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Sun draft three guards in WNBA Draft, including Baylor's Carrington

Connecticut Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller said prior to Thursday night's WNBA Draft that the team was looking to add "offensive pop" off their bench.

Miller felt a lot better about that need afterwards.

Connecticut went guard-heavy in the draft and selected Baylor's DiJonai Carrington and Central Michigan's Micaela Kelly with the 20th and 21st overall picks, respectively, in the second round.

The Sun added Oregon State's Aleah Goodman with the 30th overall pick in the third round. Carrington and Goodman are shooting guards, Kelly a point guard.

"(The trio are) certainly three very talented guards," Miller said. "Aleah is one of the premier three-point shooters in the country. Obviously, Micaela had a fantastic year from the arc, also. DiJonai scores at all three levels, so we're really excited about the competition that we brought into camp.

"It played out as well as we could've hoped, so we're really excited tonight."

The 5-foot-11 Carrington averaged 14.1 points and 4.9 rebounds her senior season with the Bears. She shot 42.6 percent from the floor, and it just so happens that she's used to coming off the bench as she earned the 2020-21 Big 12 Sixth Woman of Year award.

Carrington also earned Big 12 Newcomer of Year and honorable mention honors this past season after transferring to Baylor after three seasons at Stanford. She was a graduate transfer after playing just five games for the Cardinal in 2019-20 because of a knee injury.

"If we need a play made, I'm going to make it," Carrington said when asked to describe herself on-and-off the court. "(I'm) someone who you want to be around who is going to lift your spirits up; give you whatever you need as far as energy."

Miller was surprised that Carrington was still available at No. 20 and thought that she wouldn't get past the Las Vegas Aces at either No. 12 (first round) or 14 (second round). Las Vegas Tweeted about Carrington on Wednesday.

"(I'm) bullish in my comments that she may be the best two-way wing in the draft," Miller said. "(She's a) strong and physical guard that can guard multiple positions. She'll tell you that you don't need to run plays for her; that she can create her own offense and transition off of her defense making hustle plays.

"She came off the bench for Baylor all year. You want to talk about a humble superstar and someone that understands the mantra that it doesn't matter who starts the game, it's who finishes the game. .... We feel like we got one of the steals of the draft."

Kelly, 5-6, was a four-year starter who averaged 23.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.2 steals as a senior and helped Central Michigan win the 2021 Mid-American Conference tournament. She was also the MAC Player of the Year as a junior.

Kelly was the first player taken from a mid-major at the draft. Miller knows the MAC very well having coached at Bowling Green from 2001-12 and said he's close to Central Michigan's staff.

"She is a fantastic offensive player," Miller said. "She scores at multiple levels. She plays much bigger than her size. She stuffs the stat sheet certainly. ... She can play on-or-off the ball. (She's) clearly one of the premier wings in this draft and we're very fortunate to have her."

Kelly said of being the first mid-major player taken said, "It's definitely an honor and I really appreciate Connecticut picking me up."

Goodman, 5-9, averaged 16.2 points as a senior and was a 47.9 percent 3-point shooter (48-of-98).

"(We've) followed Aleah really closely," Miller said. "She took a young Oregon State team a long way this year and a lot of the leadership burden fell on her shoulders.

"(She's) just so efficient shooting the basketball. So underrated on ball screens. (She) can really get herself into the paint, can get herself to the rim. … We feel she's been underrated and undervalued most of her career."

Goodman missed the televised announcement that she had been drafted.

"Around pick 17 (of the second round) I started to get a little nervous," Goodman said. "I was like, 'I'm going to go outside (and shoot baskets). My mom (Kari) came with me. She was rebounding for me. ... I couldn't sit and watch the TV any longer.

"I heard my dad (Kevin) and my older sister screaming, and my Mom and I were like what is going on? They came running outside. That’s how I found out (I was drafted)."

Connecticut didn't have a first-round pick for the second straight draft after trading three of them to the Phoenix Mercury for DeWanna Bonner last offseason. Two of those first round picks were in the 2020 draft.

Bonner earned 2020 All-WNBA second team honors.

The Sun's bench averaged 18.9 points last season, the third-lowest in the league according to statistics compiled by Paul Swanson of the Minnesota Lynx.

Connecticut's bench only has guards Natisha Hiedeman (18.5 minutes per game) and Kaila Charles (17.9) and forward Beatrice Mompremier (8.9) returning. Charles and Mompremier were rookies last season.

The Sun need more consistent outside shooting as much as anything, though. They were third-to-last in field goal percentage (42.7) last year.

Miller's offense is predicated on playing fast and using 3-point shooting to create space dating back to his days as a college coach. Last year's shooting struggles made that difficult. They averaged the most field goal attempts within five feet of the basket (23.7).

Connecticut also ranked ninth out of 12 teams last season in 3-point attempts per game (19). It was second-worst in three-point percentage (31.2) despite shooting fewer than most.

The Sun have needs but not a lot of openings. Miller said that they will carry 11 players. Guards Briann January, Jasmine Thomas and Charles, and forwards Brionna and Jonquel Jones, Alyssa Thomas and Bonner are locks to make the roster barring the unforeseen.

Hiedeman and Mompremier both have a good chance to make the final roster, too. That would leave two openings.

Connecticut will be shorthanded overall as Alyssa Thomas' salary will count towards its salary cap even though the odds are against her playing this year. The Sun veteran tore her Achilles tendon while playing overseas this offseason but was a free agent at the time. That meant that she would have the option to be paid this season no matter who signed her.

Thomas was one of the top free agents on the market and was a priority for Connecticut to re-sign. The two parties agreed to a four-year deal in February.

Should those nine players make the final roster, then the Sun would only have two openings. They also signed five players to training camp contracts prior to the draft — guards Tanaya Atkinson, Kamiah Smalls and Sydney Wallace and forwards Morgan Bertsch and Stephanie Jones (Brionna Jones' younger sister).

n.griffen@theday.com

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