Growth with patience is just the start of what Curt Miller sums up in the “Connecticut Way” that he is trying to instill in the Connecticut Sun.
Record Last Season: 14-20
Finished fifth in the Eastern Conference, missed the playoffs
Projected Starters/ Potential Subs:
Jasmine Thomas/Jessica January
Alex Bentley/Courtney Williams/Rachel Banham
Morgan Tuck/Shekinna Stricklen
Alyssa Thomas/Lynetta Kizer/Danielle Adams
Jonquel Jones/Brionna Jones
In 2012, the Connecticut Sun ran through the regular season and nearly made it to the WNBA Finals before falling to the Indiana Fever in the Eastern Conference Finals. Tina Charles was league Most Valuable Player, Renee Montgomery Sixth Woman of the Year, Kara Lawson the Kim Perrot Sportsmanship winner.
Management decided that Mike Thibault was not the man to coach the team to their first WNBA title, and decided not to re-sign him. Chaos ensued; Anne Donovan was the next coach, and players for various reasons wanted out of friendly Uncasville, Connecticut.
The Sun fell to depths not previously seen, finishing 10-24, 13-21 and 15-19 under Donovan. Despite the small improvements each year, again Connecticut decided to go in another direction and Curt Miller came from the Los Angeles Sparks organization to take over the team for 2016, and change the direction of the team once again.
While last year’s team finished 14-20 overall, the team played markedly better the second half of the year, closing the year on a three-game winning streak. A team with young pieces, including four rookies, showed signs of a possible bright future, and just needed some of the injuries that had been holding back players to heal and no more new ones.
Well, that did not go exactly how Miller wanted things to go.
Chiney Ogwumike, the 2016 Comeback Player of the Year after returning from a knee injury, suffered an Achilles tendon injury that would require surgery and will miss the 2017 season. The face of the franchise, Ogwumike signed a long-term contract the same day her season long “suspension” was announced, showing the team’s commitment to her future, but allowing them to replace her on the roster this year.
Miller became general manager earlier in the offseason, so coach and GM will have no questions as to the other’s vision, and also no one to blame if some of the decisions do not work out.
Already some question marks are there. Anneika Henry-Morello, signed as a free agent, was traded for Reshanda Gray, who was subsequently waived. Highly rated Brionna Jones surprised people on draft night when she fell to number eight, but with an extremely athletic front line and Miller’s love for spacing the floor, will a slower, more physical center fit in? The same question goes for free agent signee Danielle Adams, who is still fighting for a roster spot. She has tremendous skills, but her size and conditioning are not optimal for a running and spacing team like Miller has said he prefers.
The best offseason moves the Sun made were simply signing their own players. After losing so many talented players in the Donovan years, it was a breath of fresh air for Sun fans when the starting backcourt of Jasmine Thomas and Alex Bentley, followed by Ogwumike, signed contract extensions. Suddenly, instead of departures, three young players made Connecticut their destination!
Thomas was one of the most overlooked success stories in the WNBA last year. Playing big minutes and handed the point guard job by Miller, she put up career highs in almost every statistical category. She gives a young team like Connecticut a veteran presence; a player who has confidence in running and executing a game plan and can play both sides of the ball.
Bentley seemed to come alive when Connecticut acquired Courtney Williams from the Phoenix Mercury for the unhappy Kelsey Bone last season. Having the chance to mentor and help a young, brash, fireball of talent like Williams brought Bentley, a more reserved person in public, out of her shell some, and Bentley could be seen celebrating a Williams three on the bench.
Together Thomas and Bentley will be the stabilizing force of this young team. Williams and a retuning from injury Rachel Banham will give the Sun more firepower off the bench. Williams gets in the lane in addition to being able to hit the three, and has athletic ability that is off the charts. Banham will be brought along slowly from her injury, but came in to the league last year with a reputation as an offensive juggernaut, putting up huge numbers in college. Miller will be looking for three point shooting from Banham, and also returning Shekinna Stricklen, to help with the floor spacing mentioned earlier.
The other offseason move Miller made was the trade of veteran Camille Little in a three team package that brought Lynetta Kizer to Connecticut. Kizer really showed dramatic improvement on both sides of the floor last year for Indiana, and will bring a physicality that will be needed in the paint.
Alyssa Thomas returns to continue as the aggressive forward who is not afraid of any contact, and the combination of former Maryland Terps Thomas and Kizer, plus rookie Terp Jones, should help inside because the front court players Miller hopes to bring big things are less physical.
Jonquel Jones and Morgan Tuck both were rookies last season as well, and both showed signs of growth throughout the year. Jones will be the key to the Sun team this season, taking over the minutes and focus that Ogwumike would have had. A long and lean 6-foot-6, the “Bahama Mamba” has range out to three-point line, and shot blocking ability and timing as strong as anyone in the league, including Sylvia Fowles and Brittney Griner. Jones will have every opportunity to be the go to player this season, but needs to stay out of foul trouble and produce.
Tuck, according to Miller, is poised for a break out season. While rehabbing her knee injury, Tuck transformed her body, and looks tremendous. She also has skills to play either forward spot, and already in a preseason game against the New York Liberty dropped 20 points. Tuck’s early return from her knee injury is a good sign, and she will be heavily relied upon.
The remaining spots on the Sun are still somewhat up for grabs.
In the frontcourt Danielle Adams and her three-point shooting ability is trying to hold off a challenge from the more athletic Adaora Elonu, an athletic forward just signed, and top draft choice Jones. The guard spots are just as competitive, with third-round draft choice Jessica January from DePaul competing with the ever popular UConn “do all the little things” favorite, Kelly Faris.
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One thing is certain; if chemistry makes a difference, this team has it. They genuinely like each other on and off the court, and the young players like Banham, Tuck, Jonquel Jones and Courtney Williams are loud, vocal, and tremendous teammates for each other.
They will do things “the right way,” as Miller likes to say; hustling, playing aggressive, fast paced basketball, and defending with intensity. They may or may not a playoff team yet, but they are on their way.