It was a cold, grey December for the Connecticut Sun. A month earlier, Chiney Ogwumike fell to the floor, clutching her leg in pain. The WNBA’s 2016 Comeback Player of the Year had suffered a torn Achilles tendon while playing in China. She underwent surgery with a tentative recovery time of six to nine months, meaning she would be missing the entire 2017 season. After going 14-20 last year and missing out on a playoff spot, the Sun’s immediate future was looking dim.
The Sun’s season seemed headed for dusk after four straight, early-season losses. But then the team suddenly congealed on the court, the pieces connecting like Voltron. The ball started to zip across the floor — three passes, four passes, five passes.
“I think the big thing for us is the ball isn’t sticking,” Sun head coach Curt Miller told WNBA.com. “We’re moving the ball, sharing the ball from side to side. Getting into second and third options.”
As the ball movement increased, so did the team’s communication. As the communication increased, so did the defensive intensity. And the sum of all these parts, like the sum of the Sun’s players, began to have a tangible effect on the win/loss column. Now the Sun are blazing, winning 10 of their last 12 games. They have won five in a row and have two players, Jonquel Jones and Jasmine Thomas, starting in the upcoming All-Star Game.
The Sun’s impressive turnaround, however, can’t simply be traced to one or two players. After all, four of their players are averaging double figures in points. It is like the movie Ocean’s 11; a specific cast has been methodically assembled, each player bringing their own strengths and idiosyncrasies. For a recent social media campaign to promote the team for the All-Star game, several players donned granny clothes and embraced their alter – and elder egos (more on that to come). Their camaraderie on and off the court epitomizes the true essence of teamwork. Here are the East-leading Connecticut Sun:
Elder Ego – Orthea
She's back and y'all better listen! 🌂
— ConnecticutSun (@ConnecticutSun) June 13, 2017
Jones leads the Sun in scoring with almost 16 points per game. She also leads the WNBA in rebounding with almost 12 per game. Before last season, the Sun acquired Jones from the Sparks in exchange for Chelsea Gray and two first-round picks. Jones has emerged as the team’s centerpiece, anchoring the middle of the paint and matching up against rival, dominant bigs like Brittney Griner, Sylvia Fowles and Tina Charles. Asked by WNBA.com about why she thinks the team has been playing well recently, Jones responded confidently:
“It’s our chemistry. I think what you see on the court is how we are off the court. Every single person in this room genuinely likes to be around each other and we genuinely like to spend time with each other. When we go bowling, everybody comes. When we have a get together at the house, everybody comes. And that stuff just shows that we really do care about each other and enjoy each other’s company.”
5’9″ Point Guard
Elder Ego – Loretta
— ConnecticutSun (@ConnecticutSun) June 24, 2017
Thomas is the Sun’s other All-Star starter. She is averaging approximately 15 points and 5 assists per game. Originally drafted by the Washington Mystics in 2011, Thomas made a pit stop for a season with the Dream in 2013 and ’14. Following a stint in Turkey, Thomas resigned with the Dream in 2015. A few months later, Thomas was traded to the Sun, where she has played ever since. Thomas told WNBA.com that she agreed with Jones’ assessment of the team’s improved play, adding, “We do a lot together. We hangout after games. We do team dinners when we can to celebrate birthdays. We’re always finding a reason to get together as a team and that’s been the culture of this team, since I’ve been here. So I know that makes you feel good. You want to play on the court hard for people who you know care about you off the court.”
Elder Ego – Marietta
— ConnecticutSun (@ConnecticutSun) June 25, 2017
Thomas was drafted by the New York Liberty with the fourth pick in the 2014 WNBA Draft before being dealt to the Sun as part of the Tina Charles trade. Since the trade, Thomas has been a valuable member of the Sun, contributing on both the offensive and defensive side. She is averaging 14 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists on the season. Like her elder ego Marietta, Thomas can sometimes be soft-spoken. She didn’t hesitate, however, to compliment her teammates:
“I think it all starts with our defense. We’re getting stops and getting out and running. It’s really hard for teams. They don’t really want to run with us. It’s extremely important to communicate out there. At the beginning of the season, we were losing games because of mistakes like that so now we’re just trying to focus on the details.”
Elder Ego – Minnie Pearl
— ConnecticutSun (@ConnecticutSun) June 22, 2017
Courtney Williams was originally selected by the Phoenix Mercury with the eighth pick in the 2016 Draft. Two months into her rookie season, she was traded to the Sun. She is now averaging 12.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. Williams believes the team has matured together and expects big things for the season:
“I think we’re out there having fun. That’s the biggest thing. I think we go out there and we fight for one another so I think having them and the talent we have has been what’s winning these games for us. We enjoy each other on the court and off the court. We have had a chance to play grannies and we’ve been having fun.”
With three games to go until the All-Star break, the Sun are looking to extend their win streak to nine, and 13 of their last 15. When All-Star reserves are announced on Thursday, July 18, the Sun hope that Marietta (Alyssa Thomas) and Minnie Pearl (Courtney Williams) will join Jones and Jasmine Thomas on the team. Few expected Connecticut to feature multiple All-Stars and rise to the top of the Eastern Conference. But it’s clear now: The Sun is rising in Connecticut.