Where they finished last season: 21-13 (Lost in Second Round)
Roster additions: Kristine Anigwe; Bridget Carleton; Natisha Hiedeman; Bria Holmes
Roster losses: Chiney Ogwumike; Alex Bentley; Betnijah Laney; Lexie Brown
The Bulls did it with the Pistons, the Sparks did it with the Comets, and now the Connecticut Sun are hoping to take the next step after being knocked out in consecutive playoffs by the Phoenix Mercury.
Last year’s clash saw tension build between the two teams, especially after one of the Sun’s young leaders, Courtney Williams, posted an Instagram picture before the playoff game of her jumping for joy, while a frustrated Diana Taurasi charges past. After the Mercury moved on, she said in the post-game interview: “You can post Instagram pictures, you can clap in people’s faces. That’s not going to get you a win though.”
Williams told Double Clutch about her respect for Taurasi after they played together during the point guard’s rookie year, and that the post was never meant to be disrespectful to the GOAT. She said: “She played for Phoenix. It could have been any Phoenix player in that picture. It’s playoff time, I was looking through my gallery of Phoenix players, and why not? I regularly make posts on Instagram about game day but I think it’s good for the game. It doesn’t bother me, I’m all for it. People like drama so if that’s going to bring the drama and bring the fans, I don’t take any of that stuff personally. I’m all for it. We can make some storylines.”
But Williams was particularly excited about this season. She said: “I’m super confident and I’m excited. We’re bringing back the core group of people. We recently lost Chiney Ogwumike but ultimately we still have a solid base with our team, bringing back players that have been playing together for three or four years. So our chemistry is already there, we know who we’re playing with and familiar with and how one another play.”
A big, 6’7 reason the team is confident is because of the growth of Jonquel Jones. Losing Ogwumike is not ideal, but it creates space for Jones, who has already proven her ability to be the star center, and Williams has high expectations. She said: “Everybody I have a conversation with about Jonquel reckons that maybe this year, next year, she’s going to be the best player in the league.
“You’re not going to find many people who are 6’7 and can handle the ball the way she does, that can shoot the ball the way she does. Around the league you can name someone who is 6’4 like Elena Delle Donne but other than that, who else is 6’7, 6’8 who can handle the ball and shoot threes consistently. In my opinion, she’s going to be a problem in the next year or two.”
With a good point guard pairing of Williams and Jasmine Thomas, plus potentially the ‘best player in the league’ and some veteran savvy in Layshia Clarendon, the team also got an injection of youth with Kristine Anigwe.
The rookie was a league-ready force in college and recorded a game of 32 points and 30 rebounds in one outing, so the 6’4 forward/center will help Jones on the boards, who enjoys stepping outside to shoot from range occasionally.
So with a strong core, veteran leadership and some young legs on the roster, it will be up to Head Coach Curt Miller to make sure all the pieces fit. He has shown an ability to do so, having gone 21-13 in each of the last two seasons using different rosters. Williams said: “We all felt disappointed [with the way things ended last year], because not only did we lose in the same round last year but we lost to the same exact team. So, I think that in itself was pretty disappointing but ultimately we have to keep moving forward and growing and doing the little things that will make us better as a team so we can get over that hump this year.”
Just like so many great teams in basketball history, the Connecticut Sun have an opportunity to take the next step in their development, which could be the Finals.