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Opening loss exposed Sun weaknesses

Rosemont, Ill. — There’s generally an optimistic anticipation around any franchise that makes as many offseason changes as the Connecticut Sun did this winter and spring.

The Sun’s overhaul had been touted during the preseason. A new, enthusiastic head coach (Curt Miller). New players (rookies Rachel Banham, Jonquel Jones and Morgan Tuck). A new hope.

Saturday night, then, was quite the reality check for Connecticut because the Chicago Sky dumped a tower’s worth of cold water on its ambitions. The more experienced Sky jumped Connecticut in the first half of a 93-70 rout, and they did it with reigning WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne out sick.

“Our three wins in the preseason were a little bit of fool’s gold because some of the things that showed up tonight were what we see as coaches,” Miller said. “And it’s not as easy to point those out when you’re having success. And so when we won three preseason games, I don’t know if they always see the same things that coaches see. Some of the things that reared their head tonight have been things that we have been concerned about as a coaching staff. Turnovers. Rebounding. Watching pressure mess up our timing.”

Connecticut had 22 days prior to its season-opener. Some players arrived late due to overseas commitments (Alex Bentley). It wasn’t enough time to learn a new system or figure out the how to integrate new players.

“It’s just the first game, but you want to have a better showing for your opening game,” Sun guard Jasmine Thomas said. “We have to learn each other more. We have to play together more. We have to play smarter. We just have to figure out what works well for this group of women.”

Chiney Ogwumike said, “We’re young in our offense and didn’t have enough counters, so we got exposed.”

Connecticut’s rebounding, perimeter shooting and defense had been bad. Those were issues it tried to address in the offseason.

The Sun are also a young team by the standards of professional sports. Their average age is 25.4. Nine of its 12 players are 25 years old or younger.

History has proven that the surest path to winning a WNBA championship is draft position, and a team generally only gets that by being bad.

The defending champion Minnesota Lynx are a good example of how top picks can transform a franchise. They were bad from 2005-2010 and got the No. 1 pick three times. Two of those picks were used on Seimone Augustus (2006) and Maya Moore (2001). They dealt their 2010 No. 1 pick to Connecticut in a trade that netted them Lindsay Whalen. That trio played for the 2012 Olympic gold-medal winning U.S. basketball team.

The Lynx also had the good fortune of getting Rebekkah Brunson with the No. 2 pick during a 2009 dispersal draft after the Sacramento Monarchs folded.

That foursome was the cornerstone of Minnesota’s 2001 and 2013 WNBA championships. Their success led to Sylvia Fowles demanding Chicago trade her to the Lynx last season. The Sky eventually acquiesced, and Minnesota won its third WNBA title last year with Fowles earning Finals MVP honors.

Three straight last-place finishes in the East earned the Sun prime draft picks. They got Ogwumike with the No. 1 pick in 2014. They took Elizabeth Williams fourth overall in 2015. They traded her to the Atlanta Dream over the offseason for their fourth overall pick in April’s draft.

Connecticut took Banham with the Dream’s pick, and used its own No. 3 pick to take Tuck. It also traded to get Jones, taken sixth by the Los Angeles Sparks.

There’s no guarantee that the Sun’s collection of young talent will become all-stars. Nine of the players taken third overall in the first 19 drafts played in at least one All-Star Game (47.3-percent). Ditto No. 4 picks.

Miller noted during a February media luncheon that Connecticut was one of the few teams without a player participating in USA Basketball’s training camp.

"What does that mean?,” Miller said. “We have to overachieve. We have a young, great group, but we have to overachieve.”

The Sun and their fans have to wait and see how their remodeled team performs. Patience is necessary, which is hard after successive losing seasons.

“I trust the process,” Ogwumike said. “I trust my teammates. I trust that we’ll eventually get what we need to get done done. So I just have to stay optimistic, but I’m tired of waiting.”

n.griffen@theday.com

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