Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Donovan deserved better fate with Connecticut Sun

There are those who will look at the three straight losing seasons and declare Anne Donovan's tenure as the Connecticut Sun head coach as a failure. I believe that would be unfair and inaccurate.

If Donovan was anything, she was incredibly unlucky.

She walked into a non-win situation as the team's stars were so outraged by the firing of Mike Thibault that in their own way they walked out on the franchise. Asjha Jones never played a game for Donovan, Tina Charles played most of the 2013 season before beginning the series of events resulting in her forced trade to New York and Kara Lawson simply stopped playing for the team and landed in Washington with Thibault.

Take three all-stars away from any team and see what happens. The results in 2013 and 2014 were rather predictable as the Sun posted records of 10-24 and 13-21.

This year, however, was a different story. The team's top two scorers from the previous season (Chiney Ogwumike and Katie Douglas) would not play a game during the 2015 season due to injuries, neither would veterans Allison Hightower, Kelsey Griffin and Danielle McCray. Yet, the Sun opened the season winning seven of the first eight games and Donovan was an early candidate for WNBA Coach of the Year honors. The injuries kept coming. Alex Bentley and Alyssa Thomas combined to miss 19 games, first-round pick Elizabeth Williams missed 13 games and was sidelined for the season just when she was looking like a lottery pick.

Perhaps Donovan knew that the Sept. 13 game against the Chicago Sky would be her final as the Connecticut Sun and maybe the players were clued in as well because they went down fighting and ended the season with an 86-75 victory.

Listening to Donovan speak before and after the game, there were signs that she was moving onto the next chapter in her life. Certainly when news hit that veteran WNBA assistant coach Jen Gillom took a job at an Arizona high school, it seemed like a matter of time before news of Donovan's resignation came out.

It was an interesting three seasons. Donovan wasn't quite sure what to make of the Connecticut media when she came here. Women's basketball is a big deal in Connecticut and is covered that way. Early on in her tenure, she didn't quite know how to handle it when people like me would ask big-picture type of questions but over time she got more comfortable dealing with us. No, she's not as comfortable around the media as Geno Auriemma or even Thibault for that matter but she came a long way in that regard. She gave me tremendous insight when I did a story on the large number of high-profile college transfers and  gave me some of her time shortly after hearing about the death of one of her former players. She also was a great help when I did a feature on the Ogwumike sisters' desire to be more than just on-court basketball stars.

However, more than just being more willing to think outside the box in dealing with the media, she will leave the franchise is much better shape than she found it. I doubt there will be the same sort of chaos resulting when Thibault was cut loose. Whoever gets the job is going to have plenty to work with. It is not a stretch to say that the Sun could be considered a playoff caliber team right now with the return of Ogwumike and Hightower (and perhaps Griffin) to a nucleus including first-time all-stars Alex Bentley and Kelsey Bone as well as Alyssa Thomas, Williams, Camille Little, Jasmine Thomas, Shekinna Stricklen etc. etc. etc. The Sun also has the No. 3 overall pick, likely either South Carolina's Tiffany Mitchell or UConn's Moriah Jefferson.

Anybody who saw the development of players like Bentley and Bone (with Bone being named the WNBA's Most Improved Player on the same day that Donovan decided to step away) can't help but give some credit to Donovan. I am sure those in the "Anne Donovan hates UConn players" camp are loving this news but I always found those comments downright silly. She would loved to have coached Jones and had the services of Charles for more than just the 2013 season but they made the decision to go elsewhere. If she had stayed and had the chance to coach Jefferson, I think she would be enjoyed that experience. It is not easy to be the Sun head coach because there are people out there who simply think it is a given that UConn players will be suiting up for the Sun. Ogwumike (Stanford), Bone (Texas A&M) and Bentley (Penn State) are tremendous players and great people who won over the Connecticut fan base and rightfully so. I think she got a bad rap in this area but her replacement won't have the same reputation to deal with since they will have had nothing to do with the formation of the 2016 roster except what takes place in the draft.

It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out in the end and where Donovan lands next.


Blogger craig johnson said...

Diana Taurasi for Sun coach, fire , brimstone and knowledge of the game. Oh and not a bad player either.

2:01 PM 

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