After finishing dead last in the WNBA in pace in 2021, the Connecticut Sun are focused on speeding things up this season.
“It’s our word this year,” Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller said of pace Monday following the team’s second day of training camp. “It’s part of our pillar.”
Miller said the slow pace was intentional last season, as the Sun played heavily through WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones and the WNBA’s Most Improved Player Brionna Jones down low. With the offseason acquisition of Courtney Williams, who previously played for the franchise from 2016-19, and Alyssa Thomas back healthy, playing faster will be a big focus. The key for the team this season will be combining those two concepts so that post players are still getting enough touches.
“It’ll be a work in progress,” Miller said. “… There’s going to be a fine line. It’s easy just to say we’re going to play faster, we’re going to play with more tempo. There’s still got to be an intent to play through the best players in the world that are on our team.”
One of Miller’s coaching mantras is “unintended consequences.” He recognizes that another unintended consequence of playing at a faster pace is turnovers. So, over the offseason, he and his staff went through last year’s film and gathered clips where the Sun turned the ball over in transition in an effort to correct those errors, along with limiting empty possessions and forced shots.
Playing an up-tempo style of basketball was also on Miller’s mind when scouting this year’s draft class and determining which players to bring in on training camp contracts. He said he intentionally chose athletes who thrived in transition.
Miller has been “really pleased” with the team’s first two draft picks, Nia Clouden (Michigan State) and Jordan Lewis (Baylor), through the start of camp. Clouden has been particularly impressive in regard to pace.
“Nia Clouden is as advertised. She can really score the basketball,” Miller said.
“She’s played with a pace that she can find success early in camp. That is unusual — the composure, the poise that she has not to get sped up.”
Guard Natisha Hiedeman said she’s been impressed with the newcomers and how competitive camp has been. With many of the team’s veterans still overseas, she has taken it upon herself to be more of a leader with those players. Hiedeman’s season in Russia was cut short due to the war with Ukraine, which also allowed her to work more on her strength and agility, which translates directly into the style of play the Sun are striving for.
“Every day I was in the weight room,” Hiedeman said. “The first two days of training camp, I’m already seeing, like just me being explosive and just up and down the court flying.”
With a faster pace in mind and a core of talented players returning, Hiedeman says the objective for the Sun this year is clear.
“We want to hang that banner up in here,” Hiedeman said. “That’s really what we’ve been trying to do. That’s our end goal. But at the same time we’re not trying to move too far ahead. We’re just trying to take it day by day, practice by practice, game by game — but at the end our goal is to win a championship.”
With many veterans still overseas, Miller also provided an update on the team’s training camp arrivals on Monday. He was particularly pleased to have Jonquel Jones present for the first time in several years, after her season overseas was also cut short.
“I’m not going to take the smile off my face the entire day. I mean, JJ is in camp,” Miller said. “You can feel a pep in her step, just feel like she’s in a good place mentally. And she just changed the whole vibe today in day two — her presence, her leadership, you could feel her voice. … I pinched myself how lucky we are to have her in camp.”
Jasmine Thomas has arrived back in the United States and is expected to return to camp in Connecticut sometime this week. It remains to be seen when she will actually start practicing with the team, though.
“We will work with her and be patient with her,” Miller said.
Beatrice Mompremier’s season in Hungary has ended. She is currently dealing with some passport issues in getting out of the country, but Miller said the Sun are hopeful she’ll be able to leave [Tuesday] on a flight to Miami. He isn’t sure when she’ll arrive in Connecticut.
“That would potentially then force us into a first cut at some point,” Miller said of Jasmine Thomas and Mompremier’s arrivals. “Maybe at the end of the week.”
Brionna Jones and Alyssa Thomas are competing on the same team in the Czech Republic. Their club is up two games in a best of five series and will play the third game Tuesday. If they win to end the series, Miller said both would “tentatively” arrive in Connecticut by April 24 and go through medical testing on the 25th before being cleared to practice.
“We could have four additional people back into camp maybe as early as the 25th,” Miller said. “We’re creeping in the right direction, knock on wood.”
As for the timing for the arrivals DeWanna Bonner and Yvonne Anderson, who is on a training camp contract, Miller said he has “no idea.”
Lila Bromberg can be reached at email@example.com and @LilaBBromberg on Twitter.