What we would do for a little sense of normalcy?
The turbulence that has swirled through the United States and the world in recent months thanks to the highly contagious COVID-19 coronavirus has turned the lives of Americans and men and women around the world upside down.
In America, millions have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 related health measures to help people stay safe. Millions are working from home now or remain on the job risking their health for the funds to put food on the table and keep a roof over the head of their families.
The death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man in Minnesota, under the knee of a police officer in May ignited weeks and weeks of protests around the nation and the world. Some continue to this day and the reaction to these protests show the partisan divide that has deeply cut into the soul of this nation.
What would you do for some normalcy?
How about some basketball?
In a time of a global pandemic, the WNBA kicked off their 24th season on Saturday from the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. The league has isolated all 12 teams and key personnel on the IMG campus to help keep the players safe and conduct a shortened 22-game season.
No fans will be allowed to attend games in person but many contests will be broadcast on ESPN, the CBS Sports Network and local regional affiliates such as NESN here in Connecticut.
The teams and their players will live inside the bubble at the IMG Academy, living, practicing and playing games on campus. The regular season and playoffs will be at the IMG Academy.
The Connecticut Sun will kick off their 18th season in the Nutmeg State on Sunday at noon with a game against the Minnesota Lynx. The Sun went to the WNBA finals a year ago for the first time since 2005 and lost the Washington Mystics in the game 5 of the WNBA’s best-of-5 championship series.
The Sun aren’t the same team they were last October. Starters Courtney Williams and Shekinna Stricklen are now in Atlanta due to a trade and free agent signing, respectively. Second team All-WNBA defender Jonquel Jones, 26, signed a multi-year deal with the Sun in February but decided not to play this season due to COVID-19 concerns.
Connecticut traded three first-round picks for Phoenix veteran DeWanna Bonner, a three-time WNBA All-Star and two-time champion. The Sun also acquired 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.
Veteran forward Alyssa Thomas and guard Jasmine Thomas will return for the Sun, who were 23-11 last year and won more than 20 games for the third straight season.
“If you want to see the same team on Sunday that you saw in the WNBA finals, you will be highly disappointed,” Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller said. “We aren’t the team we were last May.
“What people saw in the WNBA Finals last (October) was high-quality, crazy high-level basketball between two teams that were just really, really on a roll. No one is going to be like that out of the gate,” he said. “We can’t get ahead of ourselves. We have to take one day at a time. We have to figure out how these pieces fit together.”
Guard Natisha Hiedeman missed most of training camp in Florida recovering from a positive COVID-19 test. Briann January is home in Phoenix recovering from a positive test.
“It is essentially a new group of players and their roles,” Miller said. “Slowly but surely, we’re trying to figure out where we can put people in the best position to succeed.”
Practice time will be minimal in this condensed season. According to a tweet from WNBA analyst Rebecca Lobo, 18 of Connecticut’s 22 games will be played with just one day’s rest for the team. Five teams will play 17 of 22 games after one day of rest and three teams will play 16 of 22 games with just one day of rest.
“These guys are not ready to play 32 minutes a game,” Miller said. “That will be a challenge not just for Connecticut for the league overall.”
This season will present a tremendous opportunity for players to get additional playing time they might not get in a normal 34-game WNBA season.
The Sun will play four games this week. After Sunday’s opener, the Sun will face Washington (NESN Plus) on Tuesday at 7 p.m., oppose Los Angeles on Thursday night at 10 p.m. (ESPN) and battle Minnesota again on Saturday at 4 p.m. (NESN).
While in the bubble, the players are well aware of the turmoil outside of it.
“The game is the same but there are a ton of other things going on in our country and the world that you can’t ignore,” Jasmine Thomas said. “We have them in our minds and hearts.”
At many protest rallies around the nation, protesters chant the name of men and women who have been killed at the hands of the police. “Say their names” is a familiar chant. One of the names frequently chanted at rallies is Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black emergency medical technician was killed in March by police in Louisville, Kentucky.
Players on the Sun will have Taylor’s name on their uniforms for the season. Other WNBA teams and players will do the same.
“It means a lot of me to represent her and her family,” Jasmine Thomas said. “They still haven’t gotten the justice they deserve. That is where our minds are. Don’t be distracted by the game, distracted by the fact that sports are back. There are still bigger issues on our plates.”
Added Bonner, “It’s the least we can do. Hopefully, it will bring a smile to her family’s faces.”
Black Lives Matters will be prominently displayed on the court during WNBA games this season. Warmup jerseys will have Black Lives Matter and Say Her Name on them. Jasmine Thomas was asked what Black Lives Matters means to her.
“Everybody isn’t free until we’re all free,” she said. “(There is) a group of people that are being marginalized, that are being killed through police brutality, that are (feeling) the effects of systemic racism. There needs to be a lot of education and chances to policies locally and nationally to balance that out and have true equality.”
The Sun will play every team in the league twice. NESN will announce additional broadcasts later in the season.
Connecticut Sun 2020 schedule
All games at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
Sunday, July 26: Minnesota, noon (ESPN)
Tuesday, July 28: Washington, 7 p.m. (NESN Plus)
Thursday, July 30: Los Angeles, 10 p.m. (ESPN)
Saturday, August 1: Minnesota, 4 p.m. (NESN)
Tuesday, August 4: Seattle, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)
Thursday, August 6: Dallas, 8 p.m. (NESN)
Saturday, August 8: Chicago, 5 p.m. (NESN)
Monday, August 10: Atlanta, 6 p.m.
Wednesday, August 12: Dallas, 7 p.m. (CBSSN)
Friday, August 14: Chicago, 7 p.m.
Sunday, August 16: Seattle, 6 p.m.
Tuesday, August 18: Indiana, 7 p.m. (CBSSN)
Thursday, August 20: Las Vegas, 10 p.m. (CBSSN)
Saturday, August 22: New York, 4 p.m. (CBSSN)
Wednesday, August 26: Phoenix, 10 p.m. (CBSNN)
Friday, August 28: Los Angeles, 8 p.m. (CBSSN)
Sunday, August 30: Washington, 4 p.m.
Tuesday, September 1: New York, 7 p.m. (CBSSN)
Thursday, September 3: Las Vegas, 8 p.m.
Saturday, September 5: Indiana, 4 p.m.
Wednesday, September 9: Phoenix, 7 p.m.
Friday, September 11: Atlanta, 7 p.m.