For Faris, it’s a new degree of difficulty

By Carl Adamec

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Kelly Faris’ career as a student-athlete at the University of Connecticut came to a close Wednesday as she took her last spring semester final exam.

Just as she did on the basketball court a month ago, she’ll go out in style. The Dean’s List student will join the rest of the Class of 2013 at graduation ceremonies in Storrs on Sunday.

“I’m excited,” Faris said. “I don’t have to be graded anymore. It will be different to have a basketball life and not have a school life or class or study hall. I’m glad. It’s a great accomplishment.”

And the best part is she has a job. She was the first-round pick (11th overall) of the Connecticut Sun in last month’s WNBA Draft. The Sun play their preseason opener Saturday against the New York Liberty at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Ironically, after not missing a game in four years at UConn, Faris will be sidelined Saturday. She continues to wear a walking boot on her left foot for a sprained ligament suffered in the Huskies’ March 4 game at Notre Dame. She played through it during UConn’s nine-game postseason run that concluded with the program’s eighth national championship.

“It won’t be long. I’m almost good to go,” Faris said. “Probably the 15th or 16th I’ll try to get back into it. I wanted to play but this is probably the only time that I’ll have to sit. You go from one season right to the next and it’s hard. So this was the best chance that I had to let it heal.

“(The Sun coaching staff) told me to relax a bit and take the load off of my foot. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do. I did some lifting and tried to get some cardio in where I could. But it was just a lot of rest.”

Connecticut’s regular season opener is here against the Liberty on May 25.

It was exactly a month ago that Faris wrapped up her college career with 16 points, nine rebounds, six assists, a pair of steals, and stellar defense in UConn’s 93-60 rout of Louisville in the NCAA tournament final at New Orleans Arena. For her efforts, Faris was named to the Final Four all-tournament team. She was also selected to the NCAA all-regional team a week earlier in Bridgeport.

The Plainfield, Ind., native finished 34th at UConn in scoring (1,109 points), 11th in rebounds (821), sixth in assists (545), and fifth in steals (294). In her four years, the Huskies went 143-11 with two national championships, four Final Four bids, three Big East tournament titles, and two league regular season crowns. She matched the school record of 154 consecutive games played shared by Maya Moore and Tiffany Hayes. Only NCAA record holder and Sun teammate Kalana Greene (157) played in more games at UConn than Faris.

“I think I’ve said it a thousand times. I couldn’t have asked to go out a different way and with a better group of girls,” Faris said. “It meant a lot because of how hard we had to work for it and the struggles that we had throughout the season. On the outside it probably didn’t look like much but on the inside we were frustrated and not satisfied with what we were doing. It was the right way to go out.

“This last month’s been very stressful but it was a good stress to have. It was a big whirlwind. We got back from winning the national championship and then I had the WNBA orientation. I was excited to get drafted. It hasn’t all soaked in yet. Maybe once I graduate, that will be out of the way and I’ll have all my focus here. It might be 10 years down the road that I think, ‘Wow. What did I accomplish in college?’ Then coming here hopefully we’ll accomplish quite a bit.”

Being drafted by the Sun meant Faris could stay in her second home of Connecticut. The other bonus was the Sun had two of her teammates from the 2010 national championship club — Greene and reigning WNBA Most Valuable Player Tina Charles.

The familiarity is helpful but Faris does admit being a pro rookie is like being a college freshman all over again.

“It’s a little different because it’s the next stage,” Faris said. “But I finally felt that I got on top and now I’m back to the bottom. Luckily, the veterans here are great and they treat us just fine. They’re the type of players that want to win. They’ve helped us a lot.

“I’ve talked with Kalana and Tina about a lot of things on and off the court about how things work. Kalana was the first one when I got here early to show me around and help me out. It was just like college in the way they took me under their wing. I know they’ll do the same thing here.”

Faris, though, isn’t the only thing new with the Sun. The team hired Anne Donovan as coach after firing Mike Thibault following Connecticut’s loss to the Indiana Fever in the Eastern Conference finals last fall.

Their talks have centered around getting Faris healthy.

“Her big thing right now is that I need to rest and trust that it’s the right thing I need to be doing,” Faris said. “Other than that, I’m just making sure that I’m watching and paying attention to learn as much as I can even though I’m not out on the court. And when I get back, do what I’ve always done.”

If Faris can add the things she did as a player at UConn, she can contribute to the Sun’s chase of their first WNBA championship.

But, as of Wednesday, there’s one thing she won’t have to do anymore — go to class.

“It ends my academic life, at least for now,” Faris said “But UConn is always going to be a part of my life and the people there — the players I played with and the coaches — are all a big family. Luckily I’m just down the road.”