7:00 PM ET, May 16, 2014
Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, CT
Both the New York Liberty and Connecticut Sun have high expectations after they finished at the bottom of the Eastern Conference last season.Chiney Ogwumike, the top overall pick in this year's draft, will make her WNBA debut Friday when the new-look Sun host the Liberty in the season opener for both teams.New York (11-23) and league-worst Connecticut (10-24) each failed to reach the playoffs last year, leading to some major changes in the offseason.After drafting Ogwumike following her stellar career at Stanford, the Sun sent franchise player Tina Charles to the Liberty in exchange for No. 4 pick Alyssa Thomas and second-year forward Kelsey Bone, the fifth overall selection in 2013.Connecticut, which also obtained a 2015 first-round pick in the deal, later took Duke guard Chelsea Gray at No. 11, giving second-year coach Anne Donovan a young core to build around in the coming seasons."I didn't know until they put it up on the board," Thomas said about the trade. "I'm excited to play with Chiney and know that we have a great group here."Also, fan favorite Kara Lawson was dealt to Washington, while regulars Tan White (Minnesota) and Mistie Bass (Phoenix) signed with new clubs.The revamped roster now features 11 players with four years or less of WNBA experience, though the Sun do boast a solid veteran presence after signing guard Katie Douglas, who enters her 14th season and returns to the franchise that drafted her."We're excited with the group we have," Sun vice president and general manager Chris Sienko said.Ogwumike's older sister, Nneka, also was a top pick and plays for the Los Angeles Sparks, joining Peyton and Eli Manning as the only pairs of siblings to be drafted No. 1 in American pro sports.Chiney is coming off a senior season at Stanford in which she averaged 26.2 points and 12.1 boards to finish as the Pac-12's top all-time scorer and rebounder. Her outstanding collegiate numbers made it much easier for the Sun to deal Charles, who starred at UConn and is said to have asked for a trade and change of scenery.Entering her fifth season, Charles will be a welcome sight in New York, where she was a prep star at Christ the King High School in Queens. The 2012 MVP is one of the league's top frontcourt players, averaging 17.3 points and 10.3 rebounds in her career."The opportunity to be in New York is a dream come true," Charles said. "My mom always took me to the Liberty games, I'd see Rebecca Lobo, Becky Hammon, (Teresa) Weatherspoon before games. This is a big dream to play at the Garden."She joins veterans Cappie Pondexter and Essence Carson to form a strong trio that could lift coach and general manager Bill Laimbeer's club out of the East cellar.Pondexter will be looking to bounce back after averaging a career-low 16.9 points last season while New York matched the fewest victories in franchise history and missed the postseason for only the third time in 10 years. Carson tore her left ACL after four games last year and was averaging a career-best 14.3 points and 5.5 rebounds before the injury.Charles' return to the Big Apple will be part of the Liberty's homecoming after they played in Newark, N.J., the last three summers while Madison Square Garden underwent a $1 billion renovation."The Garden is the Garden, everyone wants to play on that stage," Pondexter said.