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It's business as usual as Sun prep for WNBA Draft

This is the time of the year when Connecticut Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller and his WNBA peers are usually winding down their scouting for April’s draft at the NCAA tournament.

Coaches get to further evaluate prospects and how they play against other top talent. They talk to coaches. And everyone flocks to the Woodstock of women’s basketball — the Final Four — for the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association convention, networking and, of course, watching the games.

The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the tournament, much to Miller’s disappointment, but it hasn’t affected Connecticut’s scouting process too much.

“We did a really good job through the season getting out in person,” Miller said. “When we weren’t watching games in person, typically, at 7 p.m. every night, we’d be watching games on the laptop and TV.

“We were dialed in as a staff all season. We attended both Thanksgiving and Christmas tournaments to get the most bang for our buck to see the most teams in one location.”

The three-round draft will be held on April 17. The Sun don’t have a first-round pick as they traded it to the Phoenix Mercury as part of a deal to acquire DeWanna Bonner.

The WNBA announced Thursday that it will hold a “virtual draft” without players, guests and media. WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert will announce the picks live on ESPN2 (8 p.m.) with top draft picks being interviewed remotely.

Miller held a February staff retreat in Austin, Texas, to start planning for this season. Miller and assistant Brandi Poole attended the ACC and SEC tournaments together. Assistant Chris Koclanes and Poole were both headed out to other conference tournaments when sports shut down.

“Chris is familiar with the Pac-12 having been an assistant in that league (he was formerly USC’s video coordinator),” Miller said. “It gives you a little bit of comfortability turning him loose with the Pac-12. Brandi, after she left Indiana after my resignation, spent a few years at Texas Tech (before joining the Sun in 2018), so she’s really familiar with the players there.”

“We’re in constant conversation throughout the collegiate season.”

Miller has found a positive in the tournament being canceled.

“The only thing that has changed drastically is it’s given us more time to get on the phone with college coaches talking with them about their players and getting their insights,” Miller said. “It’s been easier to connect with college coaches when they might not be available during the NCAA or WNIT tournaments.”

The cancellation of the tournament meant that there wasn’t a combine to watch players from the mid-majors, Miller said.

All of Connecticut’s players have finally arrived home from playing overseas. Russia, one of the last places that hadn’t stopped play due to the pandemic, suspended all play on March 20. Both Bonner and Jonquel Jones had been playing there.

Serbia’s Valeriane Ayayi, who has been signed to a training camp contract, and Jones (Bahamas) are the only two players not in the states.

“I finally took a deep breath on Sunday when Jacki Gemelos (a training camp signee) made it back from Greece,” Miller said. “I haven’t been relaxed through the whole process until everyone got back to where they wanted to be.”

Assuming there’s a season, the Sun could have all 14 players to start training camp, something that never happens for any WNBA team because of players overseas commitments. That’s a great development for coaches and building team chemistry sooner than later, but Miller noted there’s a downside.

“The amount of free agents that are needed (to have a full roster at training camp), the amount of undrafted rookies that are needed, is really the unintended consequence,” Miller said. “You don’t need those players. Those players that are on the cusp of making the league that haven’t, for whatever reason, stuck in the league are who is going to be hurt the most. They won’t have a chance to make an impression on you or other teams.”

Training camps are scheduled to start on April 16. The regular season is scheduled to start on May 15 and feature a month-long Olympic break which is no longer necessary. The league said in a release Thursday that it has been “conducting ongoing scenario planning around the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the upcoming season.”

n.griffen@theday.com

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