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Carrington brings her own brand to the Sun

The Connecticut Sun could use some extra aggressiveness this season given that their muscle (and motor), Alyssa Thomas, won't play after needing Achilles surgery in January.

Rookie guard DiJonai Carrington hopes to give the Sun the level of pugnaciousness that Thomas provides.

"She'll push you around," Sun wing DeWanna Bonner said with a smile during Wednesday's virtual media day. "When I tell you she's not afraid, she's not afraid."

Carrington is in her second week of training camp after Connecticut selected her with its first pick in last month's WNBA draft. The Sun drafted her 20th overall (second round) on April 15.

"(She's) just a solid rookie," Bonner said. "Course she's young, green and still has a lot of things to learn. ... She's aggressive. She's aggressive on defense. She's picking it up really fast. I think she's going to be a great addition. (We're) lucky she fell that far into the draft, and I think that's just what we need with Alyssa being out."

The 5-foot-11 Carrington averaged 14.1 points and 4.9 rebounds her senior season at Baylor. The Sun need more offensive contributions from their young bench this season, and it just so happens that Carrington was the 2020-21 Big 12 Sixth Woman of the Year.

"I have been learning so much every single day," Carrington said. "It's been super-fun, especially having some of the vets back now and I've been learning even more from them. The pace that I need to play at to be successful, the work ethic it takes on every possession. Just learning how to hone in on my aggressiveness, but at the right times, and just play smart."

Carrington may need to play more minutes early because starting guards Briann January and Jasmine Thomas haven't arrived in camp yet from their overseas commitments. Complicating matters is that the pandemic has forced players to go through quarantine before joining their teams. Starting post Jonquel Jones, a two-time All-WNBA second team pick, is currently in protocol.

Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller said that January has a chance to be with them for their season opener at the Atlanta Dream next Friday, but Thomas will not because Fenerbahce, her Turkish League team, starts its best-of-five championship series on Thursday. Game 3 is next Tuesday.

One of the players who has been giving Carrington a WNBA education has been Bonner, an 11-year veteran who earned 2020 All-WNBA second team honors.

"She plays the three (small forward) and I play the three a lot of times in practice," Carrington said. "A lot of times at practice I'm guarding her for the entirety of the practice. Just imagine how much better I know that I'm going to get because I'm guarding DB every single day at practice.

"She'll cook me on one possession, and she'll be okay, 'Okay, this is what you should've done, then I would've had to do this.' But it's been fun learning from her and just her patience on offense."

The Sun are no strangers to being without key players for an entire season. They were without Jones last year and went the full five games in the WNBA semifinals before losing to the Las Vegas Aces.

The loss of Alyssa Thomas is as devastating as any absence Connecticut has faced because of her versatility. The 6-foot-2 forward can bully opponents like a post down low while also handling the ball like a point guard. She finished in the top 20 in points (15.5 ppg, 16th overall), rebounds (9.0 rpg, third), assists (4.8 apg, seventh) and steals (2.0 spg, first) last season. Breanna Stewart of the Seattle Storm was the only other player to finish in the top 20 in all those categories. League coaches also voted Thomas first team on the All-WNBA Defensive Team after earning second team honors in 2017 and 2019.

"She was one of the (WNBA players) that stuck out to me," Carrington said about Thomas, "and I was like, I want to learn from her. Even though she's not playing this year, you wouldn't know it based on how much she still communicates with us from the sideline. I always, when I do something wrong, look at her because I know that she's going to tell me what I should've done; just help me correct it. I love her on the sidelines and just being able to learn from her and pick her brain.

"Every time I catch the ball, I've told her to tell me to slow down. And so every time I come on the (sideline), she'll look at me, especially if she can see the wheels are turning. She'll just tell me to slow down, take a deep breath when you catch the ball, wait for your screens, wait for this-or-that. That's been the biggest thing she's been instilling in me.

"As far as similarities, the physicality that her and I both play with. Obviously, she's much more polished and just better at this point, but I hope to continue to learn from her."

n.griffen@theday.com

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