The Sun are for real, folks

Mohegan — The game had been over for a few minutes Saturday night by the time reporters got to Elena Delle Donne, among the best women's basketball players in the world. Delle Donne plays for the Washington Mystics, who had just cashed out a 22-point lead, succumbing to the Sun.

"This is an awesome game to play in. Connecticut fans are unreal, they make it so much fun every night to come play here," Delle Donne said. "There definitely was a little different edge tonight. It is fun to play in these moments, I look forward to it."

Delle Donne, who scored 28 points, just scored more with that one. Because she got it. This was a moment. Not merely a game. For our corner of the world, anyway.

It was a moment because the Sun's new regime finally stood up to the old one. Face it: Old friend Mike Thibault, who built the Sun into a contender and model franchise, has beaten his old team with alarming regularity since his departure in 2012. The additions of Delle Donne and Kristi Toliver have turned the heretofore solid Mystics into potentially elite.

And yet today, they are looking up at the Sun in the standings.

That's because Connecticut rallied from a 22-point deficit Saturday night, giving new coach Curt Miller perhaps his biggest victory at his new job. True enough: They won somewhat stunningly in Minnesota earlier this season. But this one? This was the biggest rally in franchise history. More than that, it came against Washington and the old Sun coach, suggesting that — finally — the Sun are contenders again.

Long way to go, sure. The Mystics will be heard from, perhaps longer and louder than the Sun will, by the end. (They have Elena, remember). But for one night, the symbolism of the win was nearly as important as the win itself.

The Sun are for real, folks.

No more wishing and hoping. No more contrivances. This team is legit.

And it doesn't even have Morgan Tuck. Or Chiney Ogwumike. Note to all of you season ticket holders, the diehards who have been here all 15 years: Get giddy. They're going to be good for a while.

Miller is big on the law of unintended consequences. This has been a season of them. Injuries, for example, have forced Alyssa Thomas into a different role, the power forward. She's been sensational. Already a career-high in assists. Bulldog in the lane. She was ill Saturday and all but staggered off the floor by game's end. Still, she managed to smile and pose for a picture with a few fans.

Quite the moment.

And not unnoticed by several e-mailers here Sunday, who saw what Thomas did and came away with a new favorite player.

She's not the only Thomas who is all-star worthy. Jasmine Thomas has turned herself into a bona fide offensive threat. Thomas has emerged as a 48 percent 3-point shooter this season. Her career average: 32 percent. Maybe that's why she's so yawningly open on the perimeter. Now she's making them. Opposing coaches may have to rethink who gets left open.

"I just think we truly believe in ourselves now. We talked about it a lot. We had individuals that really believed in this team, and I think now it has trickled through everybody," Jasmine Thomas said. "We really believe that if we play together as a team we can beat anybody."

Jasmine Thomas is a beacon for every high school basketball player, male and female. Yes, you can become a better shooter if you really want to.

"I'd tell kids to No. 1, watch film," Thomas said. "Watch film and see where your shots come from. Know where your shots will come from and then it's all about reps."

Then there's Courtney Williams, whom Miller stole from Phoenix for Kelsey Bone. Williams, ever mercurial, has become a fan favorite. So has Jonquel Jones, the 6 o'clock shaped center, the reigning Player of the Month. And they're young. Young, young, young. They've been a joy to watch, frequently approaching 90 points, winning 10 of their last 14.

"I can't be more proud," Miller said after Saturday's game. "(Saturday) marked the halfway point and with all our injuries and adversity, top to bottom, pretty remarkable that at the midway point we sit at first place in the East."

Next home game: Sunday against San Antonio. They're worth watching again, folks. And will be for some time.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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