Connecticut Sun put the past behind them, look to Curt Miller to face the future
With USA Basketball’s senior national team training camp as a backdrop, Connecticut Sun head coach Curt Miller met with the media to discuss his initial thoughts on his team, the upcoming WNBA draft and more.
The Sun had the youngest roster in the WNBA last season and recently acquired the fourth draft pick from the Atlanta Dream, to go along with their own third pick. The team also has two second round picks and one third round, making the news this week that the draft will be held at Mohegan Sun Arena exciting for Miller.
“It was difficult to trade Elizabeth Williams [to Atlanta], but when the opportunity came to get the four pick presented itself, it was a great opportunity for us,” Miller said. “Especially for those of us that believe that potentially with some players around the country that could declare and make the draft even deeper, making the three and four even more valuable.”
The Sun also announced that former All-Star guard Allison Hightower will miss the season with micro-fracture knee surgery, and Kayla Pedersen will sit out the season to focus on a youth ministry endeavor.
“I certainly was excited about [Hightower’s] style and getting her back as a wing,” Miller explained, “but we feel confident that maybe this is the surgery that takes care of everything, “
With the loss of Pedersen, the signing of forward-center Aneika Henry as a free agent looms even more important.
“Henry is a tremendously physical player, with the youngest roster in the league she gives us a veteran post player who has been in the playoffs, and has had good playoff numbers.”
Henry’s physicality allows the Sun to “go big” if it wants to, with the reigning most improved player Kelsey Bone playing alongside Henry with former rookie of the year Chiney Ogwumike. Henry’s size enables Ogwumike to play less center, unless the Sun decide to go with a smaller lineup.
Ogwumike, coming back from her own knee surgery that caused her to miss all of last season, is “with her rehab and is right on track. She is playing in pickup games and she is competing. We’re pleased with where she is,” Miller mentioned.
With the draft expected to have a strong UConn presence at the top, with Breanna Stewart the favorite to go number one, Moriah Jefferson a strong candidate to go number two, and Morgan Tuck, should she elect to leave school after this season, the Sun organization admits that everything is up for discussion when it comes to trade discussion.
“Ultimately, what enhances the roster the best,” Miller said the Sun will do. “We don’t want to deplete the roster to get one player or one position. If it makes sense we’ll look at all options, but we’re excited about the draft and what could be available at three or four. If there’s a move that makes sense for us, we’ll absolutely look for.”
The potential for player with college eligibility joining the WNBA is a new dynamic teams are facing. Last season the last minute decisions of Amanda Zahui B. and Jewell Loyd to go pro shook up the draft.
“Not a night goes by that I’m not doodling with or without people in the draft, what does that do to the board,” Miller joked. More seriously, he explained the advantage he feels he has in doing due diligence on players with unknown intentions.
“One of the advantages in coming from the college game,” he said, “is I’m connected with most of the coaches or there is an assistant I’ve been friends with, so I feel they will be honest with me and I can have some honest conversations about players.”
Still, while UConn fans might be disappointed if the Sun does not end up with Jefferson (Stewart, most acknowledge, is unattainable), Miller is pleased with current point guard Chelsea Gray to run the team.
“Chelsea Gray is a very talented player, she’s moving well, and playing really well overseas. I think coming off the first year she’s got a bright future.”
Miller also said how excited he is to work with the Sun’s other All-Star, Alex Bentley, who Miller coached against while he was at Indiana, stating the he feels that Bentley could become one of the best defenders in the league with the right effort.
When asked about how the players seemed to be reacting to him, and the coaching change, he said he thought the players were excited about the “new era” and seemed refreshed right now. Still, as he gestured in the direction of the Werth Basketball Center where the USA team members were running their camp up the road, “No one on our roster is over there [Ogwumike is in the player pool but injured], so we have to overachieve; we do that with chemistry and with youthful excitement and energy and we’re going to have to do it that way.”
He smiled and nodded repeating, “Because no one on our roster is over there.”