Connecticut Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller is anxiously awaiting news about the WNBA’s upcoming 2020 season. He doesn’t have much more information than we do.
Miller and Amber Cox, the Sun’s vice president of Sports at Mohegan Sun, met with the media on Tuesday to discuss the 2020 WNBA season as the nation struggles to cope with the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The league announced on Monday that each team will play a 22-game season with action beginning in late July – 12 games shy of a normal 34-game campaign. All 12 WNBA teams will be in the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., which will serve as a single site for training camp, games and housing.
Training camps begin in early July. The top eight teams will make the playoffs, which will be the same format as in previous seasons – single-elimination games for the first and second rounds and best-of-five series for the semifinals and championship rounds.
But, there won’t be a home court advantage for any team and there will be no fans in the building.
Still, Miller knows it will be good, competitive basketball. “Will it get competitive once the ball is tipped? Absolutely,” he said. “You see it in practice. You see it all the time with these guys. These guys are where they at (professional players in the WNBA) because they’re incredibly competitive. With no fans, the atmosphere will be different but they will be competitive with each other.”
No schedule has been released yet nor have all of the players committed to playing. The players have until June 25 to commit to the season, according to ESPN.com.
“We’re giving out players an opportunity to make that decision,” Miller said when asked which Sun players have committed to the 2020 season. “These are unprecedented times and a lot goes into each person’s individual decision. We anticipate most of our team will opt in.”
Miller is anxious and excited about the opportunity that sits before this year’s team. Two starters (Courtney Williams, Shekinna Stricklen) are gone from last year’s team that went to the WNBA finals for the first time since 2005 before losing to the Washington Mystics in a winner-take-all game five.
But the Sun return second team All-WNBA forward Jonquel Jones, who had a breakout season last summer, All-Star forward Alyssa Thomas and veteran guard Jasmine Thomas, who will be playing in her tenth year in the league and her sixth with Connecticut.
In February, the Sun gave up three first round draft picks to acquire three-time WNBA All-Star and two-time champion DeWanna Bonner of Phoenix. Connecticut also picked up All-Star guard Briann January from Phoenix and three-point shooting specialist Kaleena Mosqueda Lewis, the former UConn All-American, from Seattle in separate deals.
“I’m excited with our core group that is back and we’re excited about the addition of our championship pieces (Bonner, January, Mosqueda-Lewis),” Miller said. “All three have won championships at the WNBA level. They’re all veterans and they all bring a championship pedigree to our locker room.
“You don’t truly know how it will work until you get on that practice floor. This training camp in Florida will be very important. Like so many teams in the league, we have new pieces to blend in with our core group. I can’t wait to (be with) them in person because I feel there is a great energy amongst them.”
“The top priority continues to be the health and safety of players and staff, and the league is working with medical specialists, public health experts, and government officials on a comprehensive set of guidelines to ensure that appropriate medical protocols and protections are in place,“ WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement. “Due to the fluid situation resulting from the pandemic, the league and players will continue to review the appropriate health and safety protocols and make necessary changes to the plan prior to arriving on site for the start of training camp and throughout the season.”
Cox said that she anticipates that every Sun game will be available for broadcast on some network. The league has national television contracts with ESPN and CBS Sports Network. Cox said she is optimistic that New England Sports Network (NESN) will pick up any games that are not shown on the national networks but nothing has been finalized.
The team is also working on new initiatives to connect season ticket holders and fans to the team, which will be in Florida for the entire season.
“Some of the best innovations are born out of these times,” Cox said. “We have such a loyal fan base. They all just want to be a part of it, which is wonderful. This has put us in a position to think outside of the box.”
Despite playing a shortened season, the players will get their full salaries and benefits. “Despite the disruption caused by the global pandemic to our 2020 season, the WNBA and its Board of Governors believe strongly in supporting and valuing the elite women athletes who play in the WNBA,” Engelbert said.