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    Sunday, September 25, 2022

    Hiedeman, Thomas have been leaning on one another during Sun’s latest postseason run

    Connecticut Sun guard Natisha Hiedeman (2) is fouled by Las Vegas Aces guard Jackie Young (0) on a drive to the basketball during Game 3 of the WNBA Finals on Thursday night at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Sun guard Jasmine Thomas look to pass during a May 7 game against the Liberty in New York. Thomas suffered a season-ending knee injury two weeks later. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

    Mohegan — Natisha Hiedeman knew she could be a starting point guard in the WNBA, even after being cut twice her rookie season.

    Hiedeman has stepped into that starting role in her fourth professional season for the Connecticut Sun, but it came about in a way she never would have wanted — longtime point guard Jasmine Thomas tore the ACL in her right knee during the fifth game of the season.

    Hiedeman and Thomas are engaged, too.

    “It was honestly hard to focus on the game because, yes, that’s my teammate, but that’s also my fiancé at the same time,” Hiedeman said about Thomas’ season-ending injury during a May 22 game at Indiana.

    It has been a season of growth for Hiedeman, as well, one in which she and Thomas have relied on one another.

    Hiedeman and Connecticut are also still fighting to win that elusive WNBA championship and must beat the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces twice trailing 2-1 in the best-of-five Finals series.

    Game 4 is Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena (4 p.m., ESPN).

    “She’s doing a great job,” Thomas said, “and even when things don’t feel as great sometimes, she responds the next game like it never happened.”

    Hiedeman didn’t have a straight path to a WNBA gig. The Minnesota Lynx selected the Green Bay native 18th overall in the second round of the 2019 draft. They traded her that same night to Connecticut.

    The success rate of one’s WNBA career gets lower-and-lower based on where one was drafted more than perhaps any other North American professional sports league.

    The Sun waived Hiedeman prior to the 2019 season. The Atlanta Dream signed her as a replacement player in late June and cut her on July 1.

    Connecticut signed her two days later and since then, she’s found a home.

    “For me now, I’m not trying to prove myself to nobody,” Hiedeman said. “I know what I’m capable of and I’m showing it.”

    Too often the physical element of injuries are focused on by fans and media when the mental toll can be a bigger challenge.

    Injuries can lead to uncomfortable situations in sports. Athletes across all professions have discussed feeling isolated from their team. Resentment can build, too, when a teammate is playing the role that they held prior to injury.

    Thomas has been one of Connecticut’s longest tenured players (she’s third in franchise history with 221 games played). She’s been a team leader as well as one of the most endearing players in franchise history.

    Hiedeman and Thomas’ situation is obviously unique. They’re building a life together off the court, but Hiedeman’s team status changed significantly because her fiancé is hurt.

    Thomas is watching her Hiedeman play the position she’s started at for eight seasons.

    “It’s just (been) us helping each other,” Hiedeman said. “She’s going through her injury rehab and me just being the best that I can be for her, helping her and making sure that she’s doing okay mentally.

    “She’s been nothing shy of my biggest supporter, cheering me on all the way.”

    Thomas said, “We’ve just leaned on each other through all of it with her playing and me encouraging her and telling her what I see, my insights, things that I feel about the game, but also just empowering her.

    “That’s the biggest thing for me. It’s just helping her turn that next page and just stay confident. And then, for me, she’s my biggest cheerleader through all my rehab. She sees the hard times and the little wins, the little moments that happen. Just leaning on each other has been something that I knew would happen.”

    Hiedeman set career highs in minutes (25 mpg), points (9.1) and assists (3.3) during the regular season. She’s been one of the Sun’s most consistent 3-point shooters (41.1%). She has actively worked on being a better defender, which has been one of the strongest parts of Thomas’ game. And whenever Hiedeman needs to talk to someone about the job, she knows where to go.

    “Pretty much after every game, she tells me how proud she is,” Hiedeman said about Thomas.

    n.griffen@theday.com

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