After finishing in last place overall in the WNBA last season, with a roster depleted with injuries, the Connecticut Sun was faced with a conundrum unlike anything it had seen in many years.
The Sun knew they had to change the look of a team whose smile had turned upside down. And change has come frequently during a offseason delayed for months by the negotiation of the league’s new collective bargaining agreement.
But on Monday, the Sun roster will change even more dramatically when it makes the first pick in the 2014 WNBA Draft at the Mohegan Sun Arena. They also hold the 11th pick, acquired from the Los Angeles Sparks in exchange for the talented, but disinterested, Sandrine Gruda, the star French center, who had not played in Connecticut for two years.
“[Gruda] was clear she did not want to come to Connecticut,” Sun coach Anne Donovan said. “We felt this was our opportunity to get some trade value from her.
And with the first pick, it is expected the Sun will select Stanford’s dynamic, personable All-American Chiney Ogwumike, although Dovonan, perhaps on orders from the league, perhaps to heighten the drama, was decidedly coy about the team’s intentions.
“Odyssey Sims [the Baylor guard] is quite the player,” Donovan said. Everybody who thinks that it’s a foregone conclusion that Chiney Ogwumike is going to be here with us, well, we’d love to have Chiney Ogwumike and we’d love to have Odyssey. It just depends on guard or post, truthfully.”
Truthfully, the Sun need Ogwumike more than Sims. They have no classic power forward to take pressure of Tina Charles, who despite dominating again in rebounding did not have a stellar season following her MVP in 2013.
Ogwumike, the Pac-12 player of the year and a relentless rebounder, seems to snap perfectly into that place.
“She’s very coachable. She’s shown great improvement every year at Stanford,” Donovan said. “She played internationally for USA. She’s won gold medals with our national team. She’s done all the right things to continue to grow her game. She’s shown a hunger to get better as she does it.”
Although she was raised in Houston, and has a decidedly free-spirited west coach vibe, Ogwumike said she would welcome being selected by Connecticut.
“You know, I don’t like jumping the gun or anything, but you know what, one thing I know about Connecticut is that they’re huge women’s basketball fans,” Ogwumike said at last week’s Final Four in Nashville. “I’m a people person. I think that organization [the Sun] is great. The players on the team are great. The fans; I feel like a place like that, I would thrive. … If it [the draft pick] happens to be in Connecticut, I’ll be a happy girl.”
The idea that Asjha Jones would reclaim her power forward spot, after taking last year off, was dashed when she injured her Achilles in Europe. Her replacement, Mistie Bass, signed as a free agent with Phoenix. And Kelsey Griffin is more of combo forward than classic power post.
“Chiney is a fantastic player and I think would be a great grab for Connecticut because I think they need that help in the postgame, especially with not having Asjha Jones coming back,” said Carolyn Peck, ESPN’s draft analyst. “She fits the speed, is a post that you need in the WNBA. She brings great rebounding inside for Connecticut. I think she would be a great fit.
“Now, for me, you also would have to consider Odyssey Sims because I think that Odyssey is a point guard, the best point guard in the college game, and I think she is so ready. I think that Coach Donovan would have to consider do you pass up on that.”
But the Sun has already made changes at guard, trading Kara Lawson to Washington in a three-team deal with Atlanta that brought Alex Bentley to the Sun. And they reached back to re-sign Katie Douglas, a lynchpin of two Sun conference champions, who has tortured them for years in Indiana.
“I think, all in all, for what Connecticut needs, I think Chiney would surely suit the Sun,” Peck said.
To help bolster the post, the Sun also offered free-agent deals to Kelley Cain, a 6-6 center who played collegiately at Tennessee, and 6-2 Keisha Hampton, the former DePaul star.
What’s certain is the the Tulsa Shock, who choose second, will take the player the Sun passes on.
“We’re going to do the opposite of what [the Sun] does,” Shock coach Fred Williams said. “Connecticut has the first call on that. But either player on that end is a good find and good pick.”
San Antonio seems interested in UConn’s Stefanie Dolson with the third pick, leaving Notre Dame’s Kayla McBride, Alyssa Thomas of Maryland and Bria Hartley for the New York Liberty and Fever to choose from at 4 and 5.
“I don’t think we have an Elena Delle Donne or Brittney Griner in this class, who are game changers. But we have a lot of impact players,” ESPN’s LaChina Robinson said. “You could look across the board, especially at the top five, some of the players we’ve talked about all season; Ogwumike, Sims, McBride and Thomas. They’re impact players.
“You may not have big stars, but it’s definitely not a letdown at all [from last year] because these are players the fans have become familiar with over time. I think they will be watching to see how they perform at the next level. I think there’s tremendous depth in this class.”