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    Saturday, July 13, 2024

    Of the Sun’s Alyssa Thomas: ‘We will probably never see another season like this’

    Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas, center, is fouled by New York’s Courtney Vandersloot, left, while be defended by Jonquel Jones, right, during Game 1 of their WNBA semifinal playoff series on Sept. 24 in New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)
    Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas (25) lies injured on the court during the second half of Game 4 of a WNBA basketball semifinal playoff series against the New York Liberty on Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena. Thomas later returned to the game and recorded her third triple-double in playoff history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
    Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas (25) goes up to the basket as New York Liberty forward Breanna Stewart (30) defends during the second half of Game 3 of a WNBA basketball semifinal playoff series on Friday at Mohegan Sun Arena. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

    Mohegan — Alyssa Thomas doesn’t look the part, Connecticut Sun head coach Stephanie White was saying late Sunday afternoon.

    The 6-foot-2 forward out of Maryland, who just completed her 10th season with the Sun, Thomas competes perpetually with a torn labrum in both shoulders, impinging her shooting motion. She shoots free throws with her right hand only.

    Thomas performed anyway this season. Grabbed the rest of her Sun teammates by the scruffs of their neck and hauled them all the way to the WNBA semifinals.

    Made league history, even, with seven triple-doubles in a single season, having previously set the record in 2022 with four.

    And so White was asked how Thomas still gets overlooked.

    “I don’t know, that’s my opinion,” White said following the conclusion of Connecticut’s season about a half hour before that Sunday. “You look at AT and, I don’t know, her injuries, she can’t raise her arm above her head so she’s not the same shooter she was in college.

    “She’s undersized in the post. She doesn’t have ‘perimeter skills.’ She doesn’t look the part, I guess. But at the end of the day it’s about what you get done and the way you get it done and she gets all of those specialty stats, scoring, rebounding and assists, every night. All of them.

    “I still believe she’s the most underrated superstar in our game.”

    New York’s Breanna Stewart won a tightly contested race for WNBA Most Valuable Player, finishing with 446 points (20 first-place votes, 23 second-place votes and 17 third-place votes).

    Thomas was second with 439 points, garnering the most first-place votes among the 60-member media panel with 23. She had 12 second-place votes and 25 for third. A’ja Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces was third with 433 points (17-25-17).

    Las Vegas had four All-Stars, New York had three, the two frontrunners in the WNBA this season, labeled as “super teams.”

    Thomas’s Connecticut teammates are quick to point out that their MVP candidate wasn’t surrounded by as many luminaries. The Sun had one other All-Star in DeWanna Bonner. Another starter, Brionna Jones, tore her Achilles and missed more than half the season.

    It was Thomas who propelled the Sun to their fifth straight WNBA semifinals, despite losing coach Curt Miller to the Los Angeles Sparks and former MVP Jonquel Jones to New York in the offseason.

    The Sun players and coaches were asked to put Thomas’s career season in perspective.

    White did just that. Before the game, White said she’s only been around one other person who competes as relentlessly as Thomas does and that’s Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Tamika Catchings, the former Tennessee giant.

    Following the game, White upped the ante.

    “AT is one of one,” said White, a former NCAA champion at Purdue who played and coached in the WNBA. “Like, I’ve been around a lot of great players, but what she’s able to do on a nightly basis ...

    “There are great scorers, there are great rebounders, there are great facilitators and they all play a position. She does all that from a post position. She really is incredible. She had a year for the record books. She really is one of one.”

    During Sunday’s game, an 87-84 loss to the New York Liberty before 8,196 fans at Mohegan Sun Arena, Thomas finished with 17 points, 15 rebounds, 11 assists and two steals.

    With 9 minutes, 23 seconds remaining and the Sun trailing by eight, Thomas was injured in a collision with New York’s Jones and had to be helped from the arena.

    When she returned to the bench, then got ready to check in at the scorer’s table, Thomas received a chant of “M-V-P! M-V-P!” from the loyal Sun fans. She went on to complete her triple-double, as Connecticut came back from a double-digit deficit to take the lead.

    Teammate Natisha Hiedeman was asked earlier in the day what kind of standard Thomas sets for her teammates.

    “The standard is, imagine the tallest building in the world times 1,000. That’s the standard that we’re held at,” Hiedeman said. “That’s the standard that we all want to be held at and it’s not like the standards aren’t reachable. She knows what you’re capable of and she just expects that out of you.

    “When you see AT every night come here and play 40 minutes and play extremely hard and play with everything she has, when I see her playing like that, that makes me like, ‘Oh, yeah, I got to step it up.’”

    Thomas finished the regular season having played in all 40 games, averaging 15.5 points, 9.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists.

    In the playoffs, she had 18.1 points, 8.0 rebounds and 10.3 assists. She was an All-Star and a member of the WNBA All-Defensive Team.

    ESPN analyst LaChina Robinson posted to social media Sunday regarding Thomas, who has another year left on her previous four-year contract with the Sun.

    Said Robinson: “I have so much to say about how amazing Alyssa Thomas’s season was but the gist ... I’m mad that we will probably never see another season like this and didn’t show her the appreciation she deserved.”

    “I don’t know,” White said. “She’s an anomaly. She’s one of one. That’s all I got.”

    v.fulkerson@theday.com

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