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Rookie Kaila Charles looks forward to the challenge with Connecticut – The Collinsville Press
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Rookie Kaila Charles looks forward to the challenge with Connecticut

Sun rookie Kaila Charles is looking forward to training camp with Connecticut.

It’s a challenge to make a WNBA roster. There are just 12 spots on the roster and there are some teams that carry just 11 players due to salary cap considerations.

So, the deck is stacked to begin with. Connecticut’s top draft pick in 2018, Lexie Brown, lasted a season before being released while Kristie Aniqwe, the No. 9 pick in the 2019 draft, lasted half a season before getting traded to Dallas.

Connecticut Sun coach Curt Miller was thrilled to pick select Kaila Charles from Maryland in the second round of Friday’s WNBA draft and Baylor’s Juicy Landrum in the third round. Whoever makes the team will add depth to a squad that went to the WNBA finals a year ago and fell one win short of their first-ever league championship.

“It was an exciting night for us,” Miller said. “We added two pieces that can compete for the final roster spot.”

Whoa. A little harsh but it is reality.

After all, the Sun return three All-Star starters from last year’s squad including forward Alyssa Thomas, guard Jasmine Thomas and forward Jonquel Jones. Sharpshooter and slashing forward Bria Holmes returns along with speedy first-year guard Natisha Hiedeman. Center Brioanna Jones, the Sun’s first round pick in 2017, is back, too along with Theresa Plaisance, the 6-foot-5 forward that the Sun picked up in the trade for Aniqwe last August.

Kaila Charles of Maryland was the Sun’s first pick in the WNBA draft in the second round. (Photo courtesy University of Maryland)

And the Sun had an exciting offseason getting two-time WNBA champion DeWanna Bonner from Phoenix, one of the most highly-sought free agent players in the league along with guard Briann January from Phoenix and long-range shooting specialist Kaleena Mosqueda Lewis from Seattle.

And who knows when training camp will begin or the 2020 season. will kick off.

Miller was thrilled that Charles slipped into the second round for the Sun to grab. “We had her in the top 10 of our draft,” he said. “We value her versatility. She has the confidence to go at the bigger players and the confidence and skill to dominate other players. I love her touch around the basket.”

Charles, a 6-foot-1 forward, was a three-time All-Big 10 selection and Miller said that the Sun consistently had Charles among their top 10 players in the draft. She averaged 14.3 points and 7.3 rebounds a game for the Terps, who finished the season with their fifth Big 10 title in six years.

Miller speculates that Charles slipped in the draft didn’t shoot three-point shots much with the Terps.

It turns out that was by design. Charles played plenty of power forward for the Terps. “(Maryland coach Brenda Freese) wasn’t looking for me to take those type of shots,” Charles said. “I was told not to take those shots. It’s not that I don’t have a three-point shot. It is something I will add to my game because I will be playing more guard (in the WNBA).”

In the time of a pandemic, it can be difficult to find a place to practice and fine tune your game. Charles and her brother have been working out on an outdoor close to their Glendale, Maryland home. Charles should consider herself fortunate. Landrum has no nearby court to practice in Waco, Texas, on because the rims have been removed to encourage residents to stay home and shelter.

“I have been trying to improve my game as much as I can,” Charles said. “I have been running around the house to get in my conditioning, (I am) doing cardio videos and am working on an outdoor court up the street. I want to make sure I am prepared to do as much as possibly can.”

Charles will also have the advantage of two former Maryland players on the Sun roster. Charles was a freshman when Sun center Brionna Jones was a senior. And Alyssa Thomas frequently comes to Maryland to workout with the Terps.

“It will help me in the transition,” Charles said. “I’m a little nervous. I’ve always been close to home.” Charles’ parents live just 15 minutes away from the Maryland campus in College Park.

She is looking forward to playing with Alyssa Thomas, Jonquel Jones and playing in the WNBA for Connecticut.

“I will go in and do whatever the team needs me to do,” Charles said. “I‘m a very competitive person and being around such great players will help me learn and grow as a player. I love to challenge myself. Those players are where I want to be.”

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 30 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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