UNCASVILLE — Before she left Stanford, Chiney Ogwumike received one last piece of advice from Tara VanDerveer, her Hall of Fame women's basketball coach.
"She told me to take pride and take ownership in building something special," said Ogwumike, the first overall selection in the 2014 WNBA Draft by the Connecticut Sun.
VanDerveer understood, certainly more than Ogwumike could relate to at the time, that the transition to professional basketball does not always go smooth for college stars.
Unless a player is fortunate, the top players in a draft go to teams with the worst records. And because of it, all-Americans Oqwumike, Tulsa's Odyssey Sims, Notre Dame's Kayla McBride and Connecticut's Alyssa Thomas were thrust immediately into rebuilding situations.
And sometimes the rebuilding takes a lot of time. As of this morning, none is guaranteed a playoff appearance this season.
For Ogwumike and Thomas, elimination came Sunday despite Connecticut's 89-81 double-overtime win over Washington at the Mohegan Sun Arena. Victories by Indiana and Chicago Sunday ended the Sun's chance of qualifying for the playoffs and sent them to the draft lottery for the second straight season.
For the Sun (12-20) there will be nothing left to play for in their final two games but the pride that comes with avoiding the worst record in the league. That's what Friday (Washington) and Sunday (Atlanta) will be about.
"Even though we've had our ups and downs, more downs than ups, I think we have a special group of core players and greatest guidance from veterans," Ogwumike said. "Every game we play we learn. Even this [Sunday] was a huge game for us because people had already counted us out."
The Sun, Seattle and Tulsa are 12-20. The New York Liberty were 13-17 heading into Tuesday night's game. If the Liberty finish fifth in the Eastern Conference, they will join the Sun in the lottery, and that is important to the Sun.
The Liberty dealt their No. 1 pick in 2015 to the Sun in the Tina Charles trade. So Connecticut will control two of the four opportunities to land another first overall pick. And even though the 2015 college draft class is not considered strong, it would provide the Sun valuable equity to deal the picks, if they choose.
Sunday's win, although entertaining in many aspects, was just Connecticut's fourth since it ended a six-game winning streak with a win over Chicago at Mohegan Sun June 25. It was also the Sun's first home win in six games.
And there is a possibility they will play their final two games without veteran guard Katie Douglas, an all-star this season along with Ogwumike, the likely rookie of the year.
After playing nearly 40 minutes on Sunday, she began experiencing lower back pain and left the bench in the second overtime. Sun coach Anne Donovan said after the game it was too early to know what the prognosis would be.
Without Douglas, who is averaging 13.2 points with 64 three-pointers this season, the Sun would certainly be much worse off.
"The schedule this year has been so condensed and for us, with our youth and inexperience, it's been somewhat of a problem at times," Douglas said. "But it [improvement] is going to come with experience. I am a very patient person, but it's been hard to lose so many close games. For me, it's getting old. But I understand I am playing with a very young group.
"These wars and battles are just an experience we have to go through. And we need to play with energy over these last [two] games to build for next year so that we understand how to win the games we've been losing. I have high expectations, but I know we are learning on the fly."
Ogwumike, who leads the Sun and all league rookies in scoring (15.6) and rebounding (8.6), also was on the bench at the end of the game after experiencing nausea. She has been on medication for an abscessed tooth that forced her to miss the previous two games.
"I was feeling poorly in the first, but then I was feeling better until I got hit with an elbow in the neck," she said. "It just took a while to get my bearings."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun