Transformation of Connecticut Sun roster continues
|Minnesota's Rachel Banham is one of new |
additions for the rebuilding Connecticut Sun
There weren't too many surprises when UConn's Morgan Tuck and Minnesota's Rachel Banham were taken by the Sun with picks No. 3 and 4. I thought the Sun might try to package the two second-round selections to move back into the first round and take another shooter. I did not see the blockbuster trade resulting in Jonquel Jones landing with the Sun as Connecticut gave up guard Chelsea Gray, picks No. 15 and 23 and next year's No. 1 pick to acquire the rights to Jones, taken sixth overall by Los Angeles, and the 17th pick which turned into Oregon State's Jamie Weisner.
Gray was the only player to appear in all 34 games last season and once it became apparent that San Antonio was planning to draft Moriah Jefferson, I figured that Gray was going to be a part of the team's future. Surprise, surprise, surprise.
"It is hard to lose Chelsea but we rolled the dice with the risk involved in being able to acquire Jones," first-year Sun coach Curt Miller said. (With Gray) being the only player on the roster to play every game last year, having a great overseas (season) so we have to make up for that. She has a great future ahead of her, she is from California so when we talked to her later she sounded really excited about going to LA. A lot is put on Rachel (Banham) right away, it gives us a spot for a 2 guard with Jen O'Neil in camp now, a feisty combo guard, it gives an opportunity for Weisner to stick on our roster. We thought that a wing player in the middle of the second round could stick on one of these rosters. We are excited to get them in camp and get working."
There were thoughts that if there were any red flags about Tuck's knees that Jones could be selected by the Sun with either the No. 3 or 4 picks. Tuck, Banham, Jones and South Florida's Courtney Williams were the four names most often linked to Connecticut in the days and weeks leading into the draft and the Sun ended up with three of them.
"As great as Tuck is, she is a strong, physical defender where Jones gives us a rim protector, a proven collegiate rebounder and we thought a missing piece for us," Miller said. "We have a lot of posts, the most difficult thing coming out of this draft is how we are going to manage minutes in the post. We have a lot of post players who have the ability to play at this level so managing minutes, finding things but the one thing that we did in LA last year was play (Candace) Parker, (Nneka) Ogwumike and (Jantel) Lavender together. We believe Jones or Tuck can play on the floor with other players, we can switch a lot of screens if we needed play with a big lineup."
Surrendering a future No. 1 pick when you are a perennial championship contender isn't that big of a deal but when it is done by a team which hasn't been in the playoffs for the last three years, it is certainly a gamble.
"It is a big gamble but we looked at this draft as one of the deeper drafts in recent years," Miller said. "We looked ahead, we studied the 2017 draft and feel it is not as deep as this draft. If you move forward and put Jonquel Jones in the '17 draft, she may be the No. 1 draft pick in all of 17 so we felt like it was a gamble so it was a risk worth taking."
The 2018 draft, likely headlined by South Carolina's A'ja Wilson, has a chance to be something special but as Miller said, there may not be as much high-end talent in next year's draft although players like Washington's Kelsey Plum, Stanford's Erica McCall, Notre Dame's Lindsay Allen, Northwestern's Nia Coffey and Maryland's Shatori Walker-Kimbrough are among those who could emerge into top prospects.
The Sun weren't far removed from making the playoffs last season even without injured star Chiney Ogwumike so if a return to the playoffs takes place this year, it could lessen the blow of not having a No. 1 pick.
Ogwumike, who is healthy and raring to go, did not hide her excitement when she looked at the new-look Sun roster.
"We are going to be young," Ogwumike said, "Shoot, I don't know what's going to happen, I just know that we are going to have some fun, it is going to be running and gunning.
"After last year Kelsey Bone had to do a lot, my rookie year I felt like I had to do a lot so we can just kind of go in there, do our thing and Jonquel go grab some rebounds, go block some shots, OK Morgan go get the fans all hyped so I think it is going to be good. It is going to be a healthy roster, we can go nine deep, rely on each other and it is going to be tough to guard.
"We were young when I came in as a rookie, we tried hard and fell short. Last year we gained a little experience. Everybody says how young we are. Well, everybody is young when you get a new coach because you all start at square one so having . Alyssa (Thomas) and I always joke that we play our best basketball if we didn't know what we were doing, we were just out there playing. We mask it a lot, we had each other's backs and went out and just played. I think with Curt, that is his style. He gives us assignments but we just go and play basketball."
Ogwumike squared off against Tuck during her college days so she understands what the UConn All-American can bring to the court.
"I do love that she is now my teammate," Ogwumike said. "She is very smart, she is very methodical. People don't really talk about what she is amazing at and that is because she is really good at a lot of things. If she a passing post, I don't mind that . She will have a nice post partner, if she can hit a shot, stretch the floor. I have no complaints, we are going to compete in practice but we are going to have so many fun, exciting moments.
"I think it is awesome (that UConn's Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Tuck were taken with the top three picks),' Ogwumike said. "If you look at the championships, they are bound to be 1, 2 and 3. Who are you taking at 3? You'd better take (Tuck). I am not trying to get tomatoed in my nice pretty dress (at the draft) if we don't take her so I think we made great decisions, getting everybody we wanted so I am proud of what she has accomplished and want to see what her leadership will bring as a rookie showing us how to win. We need to get more wins over here."
Ogwumike was no stranger of winning when she was at Stanford and is eager to get a taste of that feeling again.
"We had drop off, we lost Tina (Charles) and then I got injured. We had games where we didn't close (it out) and lost a lot of those so I think last year it showed that the little things.
"My goal is to walk out in the state of Connecticut and ask me 'are you a UConn girl?' No, it says Connecticut Sun and if we can accomplish that where people know who we are, it will get us closer. I want to win a championship, our goal is to win a championship but more so our goal is to play basketball and play it well. I feel like our fans deserve that. If you are playing well you are winning and when you are winning you are getting close to a championship."
With a new coach it is really hard to tell how the roster battles will shake out. Ogwumike, Bone, Alex Bentley, Alyssa Thomas, Camille Little, Shekinna Stricklen and Jasmine Thomas were the top seven scorers last season and all are back. Aneika Henry and O'Neil are among the new non-draft additions seemingly with the best chance to make the roster. If you add in the three first-round picks, that brings the roster to 12. O'Neil and Weisner might have to battle it out for a spot and we'll see what happens at point guard because unless Banham is ready to provide quality minutes at that position, Bentley might have to move back to that position after playing mostly as a shooting guard last season. Another name that hasn't been mentioned is former UConn wing Kelly Faris. It certainly looks like she will face an uphill battle to make the team.