart and crashed onto the stage. Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault, sitting in the front row, deadpanned "I'm glad it didn't land on your foot."

Then came the time for Richie to announce that Charles joins 2009 MVP Diana Taurasi as the only UConn product to win the WNBA's top individual award.

"I had to ask her if she was OK because she was crying with such, I don't know if it was relief or excitement but I literally had to say Tina are you still there, are you OK?"

Richie, imitating Charles' blubbering, brought a huge smile to Charles face when she recalled that an emotional Charles said "I am still here."

Charles found out to Tuesday's practice and according to Mike DiMauro of The Day of New London, she threw her arms around Thibault and thanked him countless times.

"Ever since I got drafted by the Connecticut Sun he definitely gave me the confidence to go out and play my best and definitely helped me in that area," Charles said. "I think he makes it comfortable for everybody to come out ad explore your game. He allows us to make mistakes and then correct it. He is a great coach, he communicates with us, he is there for us, he does his best to discipline us. He tells us what he wants for us individually and that is one of the main things you want from coaches is communication. During my career with the Connecticut Sun that is the kind of relationship I want with him and he allows that."

Montgomery, who started 57 of the 68 games she played for the Sun in her first two seasons, was told by Thibault before the season that Lawson would be starting and Montgomery would be coming off the bench. For a player accustomed to starting it was not a move that thrilled her but she finished the regular season averaging 11.6 points per game despite not starting a game.

"I just wanted to do whatever role was given to me," Montgomery said. "At the end of the day this is your job so if your boss tells you to do something you should do it. I wasn't going to help my team or myself just sitting around sulking about not starting. As long as this is helping the team then I am fine with it."

Lawson was recognized as the winner of the Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award while Richie also announced that Mohegan Sun Arena would host the 2013 WNBA All-Star Game.

Then came the most important matter for the Sun, securing the franchise's first playoff win since 2008. Connecticut beat New York 65-60 to take the 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinal. Ironically, the last Sun playoff victory also came against the Liberty on Sep. 20, 2008. The only holdovers from the teams are Connecticut's Asjha Jones and New York's Essence Carson and Leilani Mitchell.

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