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Sun still looking for that missing piece

Mohegan — The Connecticut Sun, as presently constructed, are not a WNBA championship-caliber team.

That’s not an opinion from a league outsider or a fan. That’s the opinion of Curt Miller, Connecticut’s head coach.

“I’m the first to know that we overachieved last year, and we don’t have all the pieces that we need to make a run at (defending champion) Minnesota and (runner-up) L.A.,” Miller said Monday. “And we’re trying to add a few more of those pieces.”

It’s on Miller, who is also the Sun general manager, to find the pieces necessary to compete for that elusive world championship. Teams can start talking to free agents on Jan. 15 and sign them on Feb. 1. Connecticut also has four picks in April's draft (9th, 15th, 21st, and 33rd).

Now for the glass-half full —Connecticut is in a far, far better place than it was at this time last season. It finished with the league’s fourth-best record (21-13) and ended the worst four-year stretch in franchise history.

Second-year post Jonquel Jones was named the league’s Most Improved Player and was a second-team All-WNBA pick. She, point guard Jasmine Thomas and forward Alyssa Thomas all played in their first All-Star Game. Miller was chosen by the media as the Coach of the Year and was the inaugural Executive of the Year winner, as picked by an executive from each team.

The Sun have one of the league’s youngest teams and will be bolstered by the return of post Chiney Ogwumike, the 2014 Rookie of the Year. She missed last season after needing Achilles tendon surgery in November, 2016, the second year she lost to injury.

“Chiney’s rehab is going fantastic,” Miller said. “She’s moving really well. She’s really at a good place with her core strength and continuing to improve her overall strength. Tim Yuhas, our strength coach, is working with her this offseason on functional movement and really broke her down to build her back up.”

One of Connecticut's top priorities is resigning Alyssa Thomas. She's a restricted free agent, meaning that the Sun could match any offer she receives.

“I feel optimistic that there’s going to be great news in February,” Miller said. “She’s a centerpiece for how we want to play. We’re excited about Alyssa’s potential to stay with us. ... We would match (any offer). If someone gave her the moon, we'd be like, 'yeah, and (here's) Saturn (too)."

Reserve posts Danielle Adams, Lynetta Kizer, Kayla Pedersen and starting guard Shekinna Stricklen are Connecticut's unrestricted free agents. Pedersen told the Sun after last season that she may, “chase some dreams and aspirations outside of hoops,” Miller said.

The Sun need a player who can get to the free throw line and would benefit from another 3-point shooter. They've have had little success attracting top free agents as Connecticut's is the league’s only franchise not located in a city.

“Uncasville is not going to be for everybody in this league, but we have something very special started and I can't wait to continue to share that,” Miller said. “You hear some rumors and gossip around the league that there’s a respect for what we did last year. There’s respect for our players, and I think that’s the biggest thing. … Players want to play with good players. Players want to play with people they enjoy as people. I think we have both. I think we have good, talented players, but I think they’re even better people. I hope it has more people at least interested in listening. That’s the biggest hope.”

Notes

Sun forward Morgan Tuck is thriving in the Women's Chinese Basketball Association and leads the league in scoring (29.6 ppg). “She’s putting up monster numbers,” Miller said. “I know that this scoring offensive freedom, being a go-to player on that team, is only going to give her confidence when she gets back.” Jones is second in the league in scoring (29.1) and Kizer eighth (20.9). Olympians Tina Charles and Breanna Stewart are among the top players in that league.

Miller said that Florida State guard Leticia Romero is “committed to come to training camp.” She was taken 16th overall in last year's draft but didn't play due to her Spanish national team commitments. ... Stricklen cut her season short in Turkey because of swelling in her Achilles and returned to the states to rehab. “She’s doing great,” Miller said. “There’s no issue.” … Guard Alex Bentley has been out of action since December due to an ankle injury. Bentley was slowed last season after injuring her right ankle before training camp. Miller said she’s just about ready to return to play for Russia’s Nadezhda Orenburg ... Miller is looking for a new assistant coach after Nicki Collen left to be the new head coach of the Atlanta Dream. “Hiring someone who is a relationship-builder is really, really important to me because I can be demanding,” Miller said. “I need a staff, coaches, who have great relationships with the players.” Atlanta also hired former Sun general manager Chris Sienko to be its GM during the offseason.

n.griffen@theday.com

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