UNCASVILLE, Conn. — The opening tip for the 2013 WNBA season was less than an hour away and the crowd was slowly filtering into the Mohegan Sun Arena. On the court, a half dozen players were getting ready, refining their moves, taking shots and working up a sweat.
At one end of the floor, New York Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer watched two of his players go through their pre-game routines, taking jump shots from various spots on the floor. Laimbeer dribbled a ball but looked restless. Lost.
That dissipated quickly when Tina Charles jogged onto the floor. Now, it was time to get to work. Laimbeer and Charles worked for about 15 minutes on various moves and drills in preparation for Friday night’s game against the Connecticut Sun.
“That is what she wants,” Laimbeer said. “I’m the one working on her post (game) to develop from what was to what will be. So, I’m out there making sure she is doing things the right way.”
Charles, a 6-foot-4 center/forward from the University of Connecticut, isn’t a young up-and-coming player looking to establish herself. She was the WNBA rookie of the year in 2010 and the league’s most valuable player in 2012. She played on the U.S. Olympic team that won a gold medal at the London Olympics in 2012. She averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds a game last year for the Sun, who had the worst record in the league (10-24).
Pre-game workouts are nothing new for Charles. In her four seasons with the Sun, she worked out with assistant coaches Scott Hawk and then Jennifer Gillom last year.
With Laimbeer, Charles gets a teacher who was a dominating presence in the NBA. Laimbeer was a member of the Detroit Pistons who won two NBA championships in 1989 and 1990. That team was known for its intimidation and aggressiveness on the court. Laimbeer relished in being the villain on those teams because it helped distract the opposition from focusing on the game at hand.
“To be a post player and have a great post player as he was in his day is really useful,” Charles said. The two worked on moves and Laimbeer emphasized not letting players get in her space on the floor. “I’m just being a sponge and taking in everything I can right now,” she said.
At 6-foot-11, Laimbeer is still an intimidating presence today. He led the WNBA’s Detroit Shock to three WNBA championships in 2003, 2006 and 2008 with a hard-nosed level of play. Each time, he enters the floor at the Mohegan Sun Arena, Darth Vader’s theme from Star Wars is pumped through the public address system. Even today, he is happy to be a distraction to the opposition.
And he doesn’t let up. New York dominated Connecticut on Friday night with a 75-54 win. At one point in the third quarter, Laimbeer loudly celebrated on the sideline when the Liberty forced a turnover in front of the New York bench. Connecticut’s Danielle McCray drove into a crowd of three Liberty defenders and coughed up the ball. New York was up by 18 points at the time.
“That’s why he has championships and that’s where you want to be,” Charles said. “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. So I’m here.”
Charles’ exit is a sore point with the Sun and their fans. Charles, who is from Brooklyn, wanted to play with the Liberty. She threatened to sit out the season. The Sun picked up rookie Alyssa Thomas from Maryland, Kelsey Bone, the Liberty’s first round draft pick in 2013 and New York’s first round pick in 2015 in a draft-day trade in April.
Charles had nine points and nine rebounds in her first trip back to Connecticut. But that was OK. She is surrounded by some talented teammates such as Cappie Pondexter, who had a game-high 17 points.
“It was a satisfying win,” Charles said. “I’m with a great group of girls. So of them have what I want. There are some people in here with multiple (WNBA) championships and I want a couple for myself so I am happy to be here.”
And the pre-game workouts are scheduled to continue throughout the year. “That’s the plan,” Laimbeer said with a smile.
The Liberty have one more trip to the Mohegan Sun Arena this season. They’ll return on June 15 for a 1 p.m. contest.