Change in the Air as Sun Prepare for Another Major Step in Rebuild

Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be. — John Wooden

John Wooden wasn’t talking about the Connecticut Sun, but his famous line certainly applies to the club going into this season. The once-proud franchise went to the Playoffs six years in a row in the mid-2000s, but each of of the past three seasons have ended with the Sun in last place in the Eastern Conference — a run that would, following the wisdom of coach Wooden, require change. It should come as no surprise, then, that things are going to look quite different around Mohegan Sun Arena come May.

The biggest change came shortly after the season ended, as Anne Donovan resigned as head coach. Though her resume speaks for itself, Donovan wasn’t able to bring success to Uncasville, and with her contract up after last season, the decision wasn’t much of a surprise. In her place comes first time WNBA head coach Curt Miller.

Miller spent 13 years as a head coach at the collegiate level, and last season was a part of Brian Agler’s staff in Los Angeles. Miller brings enthusiasm, energy and a desire to establish a new culture with the young roster. As he told earlier this year“I’m not going to talk about championships, certainly not going to talk about how many games we need to win. I’m going to try establish a culture and the wins and losses take care of itself once you establish that culture.”

Though Miller is just a few months into his tenure and the season doesn’t start for over a month, Miller has already set about establishing that new culture. And according to franchise player Chiney Ogwumike, he’s off to an impressive start.

“I think he’s a great guy. He’s a student of the game — he watches so much video. And he’s passionate. He probably over-cares,” Ogwumike said. “I think that’s what we need in a coach: someone who cares about us as individuals, someone who cares about us as athletes, and cares about us as a team, as a collective. I think we’re on the right track.”

Speaking of Ogwumike, she’s also part of the change that’s coming this season. After sitting out all of last season with a knee injury, the 2014 Rookie of the Year will be bringing her 15 points per game back to the Sun lineup this summer. That will be a welcome addition to a team that finished just eighth in the league in offensive efficiency last season, scoring 100.1 points per 100 possessions. Even though she was already on the roster, Ogwumike’s return is the equivalent of signing a key free agent or swinging a big trade.

Ogwumike will not be the only talented player bolstering the Sun’s roster this year, however. They won’t be getting local college superstar Breanna Stewart — that honor likely goes to the Seattle Storm, owners of the No. 1 pick — but the Sun do have two of the top four picks in this month’s draft. The third overall pick came courtesy of the lottery, but a few months ago, the Sun front office decided they weren’t content with just one top pick, so they went out and dealt for another. The Atlanta Dream were the willing partners, agreeing to send the fourth overall pick Connecticut’s way in exchange for Elizabeth Williams, whom the Sun selected with the fourth overall pick in last year’s draft.

Now, armed with two top picks in what looks to be an impressive draft class, and bolstered by the return of Ogwumike, the Sun will have one of the most talented young rosters in the league. Because, don’t forget, they also have the reigning Most Improved Player in Kelsey Bone, and a dynamite guard in Alex Bentley, both of whom averaged 15 points a game last season and made the All-Star team.

The journey from last place to playoff contender is an arduous one, but on paper the future looks bright for the Sun. Still, with so much of the hope riding on two draft picks that haven’t yet been made, and the integration of a new coach’s system, there is plenty of uncertainty as well. One thing is certain, however: Change is coming to Connecticut.