UNCASVILLE, Sept. 5 – At the beginning of the 2017 WNBA season, little was expected of the Connecticut Sun after four consecutive losing seasons.
Chiney Ogwumike, the WNBA’s 2014 rookie of the year, was suspended for the season recovering from an Achilles injury suffered in China in the offseason. She missed all of 2015 recovering from microfracture surgery on her right knee. The Sun lost five of their first six games of the season.
Season over? Don’t bet on that.
The Sun won 19 of their next 24 games and earned a spot in the WNBA playoffs for the first time since 2012. Connecticut (21-13) will host a second round playoff game on Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Mohegan Sun Arena. The winner of the single-elimination contest advances to the best-of-5 WNBA semifinals against either Los Angeles or Minnesota.
Connecticut’s second-year head coach and general manager Curt Miller was named the WNBA coach of the year Tuesday by the Associated Press while second-year center Jonquel Jones from George Washington was named the league’s most improved player by the AP.
Miller received 14 of 15 votes from the media panel. In his second season, Miller led the Sun to a 21-13 record and the fourth best record in the WNBA after the team was projected to finish 11th at the beginning of the year.
“I’m humbled because there wasn’t a lot of expectations on this group,” Miller said. “Such a credit to those players, every adversity we had, they responded.”
Forward Alyssa Thomas said that Miller’s imprint is all over this team.
“We just have a lot of heart. This team never quits and it’s just a lot of fun out there. Most teams would have given up being down 22, but I think we just came together even closer,” Thomas said after Connecticut erased a 22-point deficit to beat Washington in July. “We’re close on and off the court, so we really care for each other. We really buy into Curt’s (Miller) system of being a family. These guys really are my family, and when we’re out there we’re fighting hard for each other no matter what.”
Prior to joining the WNBA, Miller was a five-time WBCA regional Coach of the Year and also a five-time finalist for National Coach of the Year. Since 2005, only Miller, UConn coach Geno Auriemma and Stanford coach Tara Vanderveer have been National Coach of the Year finalist five or more times. While he was at Bowling Green, he won a Mid-Atlantic Conference-record six Coach of the Year awards.
Jones earned AP Most Improved Player honors after breaking the single-season rebounding record set by New York’s Tina Charles in 2010 when she was a rookie with the Sun. A second-year center, Jones became the first player in WNBA history to collect 400 rebounds in a season. She finished with 403 to lead the WNBA in rebounds while also amassing 20 double-doubles (more than 10 points and 10 rebounds in a single game) in 2017.
“She’s a very special elite rebounder and she’s only scratched the surface,” Miller said regarding Jones. “She will get better defensively and offensively. She will only get stronger around the basket.”
Jones had a career-high 22 rebounds against Washington on August 29 while she had 29 points and 15 rebounds against Indiana on July 1. Against Chicago in May, she had 23 points and 21 caroms. This year, Jones averaged 15.4 points and 11.9 rebounds a game — big improvement from averaging 6.8 points and 3.7 rebounds a game as a Sun rookie in 2016.