Jasmine has evolved into a star
Jasmine Thomas doesn't consider herself a 3-point shooter.
Prior to this season, there was no reason for Thomas to ever think it. The Connecticut Sun point guard had a career 29.7-percent average through six seasons and never made more than 35 in a season.
Thomas is playing in her first WNBA All-Star Game on Saturday. It's a really big deal for the seven-year veteran as she was chosen via a vote of fans, media and her peers to start for the Eastern Conference.
Thomas was one of five players chosen to take part in the Three-Point Contest at halftime. She earned her spot by being among the league leaders this year. She's sixth overall in shots made (39) and the third-most accurate (45.3-percent).
That improvement, more than anything else, illustrates how Thomas had made herself into a star this season. She's gone from being traded three times and playing for multiple coaches, to averaging career highs in numerous categories as well as being the leader of the young and rising Sun.
It’s a heck of a story.
“It means a lot,” Thomas said of her selection to the All-Star Game. “My journey wasn’t straight and narrow. I’ve been around the league a little bit. I’ve kind of just had to find my way as a player, grow into myself, get my confidence to where it is now, knowing that I deserve to be in this league. That I am a great player in this league.
“It’s nice to be recognized for that, but it’s also nice to play on the same court with so many players that I look up to and that I admire as well.”
The All-Star Game is at KeyArena in Seattle (3:30 p.m., Ch. 8) and is a first for Connecticut’s entire contingent. Second-year center Jonquel Jones was selected to start for the East. Fourth-year forward Alyssa Thomas was chosen by coaches as one of the East’s six reserves, and she was named a replacement starter on Friday for Elena Delle Donne of the Washington Mystics, who is out with an ankle injury.
Second-year Sun head coach Curt Miller and assistants Nicki Collen and Steve Smith will also coach the East. They were named replacements earlier in the week for New York Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer and his staff. Laimbeer is taking time to spend with his wife, Chris, who contracted a virus while vacationing in Africa and was hospitalized for a few days.
Jasmine Thomas, 27, was a 2011 Associated Press All-America Second Team selection at Duke. Seattle drafted her at the end of the first round of that same year (12th overall). It traded her to Washington 18 days later.
Thomas played two seasons with the Mystics before being dealt to the Atlanta Dream during the 2013 offseason. She started almost every game that season, including the WNBA Finals.
Two years later, Thomas was traded again. She was sent to Connecticut the night of the 2015 draft (April 16) for the draft rights to Brittany Hrynko, who the Sun had just drafted 19th overall.
Thomas rarely had time to get comfortable anywhere. She played for four different coaches before Miller took over the Sun last year, and former Washington coach Trudi Lacey was the one who coached her for more than a year.
“I think Jas is just an unbelievable story,” Miller said. “That’s she’s been in the league for a significant amount of time and (rarely) played under the same coaching system or staff for two years in a row.”
Miller got to know Thomas’ talents last season. She’s had been of the league’s fastest guards, was an All-Defensive second team pick last year, and was both positive and energetic.
One of Miller’s first priorities this season was resigning Thomas, followed by letting her know that Connecticut was her team.
“There’s a comfort level knowing that this is her team,” Miller said. “When we traded Camille (Little over the offseason), this was her opportunity (to lead). ‘Here are the keys. This is your team. You’re going to be the leader.
“I spent the whole offseason (when she played in Israel) talking with her, everything from personnel decisions to talent to about how we wanted to play. I would have different conversations through WhatsApp with her all the time. … While we were working really hard to get that core group of young veterans under contract, she was the one I was in consistent communication with.”
Thomas, for her part, worked on making herself more well-rounded playing in Israel.
“There are just things that you feel more comfortable trying in that setting,” Thomas said, “whereas over here, you kind of know what other people are responsible for doing. You wait until you feel more confident to do new things before you do them. So I was working on my three overseas, shooting it off the dribble, and putting more of them up in games.”
Thomas is averaging career highs this year in shooting (43.8-percent), points (14.6) and steals (1.7). She’s sixth in the league in assists (4.9), just ahead of Alyssa Thomas (4.8).
“She put time into her game and she benefited from hard work,” Miller said. “Her confidence, you can see a swagger going into the second year with us.”
“It took a lot of work,” Jasmine Thomas said. “It took me working on my own game. … It took having players around me that I felt good playing with who encouraged me; that I could be a leader and kind of stop worrying about myself so much. And then, of course, it took a coach and his system, having that confidence in me, to give me minutes where I didn’t have to look over my shoulder, or feel like I wasn’t doing the right things.
“Once all that kind of aligned, I started feeling better.”
• Miller said Alyssa Thomas is starting thanks to luck of the draw.
“We felt like we could go with Allie Quigley, Layshia Clarendon and play a three-guard lineup with either one of those, or Alyssa Thomas to replace the size and length of Elena Delle Donne to start against Maya Moore,” Miller said. “I was really torn on the decision. It was recommended to me to just put the three names in a hat, pull a name out and go with that. I thought that was unique and it was fair. Sure enough, I pulled out our own player, Alyssa Thomas. I’m excited for her. It truly was a random choice. As much as I believe in her and work with her, it was a random choice.”
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The Connecticut Sun have been the stronger second-half team in both games of their WNBA semifinal series against the Los Angeles Sparks and taken a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series. Game 3 is Sunday at the Walter Pyramid at Long Beach State.