Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Anne Donovan ready for challenge

Anne Donovan is fully aware of what is expected of her as she officially became the second head coach in Connecticut Sun history on Thursday.

Mike Thibault's impressive 10-year run in Connecticut ended with the Sun winning the Eastern Conference regular-season title with a 25-9 record but also falling a win shy of the third appearance in the WNBA's championship series.

Donovan worked with Thibault when he was an assistant coach on Donovan's staff on the gold-medal 2008 U.S. Olympic women's basketball squad so she has a better understanding of how high the bar has been set. However, the Sun's annual postseason failures resulted in a coaching change.

Donovan brings a champion pedigree as she guided the Seattle Storm to the 2004 WNBA title (beating the Thibault-coached Sun in the final).

"Pressure is something I enjoy," Donovan said. "If you are a coach you better enjoy it and you better step to the plate or else you are not in the right situation. I think there is always pressure internally no matter what position I am in. I have tremendous confidence with the my background and my experience having won a WNBA championship, having some of idea of what it takes but I am respectful that you can line all the ducks up and one duck can fall aside and things can go awry. It is my job to make sure we keep the ducks lined up and march down that championship road. It excites me, the challenge and pressure excites me.

"Obviously this team is not far off, just look at the track record and success that they have had. I haven't had much of an opportunity to know the girls yet so I can probably better answer that question as we get further along. What I can tell you is it is not far off and I believe maybe a a different voice, different experiences and hopefully a different mindset will help."

One concession the Sun had to make was to let Donovan to finish out the season at Seton Hall before taking over the team. It will make scouting rather challenging.

Donovan said she has already started the process of putting together a staff and they will have to hit the ground running by being able to scout the college talent.

I found it somewhat stunning that Connecticut GM Chris Sienko said he has yet to head out to a college game to scout potential players who will be available with the 11th overall pick. Clearly the team is falling behind in the scouting department and Donovan doesn't figure to be too much help in that area until after the season.

Sienko said he would like to move up in the first round but considering the amount of talent in this year's draft, who wouldn't?

If the Sun stay at No. 11, it remains to be seen if whoever they pick can make the squad. Sienko said every player from the 2012 squad is signed with the exception of restricted free agent Renee Montgomery.

"We don't need to scout now," Sienko said. "We know who the top picks are in the draft and we pick 11th so the question is are we able to make any trades. We don't have any plans of letting Renee go so who are we going to pick with the 11th pick?"

Sienko said he is planning to hit the road scouting later this month but two months have already gone by with no scouting being done. If a team is picking in the top three, I'm not sure how much scouting needs to be done to figure out the Baylor's Brittney Griner, Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins and Delaware's Elena Delle Donne are top-shelf talents but picking 11th is where the importance of player personnel decisions come into play. Two years ago Danielle Adams slipped into the second round while last year it was Riquna Williams and former UConn star Tiffany Hayes who played like first rounders.

One focus for Donovan and Sienko will be trying to entice former Connecticut Sun forward Sandrine Gruda to return to the team.

Gruda played in 85 teams with Connecticut from 2008-10 and averaged 10.2 points and 4.7 rebounds.

"One thing we have talked about already is to reach out to Sandrine and see how we can get her to be a part of our equation," Sienko said. "I am very hopeful, it (Gruda's return) will help Tina a lot and help everybody else in that post position. I think it is important to have somebody of Anne's stature go visit with Sandrine and tell her why she is important to our team."

Gruda is not the only European star whose rights are held by the Sun.

Alba Torrens is one of the best young players in Europe while former Cheshire Academy star Johannah Leedham had an outstanding Olympic performance for Great Britain. In an interview with me before the Olympics, Leedham said she was planning to be at training camp in 2013. Sienko is hoping Torrens will also be at camp. He is not sure whether 2012 first-round pick Astan Dabo will be among those at the 2013 training camp. Like Torrens, Dabo has been dealing with injury issues.

"I have spoken to her (Torrens) agents," Sienko said. "Our objective is to get her here. She was hurt last year that is why she didn't come over. We are trying to assess how it goes and how her recovery goes."

Regardless of which of the Europeans decide to come over, the Sun will have one of the most talented teams in the WNBA led by MVP Tina Charles, Montgomery and veterans Kara Lawson and Asjha Jones.

"You talk about winning championships, you have to have experience," Donovan said. "Kara has won a championship before in Sacramento, Asjha has been there to the dance many, many times so I like the experience there and them the youth. You have an MVP that is 23/24 years old so I think the combination of great talent with leadership is a very dangerous thing for teams."

So how much player personnel duties did Donovan have in her previous WNBA stints?

"Seattle it was pretty much all me," Donovan said. "(With the) Liberty Carol Blazejowski was very involved but I have never worked for an organization and I don't think I would ever work for an organization where I wasn't part of those decisions. I want a say in who fits me personally and who fits (us) as a team."

Staying on the subject of scouting players, Donovan has a difficult meeting with the Seton Hall players this morning. Word had gotten out last night that Donovan was hired by the Sun and her Seton Hall players found out that way before Donovan could break it to them.

"With every recruit that we signed and even with the kids we haven't signed, the Class of 2016 high school players  coming to campus, I really thought I was gong to be be at Seton Hall," Donovan said. "These last couple of weeks have been very surprising to me. I would never have thought that this job would be available, I would never had thought that the Connecticut Sun (job) would be an opportunity for me. There isn't a coach who would pass this up so trying to convey that to 18/19 year olds is difficult."

"I met with the team this morning and thanks to all of you guys doing your diligent homework through social media, they had the information before I could give it to them so it was quite emotional this morning to be honest but this is life and we will work through it together. I know part of the timing of this that Connecticut agreed upon and Seton Hall did as well is just making sure we had the information, we could process it and just taking on Pitt on Saturday for our first Big East game so that we can refocus, rechannel and hopefully accomplish some of those goals."

Donovan spoke in almost reverential terms about the home court aura that the Sun enjoys as well as her reaction to UConn's throttling of previously top-ranked Stanford.

"This is the toughest place to play," Donovan said. "I always had the luxury of having Sue Bird with me (when she was in Seattle) so they liked Sue enough it wasn't completely hostile against Seattle but it is special and it is Connecticut. What they have been able to do here with the Sun has translated from Connecticut Husky basketball to Connecticut Sun basketball. I love the WNBA dearly but there is no better arena that this."

As for the UConn/Stanford tilt ...

"I was watching Pitt while I was watching that game so I was doing two things at once, just the young players in the program ... Amazing. You just think you can't get better than Mosqueda-Lewis and then you get Breanna Stewart so it is remarkable how much great talent is out there for girls' basketball but how it always ends up ending up in the same place."


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