Miller's next goal: preparing the Sun to become title contenders
Mohegan — The phrases used to describe the Connecticut Sun during ESPN's WNBA Draft broadcast Thursday night were glowing and, at the same time, jarring.
"I'm so excited when I look at their roster and the youth that they have," analyst LaChina Robinson said.
"You know this Connecticut Sun team is loaded and is going to be really good," reporter Holly Rowe asked Lexie Brown, the Sun's first-round pick.
No one was heaping such praise on Connecticut this time last season, another reminder about how quickly things changed for the better.
The Sun began last season having slogged through the worst four-year stretch in franchise history (2013-16).
Connecticut begins this season after finishing with the league's fourth-best record (21-13), and has a deep roster filled with promising young players with potential to grow.
Potential, of course, means that the team still has much to prove.
"Our depth is drastically different than it was a few years ago," Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller said. "I'm excited about the depth, but. ... championships are won with the best eight (player rotation). We're still trying to put together the pieces to have the right eight to compete for a championship."
Every WNBA champion has had at least one transcendent player. A Diana (Taurasi). A Maya (Moore). A Sheryl (Swoopes). Connecticut doesn't have that player yet. Third-year center Jonquel Jones, a second-team All-WNBA pick last season, could develop into one of the league's best players.
"If we can stay healthy," Miller said, "if we can keep people engaged and happy with their roles and keep that chemistry and cohesion that's so important to me, then we have a shot to compete with everyone night-in and night-out."
Depth will be more important than usual because the WNBA has a compacted schedule to accommodate the FIBA World Cup from Sept. 22-30 in Spain. The United States is the defending champion.
The WNBA regular season runs from May 18-Aug. 19.
"Everyone in the league will have to spread out minutes," Miller said. "There's going to be stretches where you're playing nearly every other night for two weeks straight."
Connecticut has 17 active players on its roster and must pare that down to 12 before the season begins.
It's reasonable to assume that 10 of those spots are taken by posts Jonquel Jones, Chiney Ogwumike, Alyssa Thomas and Morgan Tuck, wing Shekinna Stricklen, and guards Rachel Banham, Alex Bentley, Jasmine Thomas, Courtney Williams and Brown.
The other five players are posts Cayla George and Brionna Jones, wing Mikayla Cowling (drafted at No. 33 on Thursday), and guards Jessica January, Betnijah Laney and Leticia Romero.
"I think the big decision (going into) camp is do we go six and six, six posts and six guards," Miller said, "or do we have the right amount of guards that we like now, and could we go seven (guards) and five (posts)?
"We're going to have to waive really good players."
Teams can only have 15 players in training camp, which opens April 29. Bentley, Jones and Romero will all arrive late due to overseas commitments. Jasmine Thomas could be late as her Turkish team is making a late playoff push.
Connecticut also added depth for the future earlier Thursday when it acquired wing Bria Holmes from the Atlanta Dream for two second-round picks. The New Haven native averaged 7.6 points and 2.7 rebounds over two seasons with Atlanta. She also averaged 15.5 points during the Dream's two 2016 playoff games.
Holmes won't play this season due to pregnancy. Her strength is driving to the basket, a skill that Miller believed the team didn't have enough of last year.
"It's a huge pickup for us that may go understated," Miller said about Holmes. "There's not a lot of people originally from the state of Connecticut in the WNBA. There's not a lot of people that are listing their top location of the 12 (WNBA) cities picking Uncasville.
"It's big for us to have a kid that just really wants to be in Connecticut."
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The Connecticut Sun scored the game's first 13 points and went on to rout the Dallas Wings on Thursday night, 91-68, for their first win of the WNBA season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
Briann January practiced for the first time with the Connecticut Sun on Wednesday after enduring COVID-19. She is listed as doubtful for Thursday's game against the Dallas Wings.