Sun looking to get it right at Thursday's WNBA Draft

UConn guard Kia Nurse is very much on the radar of the Connecticut Sun, who have the No. 9 overall pick in Thursday night's WNBA Draft. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
UConn guard Kia Nurse is very much on the radar of the Connecticut Sun, who have the No. 9 overall pick in Thursday night's WNBA Draft. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Mohegan — It's one of the biggest weeks of the WNBA season, and Curt Miller finds himself under the weather.

Miller, the Connecticut Sun's head coach and general manager, is dealing with an obnoxious cold, likely the byproduct of his immune system saying "no mas." He was at the Final Four last weekend, bolted home to Indiana to move to a new place, and then raced to Connecticut on Sunday for the lunacy that is Thursday’s WNBA Draft and all the stress therein.

“This draft is important to us because we believe we can add a rotational player that could be a good role player for us for years to come, and we want to get it right,” Miller said Tuesday. “And it’s hard to know how it’s (the draft) going to play out to get it right.”

Connecticut picks ninth (first round), 15th (second round) and 33rd (third round) in Thursday's draft, which starts at 7 p.m. ESPN2 will air the first round before moving to ESPNU for the second and third rounds.

UConn’s Kia Nurse, Azura Stevens and Gabby Williams are among the 10 players invited to attend the draft at Nike New York Headquarters. Nurse may be available when the Sun make their first pick, but more on that in a moment.

The WNBA world will drop from shock if the Las Vegas Aces don't draft South Carolina center A'ja Wilson at No. 1. After that, who knows. Miller received four phone calls during a one-hour span Tuesday about trading the ninth pick (he wasn't getting these calls when Connecticut drafted eighth last year). He received a fifth call while being interviewed.

“I think there’s a question on how many (draftees) could potentially play out into all-stars," Miller said, "but there’s a lot of players in this draft that, on paper, you believe have a chance to have significantly successful role-playing careers."

Connecticut has few openings on its young roster. It’s safe to assume nine of its 12 spots are taken by posts Jonquel Jones, Chiney Ogwumike (who missed all of last season to injury), Alyssa Thomas and Morgan Tuck, wing Shekinna Stricklen, and guards Rachel Banham, Alex Bentley, Jasmine Thomas and Courtney Williams.

“We’re a little deeper in the post going into camp with the return of Chiney, the versatility that Alyssa Thomas showed playing the four (power forward last season) and the versatility that Morgan Tuck has,” Miller said. “With that said, we already have a lot of quality guards coming into camp.”

The Sun could use backcourt depth, and it's not a stretch to suggest that guards Ariel Atkins of Texas, Lexie Brown of Duke and Nurse will be available at No. 9.

Nearly everyone thinks the Sun will take Nurse because ties to UConn. There’s a much deeper connection between the two, though, because Miller and the Nurses have a long history together.

Miller coached Roxi Nurse McNabb, Kia Nurse’s aunt, as an assistant at Syracuse.

“To this day, I still get together with Roxi and Donovan (the former NFL quarterback)," Miller said.

Tamika, Kia’s older sister, transferred to Bowling Green for her senior season. Miller was the head coach.

“I’m incredibly close with her parents,” Miller said. “I recruited my butt off (to get) Kia while I was (the head coach) at Indiana.

“I don’t know anyone better in this draft than I know Kia Nurse. ... The intangibles are high, but there’s no one scrutinized (by me) more in this draft because I know her so well.”

Nurse, 6-foot, averaged 13.5 points and was named the 2018 Division I Defensive Player of the Year by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association. She was also ninth in the Division I in 3-point percentage (44.3 percent), a skill that Miller covets.

“(She’s) the ultimate warrior kind of kid who is going to lay it on the line for you,” Miller said. “The questions about Kia are she has some holes in offensive game.”

Atkins, 5-11, averaged 14.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists this season.

Brown, 5-9, averaged a team-high 19.4 points, 4.4 assists and was fifth in the nation in steals (3.7).

n.griffen@theday.com

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