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May 14, 2012

Rebecca Lobo

Carolyn Peck

THE MODERATOR:  Thank you to our members of the media for joining us and also to our first speakers, our ESPN analysts Rebecca Lobo and Carolyn Peck.  We will ask both Rebecca and Carolyn to begin with opening remarks and then we will open the floor to questions, and at that point John will give instructions on how to queue for the questions.
Rebecca, if you would start with your opening thoughts on the upcoming 2012 season.
REBECCA LOBO:  Well, I'm excited for the season.  I'm excited to see the rosters when they're formalized later this week.  Like all Olympic years, it's going to be interesting to see how that break affects the team in terms of momentum going into the break, how it affects them coming out of the break, especially a team like Seattle who will integrate Lauren Jackson back into the lineup after missing the early part of the season.
But you know, every year the competition is better, the games are better.  They're more fun and exciting for us to cover, and I expect this year to just be a continuation of that.
THE MODERATOR:  And Carolyn?
CAROLYN PECK:  I also look to see what the effects of consistency will be versus the shaking up of rosters, especially with what Washington has done and Tulsa assembling a new group of players versus the consistency say of teams like Indiana and Minnesota pretty much will bring the same rosters back.
THE MODERATOR:  We will now open the floor to questions.

Q.  This is the 10th anniversary of the Connecticut Suns franchise in the league, and in your own ways, Carolyn and Rebecca, you both had something to do with the start of it, Carolyn, from the end of your run in Charlotte.  I'm just wondering if you could sort of tell me what you were thinking about in the last days of the franchise there before it moved to Connecticut and what you thought maybe at that time the move to Connecticut would do for it, and then Rebecca, if you could just reminisce about the first days of the Sun.
CAROLYN PECK:  Well, first was the Orlando Miracle.  I left the University of Florida actually a year before knowing they were going to be moving to Connecticut.  But now in putting the franchise together, it's an exciting opportunity to build the team around a Connecticut player in Nykesha Sales, and then adding to her Shannon Johnson, and a third round draft pick that still remains in the league, Taj McWilliams‑Franklin, and now she's playing with Minnesota.
I know that I have had a lot of fans here in the state of Florida that I run into constantly talk about how much they miss having a WNBA team in Florida, but it's really fun to see what Mike Thibault has done.  One of my college players, Katie Douglas, was in the transition to go up there and play and had success up there, and I think that Mike Thibault is one of the best coaches in the league, and he continues to assemble great talent.
And be it being the 10th anniversary of the Connecticut sun, look for Mike Thibault to get Connecticut back in the Playoffs.
REBECCA LOBO:  For me, I don't remember exactly when it was announced that the franchise, that the Miracle were going to be moving up to Connecticut, but I just remember thinking how jealous I was going to be of any player that got to play there.  And when I got the call that the trade had happened so that I could go to Connecticut, I was just thrilled, for a lot of different reasons.
You know, but mostly just to get back to the place where I had the most fun playing basketball, and that was in the state of Connecticut with such great fans.  I had played games at the arena I think before that point with the Springfield Spirit, so I knew what a great environment it was and how well run it was.
I think the first game I played in Mohegan Sun Arena was when Jen Rosati had a charity event there.  But just kind of going from being in college with no pro sports league existing, then however many years later to having an opportunity to play in the WNBA back in Connecticut for me was really a dream come true.  I can't believe it's been 10 years.

Q.  This is something we often talk about in the media, but are you surprised‑‑ and I might be underestimating it, but how the franchise really hasn't caught on as well as UConn has, especially with the proliferation of UConn players that have ended up on the roster?  Do you think the day will come when the Sun fandom might approach what UConn has?
REBECCA LOBO:  You know, I don't know what you're necessarily basing that on.  Is it on attendance figures in the building?  I mean, it seems like the fans that follow the Sun are just as passionate as the fans that follow the Huskies.
But things are‑‑ it's different.  Connecticut on the college level has been popular since 1994 and '95.  There's a lot more time and it happened with an undefeated championship season and in a very different environment than kind of the one we have now.
But I think especially if the Connecticut Sun won a WNBA championship, I think you would‑‑ maybe not to the same degree of numbers, but I think there's still a real passion, and I still think Connecticut is one of the leaders, the Connecticut Sun, are one of the leaders in terms of the quality of fan that they have or the numbers of fans that they have.

Q.  This is for both women:  Can you talk about Minnesota Lynx in terms of their uncharted waters this year?  They're defending champs, they've been the hunter before, now they're the hunted, how they will adjust, or do you foresee how they're going to be able to adjust to that new role this season?
CAROLYN PECK:  Well, I would say that it's uncharted waters when it comes to the franchise but not when it comes to the head coach.  Cheryl Reeve knows what it takes to prepare to defend a championship after the experience that she had in Detroit with Bill Laimbeer.
I can see with the different moves in positioning she's put her team in, her coaching style, how she handles the players.  She understands what it takes to, number one, build a championship team, and I truly believe that she knows what it takes to defend one.
REBECCA LOBO:  Yeah, I would completely agree with that, and also, when you look at the leaders on that Lynx team, some of them have been there before, Taj McWilliams‑ Franklin has been there before and Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus has had a lot of success at all different levels of their career.
I think you have such a nice mix there of veterans and young players that they won't have a hard time getting used to being the hunted.

Q.  And a follow‑up, if you could expand a little bit more on if this year's Olympic break will be any different from previous years when teams have to take a break for the Olympics.
REBECCA LOBO:  I don't know that it'll be different.  League‑wide it'll obviously be different for different franchises, Minnesota having three players on the Olympic team, it's going to be different for them.  Or for Atlanta to have their head coach and their best player in Angel McCoughtry both gone for the Olympic break.  Each team is in a unique circumstance, but the league itself, I think that the break is similar to the way it's been the past two Olympics.
CAROLYN PECK:  I think it's going to be good, at least for the players that are not playing in the Olympics.  For a lot of these players it'll be really the only true break that they get because of the amount of time and length of time they spend overseas and then immediately come back here, go into training camp, play a season.  So I think it'll be a good little rest period for them.

Q.  I was wondering, the Lynx, who has closed the gap on them if anybody has, because they kind of ran away with it.  Is there still a gap between them and other teams, or who's closed it, and Maya Moore, she had a good year but was a little bit inconsistent.  Do you see her being a more dominant player this year?
REBECCA LOBO:  Well, they're both interesting questions.  We're eager to have a chance to watch these teams to answer some of that, because you know, the rosters have changed so much for some teams that it'll be interesting to see how they gel.  A perfect example of that in Los Angeles.  They have a healthy Candace Parker back but a new head coach, a new system, a lot of new players.  Until we have a chance to really watch them play, you don't know what the gap will be between Minnesota and a team like LA.  So that's one of the fun and exciting things about the WNBA, and the other is to your point about Maya Moore, players improve so much between their rookie season and the second season in the WNBA because they have a chance to go overseas and just play a lot, perform a lot, be relied upon by their team over there to be the go‑to players.  So it will be fun to see how Maya's game has grown and her teammates' games have grown when Amber Harris gets healthy and back on the court to see how she's improved.  But all of those things will factor into the gap that existed last year between Minnesota and the other teams, and if it's going to indeed exist this year.
CAROLYN PECK:  I think that Rebecca is right.  You've got to see how the rosters fall out.  But I also think you've got to look at the experience that teams were able to gain together last season in figuring out what it is that worked and didn't work and which coaches will make the significant changes in order to put themselves in the position that Minnesota was in last year.
I was just reading an article today, I don't know if it was from today or a couple days ago, that Maya played a lot of last season with sore knees.  So when you take inexperience, a lack of a break last season, and the experience that she was able to have in her rookie season, knowledge.  Now you put knowledge with healthy legs, that'll help you have a much better second season.

Q.  When you look at the West, you guys kind of touched on it, certainly looks like Minnesota is the team to beat.  But after that it seems pretty wide open, four teams that are going to be vying for that No.2 spot.  I was hoping you could guys could handicap the West a little bit for me.
CAROLYN PECK:  Well, I think in the West, like Rebecca pointed out, Los Angeles I think is going to be a vastly improved team, especially having Candace Parker back, and also having Carol Ross coaching.  She's going to emphasize defense to go along with a lot of the offensive power that they have in Los Angeles.
I think Phoenix is a team that is going to be unpredictable without Penny Taylor, how will Corey Gaines put that team together to fill that gap.  Do you move DeWanna Bonner into the starting lineup, she was a terrific Sixth Woman of the Year coming off the bench, but can she maintain that same kind of productivity if he has to move her into the starting lineup.  Brian Agler will have to compensate for not having Lauren Jackson in the first part of the season due to the Olympics.  He will have veteran teams in Tina Thompson and Ann Wauters to go along with Katie Smith and Sue Bird.  So that still puts Seattle in the hunt, even though their superstar won't be there.
REBECCA LOBO:  I think I'm most eager to see Phoenix to be honest with you.  It'll be interesting this weekend when the season tips off, but just to see what that team is going to look like this year.  They could be good or they could be bad.  I mean, Penny Taylor is such an important part of that puzzle, and then when Diana Taurasi leaving in the middle of the season for the Olympics, Samantha Prahalis, and is she going to get the majority of minutes, a rookie point guard that's so important in his system.  That's a team for me that is going to be fun to watch because they're going to have to have some ups and downs throughout the season.  So it is going to be kind of an interesting dynamic to see what ends up happening.  LA we already mentioned.  Carol Ross is a terrific coach.  It's going to be fun to see her as a head coach in the WNBA with the talent that she has.  But I'm also eager to see Tulsa, to see what that franchise is going to look like this season.  Are they going to be able to surprise some people, are they going to be able to steal some wins on the road, what's going to happen with that franchise this year.
So there's a bunch of different story lines, especially out west, I think that are going to be a lot of fun to watch.
THE MODERATOR:  I'd like to thank Rebecca and Carolyn.  We look forward to seeing you in the coming weeks.

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