Sun's Bonner happy to be home. ... and have a new WNBA home
Nearly 1,600 miles separated DeWanna Bonner and Cali and Demi, her two-year-old twin daughters, for most of the previous five months.
Bonner, like so many other WNBA players, goes overseas during the offseason where the pay is better to maximize her earning power in a career that doesn’t last long. She left home in Birmingham, Ala., shortly after last season to play for Dynamo Kursk in Moscow, Russia.
“Being away from them is the hardest thing ever in life,” Bonner said via email. “I’d call about 5-to-10 times a day on FaceTime because I missed them so much. I just had to remind myself that I’m working to provide for them.”
Bonner is happy to have less drama in her life right now. She's back home with her girls earlier than usual because the COVID-19 pandemic shut down Russia's league as well as every other league in the world.
Bonner is also pleased to have a new WNBA home — Mohegan Sun Arena. She was one of the most sought after free agents this offseason, and the Connecticut Sun acquired her via a sign-and-trade from the Phoenix Mercury in February.
"Being home early has been amazing," Bonner said. "This is the first time I’m able to spend quality time with my kids. They are extremely excited to have me here for such a long time. Their school is closed, so it can get pretty exhausting trying to keep them entertained throughout (the day), but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
"Let’s just say when they go down for bed, I’m not too far behind them!"
Bonner is the kind of versatile, hybrid player that Sun coach and general manager Curt Miller loves. She's 6-foot-4 and can play off-guard and both forward positions. The 10-year veteran was fifth in scoring last season (17.2 ppg) and tied for ninth in rebounding (7.6), making her one of five players to finish in the top 10 in both categories (Liz Cambage, 2019 WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Howard and Nneka Ogwumike were the others).
Bonner won two WNBA titles with Phoenix (2009 and 2014), is a three-time WNBA All-Star (2015, 2018 and 2019), a three-time WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year winner (2009-11), and a first-team pick on the 2015 All-WNBA team.
The Mercury's 2019 season ended with a first-round loss to the Chicago Sky on Sept. 11. Bonner flew to Russia 20 days later (Oct. 1), leaving her girls behind.
"Russia is way too cold for them," Bonner quipped.
"Life in Moscow kind of reminds you of New York. It's cold, has a million people, bad traffic, amazing shopping, numerous restaurants, and really nice hotels. It was a cool place to go when we had a couple of days off to give you a little taste of home."
Bonner was Dynamo Kursk's leading scorer and fourth overall in Russia's Professional Basketball League (14.4 ppg). She was also seventh in rebounding (6.6) and helped her team finish second (17-3) behind unbeaten powerhouse UMMC Ekaterinburg.
UMMC has won two straight FIBA EuroLeague women's titles, Europe's most prestigious tournament, and four of the last seven. Two of its starters were 2019 All-WNBA first-team picks (Brittney Griner, Bonner's former Phoenix teammate, and Courtney Vandersloot). Another was Emma Meesseman, who helped the Washington Mystics beat Connecticut in last season's WNBA Finals and earned MVP honors, too.
Bonner and some of the other American players on Dynamo Kursk kept up on the news about the COVID-19 outbreak. She said Russia was pretty safe until another team left the country for a game and got put in isolation upon its return.
"From that point on, we knew the season was over," Bonner said. "It kind of freaked me out playing that last game because the virus was pretty serious and we all wanted to be with our families at that point."
Dynamo Kursk played its final game on March 14. The Russian Federation Board canceled the season on March 27.
"The anticipation was definitely killing us all, but we pretty much knew that they were going to cancel it," Bonner said about the wait. "We were all pretty much just ready to go at that point. I stayed an extra day or two to pack up. I think Amber (Cox, the Sun's vice president) was more ready for me to get back more than anything."
Connecticut's front office began hearing from their players who were overseas this offseason that Bonner was open to going to a new team. A deal came together quickly with Phoenix signing her, then trading her, so that Bonner could earn an extra $30,000.
The maximum salary in the new collective bargaining agreement agreed to this offseason is $215,000. The maximum she would’ve earned signing with the Sun is $185,000.
"The process was stressful," Bonner said about free agency. "I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life, especially because I’ve spent my entire career in Phoenix, but I met with Curt and Amber here in Birmingham and we had a great time. We talked about basketball, Connecticut, and the team, and it was great."
Bonner's relationship with Cox helped the Sun's courtship process. Cox spent nine seasons with the Mercury and was their president and chief marketing officer in her final two seasons.
"I’ve known Amber a long time, so she definitely made me feel comfortable throughout the whole process," Bonner said. "We’ve always kept in great communication even after she left Phoenix, so it was pretty easy talking to her. I like the goals and energy (Cox and Miller) have for the team and organization and wanted to be a part of it all.
"I’m pretty excited to get to know everyone and begin the journey of trying to help bring Connecticut its first championship."