WNBA's Connecticut Sun hopes to rise again with new players and coach, despite key roster losses

Sat, May 20, 2023
Other News (AP)

WNBA's Connecticut Sun hopes to rise again with new players and coach, despite key roster losses

UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut lost in the 2022 WNBA Finals and then lost its coach, best player and point guard in the offseason.

But don't tell members of the Sun the window has closed on the franchise's chance to win its first championship.

"I think it's a common theme in Connecticut that as soon as someone leaves, we seem to think it's the end all be all," said Alyssa Thomas, the Sun's All-Star forward and team leader. "But we find a way to continue to win and be in the Finals and that doesn't change. We still have a lot of talented players, a lot of all-stars."

Thomas is back along with several other key veterans - Brionna Jones, DeWanna Bonner and Natasha Hiedeman. And the team has added talent including former UConn star and long-time Atlanta guard Tiffany Hayes.

But the Sun did lose a lot. Former league MVP Jonquel Jones, the face of the franchise, left to join Breanna Stewart, Courtney Vandersloot and Sabrina Ionescu on one of the new favorites to win it all, the New York Liberty.

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Curt Miller, who led the Sun to two WNBA Finals and six playoff appearances in his seven-year tenure as coach and general manager, departed for Los Angeles and took with him veteran guard Jasmine Thomas. Point guard Courtney Williams, a fan favorite, moved on to Chicago.

The Sun added new coach Stephanie White, a former WNBA player who coached Indiana in 2015 and 2016 before spending five years at Vanderbilt.

Miller insists he didn't leave the cupboard bare at the Mohegan Sun arena.

"Connecticut is a contender," said Miller, during the coach's preseason Zoom call. "Their roster is as deep as anyone's in the league. I'm sentimental and always have a place in my heart for Connecticut and those players. We won so many games and put ourselves in position to chase championships. They're still a championship contender."

The Sun is expected to feature a different style of play under White, who is promising less half-court set offense and more transition than under the Miller.

"I think once we really get it, it's going to be really beautiful to watch," guard Dijonai Carrington said. "Just making reads, making cuts, playing off of each other more"

But White said the Sun will retain some of their former identity.

"This is a team that has been known as being a hard-nosed, competitive team that you don't want to play," she said. "The physicality, the level of execution, we're going to get in people defensively. They are not going to get exactly what they want. That doesn't need to change. It's been successful and it's going to continue to be successful."

The loss of Jonquel Jones also means a much bigger post role for Brionna Jones, who moves into the starting lineup. She'll be assisted by the addition of Olivia Nelson-Ododa, who like Hayes is a former UConn star.

"Not just one person is going to be or to replace JJ," Brionna Jones said

The Sun won their opener Friday on the road, 70-61 over Indiana, after having a 19-point lead shrink to three in the fourth quarter.

"For us to come out and get a win like that, to stay poised, it just shows what kind of veteran leadership we have on this team because that team is going to get better," Bonner said.

The Sun has been searching for help at guard after losing both Jasmine Thomas and Williams, then cutting first-round draft pick Alexis Morris.

Connecticut added veterans Rebecca Allen from the Liberty and Tyasha Harris from the Dallas Wings in the offseason and made a late trade with Atlanta for rookie Leigha Brown in a search for some depth.

"I think it's going to be a lot of fun," Alyssa Thomas said. "And I think we're we know what we're capable of, but I think we'll surprise a lot of teams."

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