UNCASVILLE, Conn., April 14 – The Connecticut Sun continue to roll the dice. After three consecutive losing seasons that ended with the organization watching the WNBA playoffs on television, the Sun continue to remake their roster.
The Sun selected former UConn star forward Morgan Tuck with the No. 3 selection in Thursday night’s WNBA draft at the Mohegan Sun Arena. That wasn’t a big surprise. With its No. 4 selection they picked up from Atlanta earlier this year, Connecticut selected University of Minnesota guard Rachel Banham.
Soon after, the Sun engineered a trade acquiring 6-foot-6 forward Jonquel Jones of George Washington in a trade with the Los Angeles Sparks. The Sparks selected Jones with the No. 6 pick in the draft. Los Angeles sent Jones and their No. 17 overall pick to the Sun for guard Chelsea Gray and three draft picks (the No. 15 and No. 23 picks in the 2016 draft and the Sun’s first round pick in 2017).
First-year coach Curt Miller and his Sun grabbed three of the top six picks in the draft. Yes, UConn star Breanna Stewart was selected No. 1 by Seattle and UConn guard Moriah Jefferson went No. 2 to San Antonio. But the Sun, 15-19 a year ago under coach Anne Donovan, were thrilled with what they were able to do.
“Overall we’re ecstatic with the outcome and the five players we’ve added to the roster,” Miller said. “We feel like we hit the jackpot by being able to acquire three of the top six picks overall, but all five draft picks are described as tremendous character women who will add to the culture we are trying to establish in our locker room.”
The Sun rounded out the draft by selecting Jamie Weisner of Oregon State in the second round at No. 17, and Aliyyah Handford of St. John’s in the third round at No. 27.
Connecticut opens the 2016 WNBA campaign at Chicago on May 14 and will play its home opener at Mohegan Sun Arena on May 21, at 7 p.m. against the Washington Mystics.
The 6-foot-2 Tuck, who helped the Huskies to a record straight fourth NCAA title earlier this month, earned second team Associated Press All-America honors during her senior season. A first team All-American Athletic Conference honoree, Tuck led the conference in field goal percentage (59.6%) during the 2014-15 season, a total that was good for fifth in the nation. She averaged 11.3 points and 4.7 rebounds during her career at UConn.
“I am super excited,” Tuck said. “It’s always been a dream to play in the WNBA, and I am really just excited that coach gave me that opportunity, especially to do it here. It’s forty minutes from campus, so it’s familiar, the fans are here, and I think the biggest thing is, Connecticut takes women’s basketball very serious. So I think this is a great place to play basketball because we are going to have support.”
Tuck had another year of eligibility left due to injuries to her knee but she decided to leave with her class at Connecticut. With the selection of Stewart, Montgomery and Tuck, it marked the first time that three players from the same school were the top three selections in a WNBA or NBA draft.
Banham wrapped up her career at Minnesota as the leading scorer in Big Ten history with 3,093 points, sixth on the all-time list. She is one of just 11 players in NCAA history to score 3,000 points.
The Big Ten Player of the Year as a senior, Banham averaged a Minnesota-record and Big Ten best 28.6 points as a senior. She also had a team-high 5.9 rebounds per game. On February 8th, Banham scored 60 points in a double-overtime win over Northwestern, tying the NCAA record for points in a game.
“Being drafted in general is a huge blessing but to come to Connecticut, it’s pretty amazing,” Banham said. “It’s a championship state with UConn killing it here. There are so many good fans and such a good vibe and a great coach and team. I am just excited to be here and tackle this challenge.”
Jones, a native of the Bahamas, led the nation in rebounding this past season (14.6 per game) and was the only player in the Atlantic 10 to average a double-double as a senior (14.6 rpg and 16.2 ppg). The Atlantic 10 Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year as a junior, Jones was a two-time honorable mention All-American.
“I talked to coach Miller extensively, and he felt like my game could translate really well in his system,” Jones said. “He told me he was really high on me…if the opportunity presented itself, he would try to do something. So I am happy to be part of the Sun. I know this team has a really good fan-base and that the people here are excited about women’s basketball. Because of that, that really makes me excited.”
The Pac-12 Player of the Year, Weisner finished her career at Oregon State with 1,777 points, the sixth best total in program history. A two-time All-Pac-12 honoree, the guard is among the top-10 in Pac-12 history in career 3-pointers.
A 5-foot-9 guard, Handford was a three-time First Team All-Big East honoree during her career at St. John’s. The Red Storm’s all-time leading scorer with 2,058 points, Handford wrapped up her career second in the program record books with 271 career steals.