WNBA Opening Day: A New Beginning Or Fear of the Unknown For The Connecticut Sun?

Despite being an All-Star, veteran Connecticut Sun forward Asjha Jones had feelings that she doesn't necessarily show out on the floor. Photo by Connecticut Sun.

As @DishNSwish I roam the Twitter universe, picking up on and making observations, mostly women's hoops related. 

In the past couple of weeks, there was a common theme; one that I felt, and my Twitter friends and followers also felt: Let's get the WNBA season started already!  

Finish the roster selection, get pre-season over with and let's get ready to rumble!

It got me thinking about beginnings....the beginning of the season....the beginning of the journey all 12  teams began this weekend, hopefully headed to where the Seattle Storm began their season: earning a championship banner.

The Webster online dictionary defines beginning as "the point at which something starts" or "the first part."  The definition didn't suggest at all what I saw in the beginning of the season.  Things like hope, unbridled optimism, putting the past behind you, and nervous excitement. 

So with the help of both my Twitter account and the members of the 2011 Connecticut Sun, on Saturday night, I set out to find what the beginning of the WNBA season meant to people.

When I tweeted to the WNBA-following populace, asking what does opening day mean to you?, I was happy to see my first response was from Christy Winters Scott, a friend with playing, coaching and announcing experience, the voice of the Washington Mystics.  What a great place to start! 

I wasn't disappointed, as Christy's response showed the same passion and love for the game, and the anticipation of hope that I feel before the season begins. 

"Opening day of the WNBA means preparation meets opportunity at the highest level in WBB," Christy tweeted. "Personally, I am proud of all of the young women who have been given a chance to compete, and challenge themselves on a daily bases. I feel that in 15 years from now, the game will be even more amazing because the young women playing have nothing but female role models to aspire to be like. I am excited about the future of our Game. The support of our fans, & sponsors, have increased every year, and that proves that our game is worthy of the respect that it deserves."  

Christy's thoughts were echoed by two other fans, in two other tweets I received: 

@Jus_Kay tweeted about the WNBA talent level.  "Opening day means I get to see the best players to play the game to do what they do."

@coopj11 tweeted in awe about the growth of the game. "For some1(me) played bball 70's/80's love seeing how far wbball game opp's have come! ;-D"

So what about the players themselves, I couldn't help but wonder, are they as excited as the fans?  Do they "expect great" or do they "expect nerves"?  The answer would be, both.  It didn't matter if the player was inexperienced or a long-time veteran, a star or role-player. 

As you would expect, however, the players that felt they had something to prove based on their prior year performances talked about getting a fresh start or new beginning; a chance to erase the past and go forward with a clean slate.  Second year players Kelsey Griffin and Alison Hightower, each have their own reasons for wanting Year 2 to begin. 

Griffin played out of position a lot last season, and faced the weight of being a top draft choice who came via trade at the price of this year's first round draft pick. To some, her first year was a bit of a disappointment.  

"It's a new start, a fresh start," Kelsey explained. "It doesn't matter what you've done in the past, you don't know what's going to happen in the future, but definitely the work you've put in will start to show on that day.  So it's an exciting day, when you get to showcase your talent and what you've worked on in the off-season." 

Hightower had a first year filled with illness and injury-time, and was forced to miss a number of games.  Alison talked about looking forward to a chance to build something with her team. 

"I think it means a new beginning, and we have a chance to get better, to come together and build more chemistry as a team, and to take every opportunity we have at the start of the season, and work towards our goals," Hightower said.

I expected the youngsters to look forward to another chance to strut their stuff. But I also wondered about a veteran, with a championship ring, like DeMya Walker. 

Walker has endured injuries and rehabs several times over, and on a team filled with the youth on the Sun, she must be looking at the beginning of the season as perhaps a final shot at another title.  DeMya, though, I found out is looking forward to facing a challenge, and that's what it means to her.  

"It's a new beginning!  I mean, that's the best part about professional sports, it's season to season - it doesn't just continue and continue and every year is a new opportunity," Walker said. "Every year is a new chance to re-invent yourself,  to prove to yourself that whatever you worked on or whatever you are capable of you can do.  I love the beginning of the season, because it's the challenge, the beginning of the challenge...if you can overcome the challenge, then you can talk about the end of the season!"

Veteran guard Kara Lawson echoed DeMya's feeling about the challenges coming up.  The beginning, in her words, is a new journey, with an ending she clearly has in mind: "The first day of the season is always brand new.  There's always a great amount of emotion and excitement, it never gets old.  Every time you have an opportunity to start a journey with a new group, you're always optimistic, and you always feel like you have an opportunity.  At least, I've been fortunate that the teams I've been on I start every season I feel like ‘Hey, we've got a chance to win this thing.'  I feel the same way about our group this year."

Optimism, check.   Putting the past behind, check.  Nerves?  Trepidation?   Much to my surprise, I found those feelings on the first day of the season expressed by the two Sun players that in my opinion show it the least.

Asjha Jones has been an All-Star, and a member of the USA National team.  She has been a part of Sun teams that went to the WNBA finals.  She played on perhaps the greatest women's college basketball team ever, and is now in her 10th year in the WNBA.  Asjha made it very clear what her feelings are on the first day of the season.  

"For me, it's kind of nerve wracking," Jones said. "I'm worried all the time about just how we're going to play.  A couple of pre-season games we were real up and down, one game we were horrible, the next game okay.  So I'm worried how we're going to start the game.  So for me, that's what I do, I worry.  I worry how I'm going to play, I worry the whole time, until I actually get to the court and we get moving."

Tina Charles may be the best young center in women's basketball.  Coming off an outstanding Rookie of the Year campaign in 2010, she's been on championship level teams in high school, college, and in international play.   Tina said it's getting better, but she still gets that same feeling each year. 

"Jitters, very nervous," Charles said. "I remember my first game at UConn, I was very nervous, and the first game here as a rookie I was very nervous, but as you get older, you realize this is your job, this is what you do.  Opening game is going to come, playoffs are going to come, there is finals time, so, you just take it in." 

Point guards have had to face so much pressure, they can't show any nervousness out there.  There are so many emotions on opening day, I really wanted to know how Renee Montgomery kept it together, as no one needs to play with more cool and calm than the point guard.  Montgomery expressed just how difficult that can be. 

"You have to find a balance between being super excited and not playing that way.  If you get out on the court and you're running around, and you're doing too much, it kind of backfires.   So you've got to take that excited and butterfly emotion, and kind of use it on defense, but settle down on offense, and that's kind of the hardest part about opening day.  Because you just want to get out there and win so bad you might not play a poised game."    

Well, a poised game Renee certainly did play, as well as the rest of the Sun players, in beginning the season with an 89-73 victory over the Washington Mystics.

So, after this intensive and exhaustive research, what scientific conclusion did I come to regarding the opening day of the season?   Can it be quantified or qualified?  Does the conclusion support any kind of hypothesis?   Hmmmm.....

I think the best thing I can leave you with on the meaning of opening day came from a sign at Key Arena, as tweeted to me by my friend @windsswim: "My Life Begins When The Season Starts."    

Now that's a feeling we all can agree upon. 

Enjoy the 2011 WNBA season, it may be short, but it's here, and it's now.  Don't miss it!

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