It’s popular among coaches and athletes to describe evolution as “a process” since it often takes time to get things accomplished.
For the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun, the process this season has produced both positive and negative results.
Wednesday’s loss in Atlanta, the Sun’s seventh in eight road games, dropped their record to 4-12 heading into the All-Star Game, which it will host Saturday at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
After coming within one win of the Finals last season, the Sun is now anchored in last place in the Eastern Conference. Their priority now is simply to finish at least fourth and make the playoffs.
“These have been unusual circumstances and something we are not used to,” said Chris Sienko, the Sun general manager, referring to the rash of injuries which have battered the backcourt this season. “Still, that’s not an excuse. We need to find a way to work with what we have.”
Still, the Sun will have two representatives in the All-Star Game, center Tina Charles, the league’s reigning MVP, and guard Allie Hightower, certainly one of the most improved players in the league this season.
Despite being overworked in the post without Asjha Jones, who decided not play this season, Charles has been highly productive as a scorer and rebounder, averaging 18.3 points and 10.6 rebounds with 11 double-doubles in 16 games.
Still, her shooting percentage is down (39.7) after hitting 49.9 percent from the field last year.
“I don’t feel the way I’ve been guarded is all that different,” Charles said. “I’ve been facing double-teams since my time at UConn. Dealing with it is just something I need to continue to improve at. When my teammates knock down shots it just helps open me up [offensively] more.”
Without Renee Montgomery, Tan White and Kara Lawson for most of the season, the majority of the those outside shots have been made by Hightower.
“We are so excited for Allie,” Sienko said. “She showed us signs last year of what she could accomplish. Even though her numbers were very good last season, it’s amazing how much she has progressed since.”
Hightower, in her fourth season, is naturally thrilled to make the All-Star team for the first time. The former LSU star said she could barely contain her excitement when she saw WNBA executive Renee Brown’s name on her caller ID shortly after Brown called Charles to tell she’s made the team.
“I am so excited about this,” Hightower said. “It just goes to show you what hard work can do for you. It does pay off. Stay humble, stay coachable and you will get better.”
Charles has noticed the ascension of Hightower’s status from a seldom-used reserve in 2010 who made just one start. Last year, she started 28 games and averaged 6.8 points with nine double-figure scoring performances.
“She’s been amazing,” Charles said. “She just works so hard. She has what you need to succeed – perseverance and patience. If you do, the hard work will eventually pay off. You’re time will come, you always are rewarded at the end.
“And this all started last season when Coach Thibault [former Sun coach Mike Thibault] noticed the rise in Allison’s game. That helped her confidence, especially when she went overseas [this summer to play in Israel].”
Hightower said she won’t be intimidated by being on the same floor Saturday with essentially the core of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team that won gold in London. She is averaging 13.0 points and 31.8 minutes, shooting 38.5 percent from three-point range this season.
“If I am under the radar [in the league], so be it,” she said. “I’ve put the time in. I know I want to be a great player. To do that you need to work and learn.
“I’ve played against them all. I have to guard them every night [in the WNBA]. To be recognized as one of the best players now is just an amazing feeling.
“It’s been a process for me. Most definitely, it’s been a process.”