Curt Miller, the head coach and general manager of the Connecticut Sun, wasn’t kidding on Sunday when he talked about the need for his short-handed team to take advantage of these opportunities to practice in preparation for the upcoming 2020 WNBA season.
The league released the schedule on Monday and the Sun will have few off days as they play 22 games in a little over seven weeks. In the first week of the season that begins on Sunday, July 26, Connecticut will play four games in seven days.
“While we won’t have the physical travel from market to market this year, if you are playing every other day, you don’t have a lot of opportunities to practice at a duration or intensity because you’re always trying to get ready for games,” Miller said.
Each week of the season, Connecticut will play at least three games. Twice, they will play four games in a week.
It’s not a situation unique just to the Sun. All 12 WNBA teams will live, train and play the entire season at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida due to the COVID-19 pandemic that is sweeping across the country and the planet.
No fans will watch the games and access to the league will be limited to help keep the players and team personnel safe.
It will be a challenge to stay healthy against a highly infectious respiratory disease (COVID-19) and have enough strength and endurance to get through a grinding schedule against some of the best women’s basketball players in the world.
Connecticut is already shorthanded with two players recovering at home after testing positive for COVID-19. Guard Natisha Hiedeman is back in Connecticut while Briann January is home in Phoenix. January tested positive after six negative tests.
Both are in self-isolation and are complying with all health and safety protocols put in place by the WNBA and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They will be welcomed at IMG Academy and the Sun once they have two negative tests and complete another round of quarantine and testing on campus.
Miller has been pleased with the conditioning of his team in Florida. “I am pleasantly surprised at their conditioning. Their court conditioning is better than I thought,” he said.
Miller is walking a fine here. These are valuable practice sessions that will be hard to find once the season begins. Yet, he doesn’t want to overwork a talented team with a marathon of competitive games in front of them.
“They need to be conditioned enough to play more minutes that you might expect due to these low numbers,” he said.
While everyone is trying to be safe, it isn’t unrealistic to expect to lose a player due to a positive COVID-19 test at some point in the season. On Sunday, the state of Florida reported the most positive cases of COVID-19 in a single day in U.S. history — 15,299. So, the players and staff will need to be disciplined enough to follow the protocols and stay safe over a three-month period.
Again, Connecticut is the same boat as the other 11 WNBA teams.
Miller is inspired, though. The Sun were favorites to return to the WNBA finals when they acquired DeWanna Bonner, January and former UConn sharpshooter Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis in the off-season. But WNBA All-Star Jonquel Jones opted not to play this season due to the threat of the pandemic.
Twelve games were eliminated from a season that was supposed to begin in May.
“This has motivated me,” Miller said. “I look forward to coaching this group and getting them to overachieve and get them in position to be a factor in this WNBA season. I think we have a lot of pieces in place and it just looks different than it did a month ago. We will find a way that best allows us to find success.”
The top eight teams in the league will qualify for the WNBA playoffs that begin in September. The format will remain the same as it was a year ago when the Sun posted their third consecutive 20-win season and earned a spot in the WNBA championship series for the first time since 2005.
The Sun lost to the Washington Mystics in the decisive game five of the best-of-5 series.
Connecticut will open the season on Sunday, July 26 at noon on ESPN against the Minnesota Lynx. The Sun have three games scheduled for ESPN with contests against Los Angeles and Seattle also set to broadcast.
Connecticut has seven games scheduled to be broadcast nationally by the CBS Sports Network. The remainder of the games would be eligible to picked by Connecticut’s local broadcast partner NESN, the New England Sports Network. The team expects to announce a local broadcast schedule in a few days.
The Sun will play every team in the league twice during the regular 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.
Thursday, July 30: Los Angeles, 10 p.m. (ESPN)
Saturday, August 1: Minnesota, 4 p.m.
Tuesday, August 4: Seattle, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)
Thursday, August 6: Dallas, 8 p.m.
Saturday, August 8: Chicago, 5 p.m.
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.