UNCASVILLE, April 12 – The Connecticut Sun acquired three players Thursday night – two that they hope will help this season and a third that they expect will help in 2019.
With the ninth overall pick in 2018 WNBA draft, the Sun selected Duke guard Lexie Brown in the first round. Connecticut also selected 6-foot-2 California forward Mikayla Cowling in the third round.
In a trade before the draft began, the Sun acquired former Hillhouse-New Haven star Bria Holmes from the Atlanta Dream for a pair of draft picks. Holmes will sit out the 2018 season because she is pregnant.
Three UConn players were drafted in the first round. Gabby Williams was drafted fourth overall by Chicago and Azura Stevens was drafted at No. 6 by Dallas. Kia Nurse was selected by the New York Liberty at No. 10 after being passed over by the Sun.
Connecticut seriously considered drafting Nurse, who won two national titles with UConn and is a member of the Canadian national team. But the Sun and general manager Curt Miller decided to select Brown.
“We’re excited with her versatility at the one and the two, her ability to really stretch the floor at the one (point guard) and two (shooting guard),” said Miller, who doubles as the Sun’s general manager and head coach. “I think you win with small guard play in this league.
“We targeted guard depth with this pick and it was a really, really tough and difficult decision down the stretch,” Miller said. “We thought we might have a chance between Brown and (Kia) Nurse, and we’ve debated that for weeks if that was the case. It did play out that way, and we’re really excited to bring Lexi into the family.”
A 5-9 guard who finished her college career with 2,088 points, 587 assists, 455 rebounds, 345 steals and 262 made three-pointers, Brown is the daughter of former Boston Celtics star Dee Brown, who coached the WNBA’s Orlando Miracle in 2002, the season before the team relocated to Connecticut.
She is the first daughter of a WNBA head coach to ever be drafted and the fifth Duke player in the last seven years to be taken in the first round. Among the other players on that list is Connecticut’s current starting point guard Jasmine Thomas.
“You don’t know where you are going in the draft and it’s a crazy night,” Brown said. “I did have conversations with coach (Miller) so I knew there was a chance that I would end up in Connecticut. I felt super comfortable when my name was called. When Connecticut had their pick, I was definitely excited and super happy.”
Brown, who played two years at Maryland before transferring to Duke, closed out her career with one of the best seasons in ACC history, averaging 19.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists while leading the Blue Devils to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. She had a team-record 122 steals this season.
ESPN television analyst LaChina Robinson praised Brown’s skills before the draft.
“The thing that sets her apart a little bit is her size. She’s got a couple inches on most of the point guard group. Her three-point range is something that is intriguing to me because you stretch the line a little bit in the WNBA more than it is in college. She’s a great leader,” Robinson said. “She’s the ACC Defensive Player of the Year. That’s a part of her game that really impressed me, her strength on the ball. She’s got enough size that she can move to the 2 and become a shooter as well.”
Connecticut’s second pick in the draft, No. 15 overall, was dealt to Atlanta for 6-foot-1 Bria Holmes. The Sun also included next year’s second round pick.
Holmes averaged 7.6 points and 2.7 assists in 65 games in her first two WNBA seasons. “Bria is an outstanding wing who will thrive in our up-tempo offensive system. She has great length and has already proven to be a disruptive defender at the WNBA level,” Miller said.
A native of New Haven, where she won three consecutive state titles at Hillhouse, Holmes was a unanimous All-Big 12 selection in her final three seasons at West Virginia. She ended up ranked third in Mountaineer history with 2,001 points and 731 made field goals.
Robinson thinks Cowling has a good a chance to play in the WNBA.
“Look, her size is great. And she’s got a big, strong body. She’s been an outstanding defender during her time at Cal,” Robinson said prior to the draft. “From what I understand, she had a very good showing during the Pro Hoops Draft Camp in Columbus. That’s to her advantage. And she’s been moved around the floor a lot since coming to Cal. Shows her versatility and her ability to adapt and play different positions. High IQ. So I think because of those combinations of things, she gives herself a very good shot at making the WNBA.”
The Sun play three exhibition games in the state beginning on May 7 when they host the Los Angeles Sparks at 7 p.m. at the Mohegan Sun Arena. Connecticut hosts Dallas on May 8 at the Mohegan Sun Arena at 7 p.m. and close out the exhibition season by hosting Atlanta on May 11 at 7 p.m. at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport.
Connecticut opens the 2018 campaign on Sunday, May 20, when they host the Las Vegas Aces at 1 p.m. in Uncasville.