Versatility, experience may help rookie Carleton earn a job with Sun, who win preseason opener

Mohegan — Curt Miller has seen a lot of Iowa State rookie Bridget Carleton, first during the scouting process and now watching her play at the Connecticut Sun’s training camp.

New York's Kia Nurse played alongside Carleton with the Canadian national team.

Miller and Nurse were both asked to describe Carleton’s game on Monday night prior to the WNBA preseason opener at Mohegan Sun Arena. Both paused, then used the same phrase to explain her skills.

“I’ve referred to her numerous times as the Swiss army knife,” Miller said.

“She’s kind of like a Swiss army knife,” said Nurse, the former UConn great and second-year Liberty guard.

Carleton, a 6-foot-1 wing, is among a small group of players fighting for one of Connecticut’s few remaining roster spots. The Sun selected her 21st overall (second round) in April’s draft.

Carleton played 12 minutes off the bench and scored five as Connecticut downed New York, 100-66, in its preseason opener at Mohegan Sun Arena.

“There’s been a lot thrown at us, but it’s been fun and competitive,” Carleton said. “You go back to being a rookie. ... Coming from college, you’re one of the seniors, you’re one of the upperclassmen, you’re one of the leaders on the team. Now the role has changed.

“I think that’s been the biggest adjustment, but it’s been a smooth, smooth transition so far.”

Carleton said she wasn’t recruited much growing up in Chatham, Ontario. One would never have known that watching her play at Iowa State.

Carleton was the 2019 Big 12 Player of the Year in a vote of league coaches. She was the first Cyclone to win that honor. She led the league in scoring (21.7 ppg) and steals (2.3 spg) and was second in free throw percentage (86.9 percent), fourth in rebounding (8.6), sixth in minutes played (35) and eighth in assists (4.0 apg).

Again, Swiss army knife.

Carleton was also the 2019 Cheryl Miller Award winner for the top Division I forward.

“As expected, she brings a lot to the table in numerous areas,” Miller said. “(She’s a) better athlete than she gets credit for. She’s a crafty, slashing wing. She can stretch you and get hot, streaky hot, at the 3-point line. She’s much longer defensively (than some wings) and can stay in plays and get deflections and block some shots.

“It’s nice — between her and Bria Holmes, we’re as big as we’ve been with true wings since any training camp since I’ve ever been here (2016). Ultimately, what is the WNBA skill that will allow her to stick on our roster?”

Arguably, the following 11 players will make Connecticut’s final 12-women regular season roster — guards Jasmine Thomas, Courtney Williams, Layshia Clarendon, Rachel Banham, wings Shekinna Stricklen and Holmes, forwards Alyssa Thomas and Morgan Tuck, and posts Jonquel Jones and Brionna Jones, and Kristine Anigwe.

That would leave one spot to be decided between veteran Emma Cannon (forward) and rookies Natisha Hiedeman (guard), Regan Magarity (forward) and Carleton.

Carleton’s international experience could give her an edge because one of the biggest adjustments for WNBA rookies are size and speed of the players. She played for Canada in last September’s prestigious FIBA World Cup

“I think one of the best parts about my transition to the league was the fact that I played with the national team for as long as I had,” Nurse said. “Bridget is kind of the same way. She may have a little bit less years than I did, but she’s been around us. She’s been in training camp with us for as long as I can remember, and I think that allows you to understand that there’s a different speed, that there’s a different play, and a different style and adjustment to it.

“She’s played in a world championship. She’s played in a lot of those upper-level, elite games that you get to play internationally for you to get that experience. So that definitely helps the transition.”

Carlton took just three shots during her limited minutes Monday and made one — a 3-pointer in the corner in front of the Sun bench.

“Coach wants me to shoot that,” Carleton smiled. “If I didn’t shoot that, I would’ve probably gotten in trouble. I know that’s my shot and I can hit it.

“This team has been great. They believe in me to hit those shots.”

Carleton made two free throws to give Connecticut its largest lead, 95-55, with 3 minutes, 14 seconds left.

• Starting post Jonquel Jones has been the early talk at Sun camp and looked the part during Monday’s win, making 7 of 13 shots for 19 points with four rebounds and two blocks. She shot 4-of-8 from the 3-point line alone.

Starting point guard Jasmine Thomas made all five of her shots for 13 points with seven rebounds, three assists and three steals for Connecticut while starting off-guard Courtney Williams added 10 points and seven assists. Fellow starters Alyssa Thomas (power forward) and Shekinna Stricklen (wing) added 10 and nine points, respectively.

“Our competitive standard out of the gate tonight was outstanding, and it was led by Jasmine Thomas, Alyssa Thomas, and the veterans,” Miller said. “We talk about those standards, and (the players) were so high tonight on competitiveness.

“Good things happen to teams that are competitive night-in and night-out. … Really, hats off to our veterans.”

Third-year center Brionna Jones looked good off the Sun bench with eight points and five rebounds in 15 minutes. Rookie guard Natisha Hiedeman shot 3-of-5 for 7 points in 12 minutes.

The Sun play their second preseason game Tuesday against the Dallas Wings at the Arena after the 5 p.m. opener between the Atlanta Dream and New York.

n.griffen@theday.com

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