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    CT Sun
    Saturday, June 15, 2024

    Sun have become a successful chemistry experiment

    The Connecticut bench, from left, Rachel Banham, Danielle Adams and Brionna Jones, cheer from the sideline during a game against the New York Liberty on June 14 at Mohegan Sun Arena. Coach Curt Miller said team chemistry, including players on the bench, is a major reason why the Sun have won four straight and five of their last six games after starting 0-4. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Mohegan — Danielle Adams and Rachel Banham had a highlight worthy moment for the Connecticut Sun’s film session Monday.

    It had nothing to with Xs and Os, either.

    Connecticut was one minute, 35 seconds away from stunning the unbeaten Minnesota Lynx on the road Saturday night. Alyssa Thomas had just gone coast-to-coast for a layup that gave the Sun an eight-point lead. The Lynx called a timeout.

    FOX Sports North happened to show a shot of Connecticut’s bench just as Banham patted Adams on her arm.

    The two began giggling, and Adams went in for a hug. They hugged and continued to have an arm around one another during the timeout.

    The moment was. … different. One doesn't see that kind of affection between friends during games, never mind a regular season game.

    “It’s a little early to celebrate,” FOX Sports North announcer Marney Gellner said, taken aback by it.

    There was more to the moment than that, though.

    “We were reacting to that we were about to win, we were all so excited on the bench, and we were playing so well,” said Banham, who scored 11 points in 14 minutes off the bench in the Sun's 98-93 win.

    “And then D.A. looks at me and said, 'I’m so proud of you' and smiled at me. And then we kind of giggled, and then she kind of gave me a hug. She was just showing her appreciation. It was cute. I love her.”

    Those moments of friendship aren’t lost on second-year head coach Curt Miller and his staff. He stressed the need to build a good team culture from the moment he was hired. His mantra — “championships are won in the locker room” — has become a familiar phrase during his brief tenure.

    “Part of the segment watching Minnesota (on film Monday) was watching our bench’s reaction to plays throughout the game,” Miller said. “How genuinely happy our bench was for each other. I think that’s important to point out. We (the coaches) know it’s happening, but we also point it out to them that we’re noticing it.

    “Teams (can) overachieve and build faster when they (have) that great chemistry.”

    The Sun are on a surprising roll after starting the season 0-4. They’ve won four straight and five of their last six despite missing starters Morgan Tuck (knee contusion) and Alex Bentley (overseas commitments), and Lynetta Kizer (back), the team’s top post reserve.

    “We have (a team) that really, really gets along,” Miller said, “and because of it, I think we can overachieve and play over our heads.”

    Call them, “Team Kumbaya.”

    “We really enjoy each other’s company,” Adams said. “We try to hang out with each other, spending time together on the road. Even when we’re home, after games, we try to hang around each other. We’re a really close team. We really like each other.”

    Banham said, “We’re all so goofy and weird and genuinely love each other. We’re like sisters. I trust everyone on the team. I think that makes a big difference on the court. We know each other well enough to figure things out. We’re able to get on each other, but know it’s not just someone being mean and then resenting it. Everyone is like, 'Okay, I know she has my back and I understand that.’ … I think that’s why we’re playing really well right now.”

    Miller, who is also in his first season as Sun general manager, learned the importance of team chemistry as a Colorado State assistant. He brought that family dynamic with him when Bowling Green hired him as head coach in 2001. The Falcons won eight regular-season MAC championships during his 13 seasons and five tournament titles.

    “I knew we weren’t going to have the most talent in our league (when I was hired),” Miller said. “I knew we weren’t going to have the most talent for the foreseeable years. But what I thought we could get right was the culture and chemistry.

    “We branded that as much as we could around our building, around anything we sent out to recruits."

    A happy vibe doesn’t necessary translate to wins. Pro sports are just like any other job in that some people don’t get along at the office. And, just like other jobs, a team can have co-workers dislike one another and still thrive.

    “There are different formulas everywhere to be successful,” guard Jasmine Thomas said. “(Cohesiveness) is just the formula that’s working for us. Everyone feels comfortable enough to be themselves on the court and off.”

    Miller said, “I coach hard. I challenge those guys when they make mistakes. I’m a perfectionist. … Well, the only way you can coach hard is if they know that you love them and that they know you care about them more than just basketball players. So I really do try to find out more about them off the court; what is important to them.”

    Saturday was a big win for the Sun. The previously unbeaten Lynx have four Olympians, have won three WNBA titles, and were 91-14 at home since 2011.

    Thomas tweeted afterwards, “I love this team SO much.”

    Kizer tweeted, “I’m so proud of my teammates.”

    The locker room cheered when it was announced that Alyssa Thomas had scored her 1,000th career point.

    After Monday’s practice, assistant Nicki Collen and Banham had a race. On roller racers made for kids.

    “It’s fun to see it come together,” Miller said about team chemistry. “We certainly have a long way to go. We have to catch a break at some point with our health and get some of these players back.

    “This group is having fun. They like each other. They’re playing for each other. They’re buying into scouting reports and they’re preparing. With that, you can overachieve.”

    n.griffen@theday.com

    Connecticut Sun head coach Curt Miller playfully argues a call during a game against the Minnesota Lynx on May 26 at Mohegan Sun Arena. Miller believes team chemistry is a major reason why the Sun have won four straight and five of their last six games after starting 0-4. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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