Making successful transitions is part of professional sports. Seldom does a roster stay together from year-to-year. The Connecticut Sun’s ability to keep the core of their WNBA team together for the past four years was unique.
It resulted in Connecticut’s first visit to the WNBA finals since 2005 in October and the Sun fell one game short of bringing home their first WNBA title, dropping game five of the WNBA championship series to the Washington Mystics.
In the offseason, the Sun traded Courtney Williams to Atlanta while unrestricted free agent Shekinna Stricklen signed with Atlanta.
The Sun gave up three first round draft picks for three-time All-Star DeWanna Bonner from Phoenix, added All-Star guard Briann January from Phoenix and three-point shooting specialist Kaleena Mosqueda Lewis, the former UConn All-American who began her WNBA career in Seattle.
Then came the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Everything shut down in the sports world, including the WNBA, which sliced 12 games off the 2020 regular season campaign that was scheduled to begin in May. The league will play a 22-game schedule beginning in late July with all 12 teams living, playing and practicing at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
Connecticut’s All-Star Jonquel Jones decided to sit out the season due to her concerns about the COVID-19 virus. The 6-foot-6 center/forward had her best WNBA season a year ago, averaging 17.9 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks a game to lead the Sun to the WNBA finals.
Jones’ decision has left a huge gap in the lineup. Or has it provided an opportunity for another Sun teammate?
Jones blossomed in the 2017 season when Chiney Ogwumike sat out the season after injuring her knee playing overseas in China. The Sun couldn’t quite figure out the best way to use Jones in 2018 when Ogwumike was here. Ogwumike’s trade to Los Angeles before the 2019 season opened the door for Jones to dominate.
“(Jonquel) is someone we built the team around,” veteran guard Jasmine Thomas said. “She is a leader for us, a scorer for us, a huge defender and rebounder for us. It will be hard to fill all of those areas in a short, condensed season with not a lot of time to prepare.”
After Jones opted not to play, Connecticut signed Beatrice Mompremier, a 6-foot-4 forward from Miami, who was the No. 1 pick of the Los Angeles Sparks in April. As a senior, Mompremier averaged 16.8 points and 9.8 rebounds. As a junior, she averaged 16.7 points and 12.2 rebounds per game in the ACC.
Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas is pleased the Sun picked up some young talent but she sees a solution to the Jones’ departure in the Sun locker room with 6-3 center Brionna Jones. The fourth year forward from Maryland was Alyssa Thomas’ teammate on USK Praha in Prague, Czech Republic, in the Czech Women’s Basketball League
Brionna Jones averaged 15.6 points and 8.1 rebounds this winter for USK Praha, which went 12-2 and advanced to the quarterfinals of the EuroLeague tournament before it was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She earned second team All Euro-League honors with fellow WNBA stars Gabby Williams (Chicago), Brittney Griner (Phoenix) and Courtney Vandersloot (Chicago).
“We have Brionna Jones who was a monster overseas (this spring),” Alyssa Thomas said. “She hasn’t had a lot of (playing) time in her (WNBA) career. Finally, she will have the opportunity to be on the floor. I think a lot of people will be surprised with what she can do.”
Last summer, Brionna Jones averaged a career-high 3.5 points and 2.2 rebounds in an average of 8.4 minutes a game for Connecticut.
Jasmine Thomas knows it will be a challenging season.
“There will be more opportunities for players,” she said. “We know what we are capable of. We know how competitive we are. We will do our jobs. But we can’t forget this will be a very different season that none of us have experienced before. We won’t know what it will look like, what it will feel like until we actually get out on the court and everyone feels safe to go out there.”
The teams arrived in Florida this week for a few weeks of training to get prepared for the 2020 season. On Wednesday, Florida reported nearly 10,000 new cases and there are nearly 220,500 positive cases across the state.
Players were nervous about playing in Florida – even before they got there.
“I carry that hunger from the disappointment of last season (losing to Washington in the WNBA finals) but you can’t ignore the fact that COVID is real and it’s out there. Everyone is afraid of COVID and (wants) to keep themselves and their families safe from the virus,” Jasmine Thomas said.
“To think that athletes are excluded (from getting COVID-19) is crazy. It’s not (a matter of) being negative. It is us wanting to be safe.”