Until veteran guard Renee Montgomery reported to the Connecticut Sun on Thursday, the WNBA’s reigning Sixth Woman of the Year had never met the team’s rookie coach, Anne Donovan.
“Until I got here, I had neither met nor interacted with her [Donovan],” Montgomery said. “So I had no idea what I was getting into; what her coaching style was like. You know, will she run us to death or worry about all the little things, as some coaches do? You never know.
“It’s always like a big question mark. So that tends to make you a little nervous, somewhat antsy. Since you don’t know what to expect, you need to make sure you stay sharp and ready for anything.”
That would seem like a good idea for anyone seriously interested in making the team.
The Sun, eliminated at home in last year’s Eastern Conference final, opens a new era with the 2013 preseason Saturday against the New York Liberty at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
It’s the first of three exhibitions prior to the season-opener against New York May 25 at the casino.
Donovan, who left Seton Hall to replace Mike Thibault as just the second coach in Sun history, has been extremely pleased with how quickly her team seems to have picked up the nuances of her system.
“We are moving fast, which is awesome,” Donovan said. “This is a great group, in terms of being able to teach the pace we want to play with.”
The Sun have already made two cuts. Second-round pick Anna Prins, a 6-7 center from Iowa State, and third-rounder, guard Andrea Smith of South Florida, were released Tuesday after two workouts.
“From the outside it may appear as if that decision came very fast,” Donovan said. “But once it becomes clear that a player is not able to make the team, there is no reason to keep them around. Since they are not helping us get better, it helps us shorten the rotation and they benefit from being able to go back and finish up [college work].”
Connecticut now has 14 players on its roster, but neither Kelly Faris, the first-round pick from UConn, or veteran Tan White are scheduled to play Friday. Faris is nursing her injured left foot. White has some discomfort in her left knee.
Donovan says the Sun have one guard and one post spot available among the 11 she will award. Those were left open when Asjha Jones decided not to play this year and Danielle McCray injured her knee playing in Italy.
In reality, there is also a third job – which Jessica Moore filled last year as one of the backups to MVP Tina Charles. And the competition is going to be fierce.
Aside from Faris, the multi-faceted star who helped UConn win an eighth national championship in April, Donovan is looking at a number of new faces – guard Natasha Lacy, swing Johannah Leedham and forwards Chatilla van Grinsven, Ashley Walker and Latoya Williams.
All have varying backgrounds. Lacy and Walker have played in the WNBA. Leedham, a Sun draft pick in 2010 and former Cheshire Academy player, was on the Great Britain Olympic team in 2012. Van Grinsven played at St. Joseph’s (Pa.). And Williams is a junior college player.
“Sometimes when considering who will be the ninth, 10th and 11th players on your team it comes down to who do you want to coach,” said Donovan, stressing that attitude and camaraderie often are just as important as tangible skills.
Donovan said she’s somewhat concerned about the size of her guards. Leedham and Faris, at 5-feet-11, are the biggest on the team.
“I’d like to have a 6-foot guard in the lineup, but we do not have that,” Donovan said. “When you start looking at the kind of match-ups will face against teams like Phoenix and Chicago, it’s clear we will need to play with more heart and hustle.”
One of the players that have made an early impression on Donovan is Kelsey Griffin, the fourth-year 6-2 forward. Griffin had an outstanding winter in Australia for the Bendigo Spirit and has brought the momentum with her.
“She has looked phenomenal,” Donovan said. “She has been hitting the outside shot and rebounding the ball well. She is doing everything right now that we need her too. And she has been putting in a lot of time at practice.”
Meanwhile, it’s not clear how much Montgomery will play. She had a successful winter in Russia playing for Nadezhda Orenburg, which finished third in the Russian League. She played there with other WNBA veterans DeWanna Bonner and Kara Braxton.
“It’s the toughest [winter] league I’ve ever played in,” said Montgomery, who has also played in Turkey, Israel and Lithuania.