Chris Sienko has been as much a part of professional women’s basketball in Connecticut as the multi-colored ball since his days as a founding executive of ABL’s New England Blizzard two decades ago.
But is experience, most recently over the last decade as general manager of the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun, had not afforded him any global opportunities.
That changed when USA Basketball invited Sienko, a UConn graduate, to serve on its national team player selection committee for the next World Championship and Olympic quadrennial.
“It was a shock, but very exciting and it came out of the blue,” Sienko said. “When I was asked, I didn’t say no. I am more than excited. I am thrilled and honored to have the opportunity.”
Sienko will serve with Dan Hughes, the coach and GM of the San Antonio Silver Stars, three-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Smith, Renee Brown, the WNBA’s chief of basketball operations and Carol Callan, the national team’s director.
“Chris is integral to the success of the Sun in selecting talented and identifying the necessary intangibles that lead to a successful team,” Callan said. “And his support of the women’s game is evident as the Sun have hosted several WNBA All-Star games [including this season's game] and other that have creatively promoted women’s basketball.”
Sienko says he never thought about not being offered the chance earlier.
“There are a lot of very knowledgeable people out there [in the basketball world],” Sienko said. “I consider myself to be still learning about the game. So it was nothing I ever aspired to happen to me. But now that it has, it’s just amazing.”
USA Basketball still has not named a successor to Coach Geno Auriemma, who led team to the 2010 World Championship and 2012 Olympic gold medal.
Auriemma, who carried UConn to its eighth national championship in April, has said numerous times since the end of the London Games that he is not interested in a second term.
“There is another committee that chooses the next coach, and once that work is done, we’ll all likely come together during the [WNBA] season and start talking about the players who might compete at the World Championship [in Istanbul, Turkey],” Sienko said.
Sienko said the job shouldn’t take him away from the Sun for long periods of time. He suspects most of the pre-tournament travel will be done by the new coach, Callan and Brown.
“I am the new kid on the block, so whatever I am needed to do, I will do,” Sienko said. “If they want me to travel, I will travel, as long as it doesn’t conflict with the Sun and the playoffs. [USA Basketball] understands that is my first priority.”
The Sun had two current players, Tina Charles, and one former player, Lindsay Whalen of the Minnesota Lynx, on the 2012 Olympic team. That team included six former UConn players – Charles, Jones, Maya Moore, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Swin Cash.
Sun coach Anne Donovan, a three-time Olympic player, was the head coach of the 2008 gold medalist in Beijing. She remembers trying very hard not to lobby much with her selection committee for certain favors or players.
“I’d be on conference calls with the committee members at times, but I didn’t want politics to be involved in the process [of picking the team] at all,” Donovan said.
“I did have to go to battle for one player [Sun guard Kara Lawson]. That’s when I used my coupons. I wasn’t about to go to Beijing without her on my team.”
Donovan said it’s usually pretty easy to identify who should be on World Championship and Olympic teams.
“From what I remember, there isn’t much back and forth between [coach and selection committee],” Donovan said. “We were pretty much on the same page.”
White attacking weight
Veteran guard Tan White, an important bench player since her acquisition from Indiana before the 2009 season, said this week that she suffered a torn calf muscle in last year’s ill-fated Eastern Conference finals against the Fever.
That injury led to her not playing overseas this season.
“I wasn’t planning it to be that way,” White said. “So I just stayed home in Georgia, reconnected with my family and thought a lot about my future after basketball. I know I want to work with kids, but aside from that, I still don’t really know what it is I’d like to do.”
White said she was discouraged by how heavy she was coming into last season, a fact that got worse when she missed the first three games of last season due to a concussion. So in the offseason she went on a strict diet.
“It’s hard to maintain your body when you’re not able to play,” White said. “I lost between 15 and 20 pounds. That was one of my goals. And I am lighter, that’s for sure. There are so many fresh legs coming into the league. The veterans need to make sure we stay in top shape.”