By Carl Adamec
UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Once again, Kelly Faris’ team won its last game of the season.
But unlike the four times it happened at Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis and the two times — including last April — it happened at the University of Connecticut, no nets were cut down. Instead, the Connecticut Sun players went their separate ways after the worst season in the franchise’s WNBA history ended Sunday with an 82-80 overtime win over the Indiana Fever in the regular season finale at Mohegan Sun Arena.
“Obviously, the summer didn’t go the way that everyone had hoped,” Faris said. “We were kind of dealt a bad hand with everything that happened with the injuries. It’s hard when everything is new and everything kind of seems to be falling apart. You get frustrated. It seemed like we were digging ourselves out of a hole the whole season. Hopefully, next season will be better and we’ll avoid the injuries.”
In 2012, the Sun went 25-9 in the regular season and was the top seed for the Eastern Conference playoffs. But they lost a decisive Game 3 at home to Indiana 87-71 in the conference finals and it cost coach Mike Thibault his job. Connecticut hired Anne Donovan, the coach of the 2004 WNBA champion Seattle Storm and 2008 gold-medal winning United States Olympic team, away from Seton Hall University to replace Thibault. The Sun used their first-round draft pick (11th overall), to take Faris, who had helped lead UConn to its eighth national championship.
The Plainfield, Ind., native missed most of the preseason to rest a left foot injury she suffered in UConn’s final regular season game at Notre Dame March 4. It was a sign of things to come for the Sun, who had their original 11-player roster available for only two of their 34 games.
Faris came off the bench for the first 21 games before earning her first start against the Atlanta Dream on Aug. 11. She finished with season highs of 11 points, seven rebounds, and two assists with no turnovers in 34 minutes as the Sun edged the Dream 88-86. She would start the next two games but her left foot became more and more troublesome. She was shut down for the season on Aug. 20.
“I tried to hold out as long as possible,” Faris said. “It was just bad timing for me. It was like, ‘OK, I finally got my chance. I’m finally able to help in some way.’ Then all of a sudden I’m out. It was frustrating. I would have liked to have kept going but it wouldn’t have been the smartest decision.”
Faris never missed a game in high school or college. Even in the game she was hurt in out at South Bend, she played 53 minutes of a triple-overtime loss to the Irish. She played through the Big East and NCAA tournaments with the injury and was named to the NCAA Bridgeport Regional and Final Four all-tournament teams.
She admits she wanted to continue to play over the Sun’s final 10 games but there was no way. She was still using a walking boot Sunday.
“You know how I am,” Faris said. “This is hard enough for me just to sit out. I’ve had stress fractures and things. But when it gets into your foot it’s a different story. I’m trying to take a different mindset, which I don’t really enjoy. But once you get to this point it’s hard because it’s different than college. You’re not going to have a summer break. You go overseas and then come back here. It’s year-round. That’s something I have to get used to and adjust to. Otherwise I would have tried to play the entire season. But knowing there’s no other time to take a break …”
Faris finished her rookie year averaging 2.1 points and 2.2 rebounds in 14.1 minutes. Her teams at Heritage Christian and UConn went 247-19. The Sun finished 10-24. Her teams never lost two straight games in eight years. The Sun won back-to-back games only twice and had five losing streaks of at least three games.
Her first priority is to get the left foot healed.
“I have to talk to the doctors during our exit physicals,” Faris said. “Right now I’m just playing it by ear, seeing how much longer they want to me sit out. Hopefully it won’t be much longer.”
She will head home to Indiana to spend a week with her family. On Sept. 24, she is scheduled to head to Hungary and will spend the winter playing for Hungarian champions UNIQA Euroleasing Sopron.
Sopron won the Hungarian league and cup last season and lost to Kosice in Middle European league final. In EuroLeague Women, where the team is expected to continue to play this season, they just missed out on making the playoffs.
“I’m going there with an open mind and trying to be positive about it,” said Faris, who will be joined in Hungary by former Maryland star and Seattle Storm rookie Tianna Hawkins. “I’m a homebody. But it will be good. I’ll be close to Austria and Budapest and hopefully I’ll find someone that will want to travel around with me a little bit.
“This gives me a good opportunity. In college you have summer workouts and they help you stay in shape. But I’ll be practicing and playing and being in game situations. Usually on overseas teams the Americans are their scorers so that will help me to try and gain more of a scorer’s mentality. It will be a great experience and give me time to work on things.”
She hopes the experience will help her help the Sun rise in the East next summer.