Ketia Swanier decided to play in Atlanta. Tiffany Hayes sent there by the WNBA Draft.
Now the former UConn guards, each in their first season with the Dream, will play roles off the bench for the Eastern Conference’s two-time defending champion, when the playoffs begin this week.
“Playing in the WNBA has been fun for me,” said Hayes. “I certainly have been learning a lot being here with my teammates. I do know that you have to work hard every day to sustain your position. It’s been weird seeing someone [a teammate] here one day and gone the next.”
While the Connecticut Sun and New York Liberty play their best-of-three series, beginning Thursday at the Mohegan Sun Arena, the Dream and Indiana Fever play the other conference final beginning Friday in Indiana.
The Dream-Fever series is a rematch of last season’s conference final, which Atlanta won in three after Indiana’s, Tamika Catchings, the 2011 MVP, injured her foot in Game 2.
Atlanta (19-15) has undergone a major facelift, including the dismissal of Marynell Meadors, their coach and GM, shortly after the Olympic break.
Meadors was an assistant on Geno Auriemma’s gold medal Olympic team in London. But a personality conflict with Atlanta’s Angel McCoughtry, the WNBA’s leading scorer, led to Meadors dismissal.
“Yes, we’ve had a lot of ups and downs this season,” said Swanier. “But we’ve made the playoffs and we’re getting things together. The big thing now is playing well and we are doing that.”
Swanier, a former first-round pick of the Sun – and the Big East’s Sixth Man winner as a UConn senior – signed with the Dream after three years in Phoenix.
Although she is from Columbus, Ga., the move was more about business than a homecoming for her.
“It’s been different,” said Swanier. “I really hadn’t been home for an extended period of time since high school. But that’s what a military brat like me learns to do [adapt]. You’re resilient. You learn how to adjust to things.
“But things are different now. My parents get to see me play now, but they don’t live anymore in the same town I grew up. And like most everyone who goes away to college, and moves around the country, there’s a sense of disconnect with some of the people you knew when you were growing up.
“Still, it’s been good for me, for professional purposes, and to be closer to home.”
Swanier appeared in all 34 games for the Dream, averaging 11.4 minutes with two starts. But her playing time – and productivity – has dropped since Meadors was replaced by assistant Fred Williams.
Since the Olympic break ended Aug. 16, Swanier hasn’t played more than 14 minutes in any game and is shooting 6-of-25 from the field with no three-pointers.
Still, her assist-to-turnover ratio (1.9 to 1.2) is good and her experience is valued.
“It’s different when you’ve played somewhere for a long time,” said Swanier, who signed a multiple-year deal with the Dream. “I was comfortable with the Phoenix offense [the Mercury won the 2009 WNBA championship] and moving to a new team is always hard, no matter where you go.”
Swanier doesn’t have a deal to play in Europe yet after playing all of last season in Israel. She has also been busy trying to help her non-profit charity, Ketia4Kidz, which aids the children of military personnel, like herself.”
Hayes, one of the top scorers in UConn history, was drafted by the Dream in the second round after completing her college career with a Final Four loss to Notre Dame in Denver.
“She’s been playing great,” said Swanier. “She is getting better and better every day. I don’t think a lot of people expected this from her [this season].”
Hayes has had a busy season, filling in at times for McCoughtry, who missed 10 games this season due to suspension and injury. Hayes started 17 games, averaged 23.1 minutes, 8.6 points and 3.1 rebounds.
“We’ve taken care of a lot things with this team in last few weeks, had some positive notes,” said Hayes. “When you put positive energy into games, you get good results.
“And I think I’m having a pretty good year, or so I’ve heard. I’ve enjoy being a spark, which is something I am used to [from UConn]. I’m pretty OK with it all.”
Hayes says she visited UConn recently and spoke to some of her former teammates, particularly Kelly Faris. A few others came to see her play Sunday at the casino. Hayes will play this winter in Israel.
UConn leads the all college programs with 13 players in the WNBA, five of whom – Tina Charles, Kalana Greene, Jessica Moore, Asjha Jones and Renee Montgomery – play for the Sun.
“Coach Auriemma instills a work ethic in his players that prepares them well for the WNBA,” said Swanier. “Just look at how many of us are in the league. Look at me. I wasn’t that much of an impact player in college, but I’m playing in my fifth season [in the WNBA]. That should tell you something.”
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