April 16, 2021
How the Connecticut Sun added three versatile guards in the 2021 WNBA Draft
No first-rounder, no problem for the Sun for the second straight year
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It may be hard to trust mock drafts ever again. Most were thrown out the window by the end of the first round, and the confusion and the chaos was only amplified in the second round.
But by the time the Connecticut Sun were on the clock for the first time last night with the Nos. 20 and 21 picks, head coach and general manager Curt Miller found himself in a familiar, almost comfortable position. Like in 2020, when the team’s first pick came at No. 23, the Sun still managed to select someone Miller viewed as a first-round pick, DiJonai Carrington from Baylor, late in the second round.
“We thought DiJonai would not get by Vegas at [Nos.] 12 or 14, and so as those picks came and went, we had the same feeling that we had last year that someone that we had targeted really high in the draft was going to be available,” Miller said.
“[They are] three talented guards that can really score at different levels. Aleah [is] one of the premier 3-point shooters in the country, obviously. Micaela had a fantastic year from the arc also. DiJonai scores at all three levels,” Miller said. “It played out as well as we could have hoped.”
Miller said they all deserved to be drafted much higher than they were, but he felt fortunate to end up with three players the Sun were targeting in the second round, even if they had to risk waiting a few more picks to take Goodman.
Miller told the media before the draft that he was looking for an offensive spark off the bench and players who could make his training camp as competitive as possible, and the Sun’s three draft selections fit the bill perfectly.
Carrington, Kelly, and Goodman all shot better than 40 percent from the field every single year of their college careers. Goodman and Kelly both led their teams in scoring this season, while Carrington led Baylor in steals and ranked in the top one percent of all NCAA Division I players in steal rate, according to Her Hoop Stats. Carrington was also Baylor’s second-leading scorer despite coming off the bench in all but one game.
The Sun are also adding high-volume, efficient shooters behind the arc in Kelly and Goodman, something the Sun desperately needed after being the WNBA’s second-worst perimeter shooting team in 2020. Carrington’s stroke is not as precise from behind the arc compared to other spots on the floor, but she does enough from three to help the Sun stretch defenses, too.
Alongside the rookies’ skill sets, Miller believes their histories of being great leaders and teammates in college will contribute to Connecticut’s strong culture. They’ll also benefit from being around some of the most successful veterans in the league during training camp, although a few stars will be arriving late.
“We have a lot of our veterans under contract coming late to camp, which really creates an opportunity for these young rookies [and] for these free agents to really compete against each other early in camp,” Miller said. “So I’m excited about that competition, that feeling that we’re going to feel from day one in our camp of everybody getting after it, everybody scratching and clawing to try to be on this opening day roster.”
The three rookies and six newly signed free agents will compete for what is expected to be two available roster spots. Miller has been transparent in the team’s conversations with Carrington, Kelly, and Goodman about how difficult it is to make a WNBA roster, but Connecticut’s two roster spots provide more opportunity than most other teams in the league heading into this season.
“While these three will be great teammates to each other, we know there’s limited spots, and that’s part of the tough aspect of the WNBA,” Miller said. “These three are going to be grateful and they’re going to be great teammates to each other, but they all understand through our transparent conversations with them what lies ahead in 19 days of training camp.”
Here’s what all three rookies bring to training camp:
Pick No. 20 (second round): DiJonai Carrington – 5’11 SG, Baylor
2020-21 stats: 14.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.1 steals per game
“We feel like we got one of the steals of the draft,” Curt Miller said of Carrington.
Miller wanted someone who is capable of bringing an offensive spark off the bench and ended up with a “humble superstar.” Carrington came off the bench for Baylor in almost every game this year despite being a starter in her last two seasons for Stanford before transferring for a graduate year. Carrington not only embraced her bench role, she thrived. She won the Big 12 Sixth Player and Newcomer of the Year Awards.
“I’m just going to take full advantage of (my role), but not get complacent … continue to work to maybe change that role into something greater and greater and greater,” she said. “I think having somebody coming off the bench who’s been in that position before and kind of has had that sixth man role is going to be very beneficial, and I’m excited to bring that to Connecticut.”
Aside from being a three-level scorer, Miller called Carrington the best two-way wing in the draft and raved about her ability to guard multiple positions. She’s defensively versatile and strong, which allows her to guard multiple positions, and she’s impressive and effective in transition. Her performances in Baylor’s run to the Elite Eight made her look even more promising — she led her team in scoring on two occasions and racked up 11 steals through four games.
“She’ll tell you that you don’t need to run plays for her, that she can create her own offense and transition off of her defense, making hustle plays,” Miller said. “Talk about a humble superstar and someone that understands the mantra that it doesn’t matter who starts the game, but who finishes the game.”
Pick No. 21 (second round): Micaela Kelly – 5’6 PG, Central Michigan
2020-21 stats: 23.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2.2 steals per game
Over the past few seasons, Kelly has consistently been one of the best players in the Midwestern Athletic Conference, a conference that Miller and assistant coach Brandi Poole are very familiar with from their time together at Bowling Green. Kelly earned all-conference awards in each of her four seasons at CMU and was MAC Player of the Year in 2019 as a sophomore.
“She is a fantastic offensive player. She scores at multiple levels; she plays much bigger than her size; she stuffs the stat sheet certainly as a rebounder, as an assist player; she can play on and off the ball. So clearly one of the premier wings in this draft and we’re very fortunate to have her,” Miller said.
Kelly is known for her explosiveness at the rim and has a solid perimeter shot. While her efficiency behind the arc doesn’t crack the top of the draft class, her volume does. Out of all NCAA prospects in the draft, Kelly’s 71 total made threes this season ranks third behind only Kiana Williams from Stanford and Jasmine Walker from Alabama. She defends and rebounds well, especially for a smaller guard, and her explosiveness sets her apart.
At pick No. 21, Kelly was the first mid-major player selected in the draft and the only one taken in the second round. Central Michigan was a dominant force in the MAC during Kelly’s career and made three NCAA Tournament appearances in that span.
Kelly has proven herself against Power 5 opponents going all the way back to her first NCAA Tournament appearance as a freshman, when CMU upset LSU and Ohio State to make the Sweet Sixteen. Kelly scored 17 and 15 points, respectively, and averaged 50 percent shooting in the first two rounds. In this year’s tournament, she impressed with 23 points on 50 percent shooting (including 3-of-6 from deep and 6-of-7 from the line) in a first-round loss to Iowa.
Kelly knows training camp will be challenging, but she looks forward to competing and having fun with some of the top players in the league while also strengthening her game. She said she’s excited to learn from DeWanna Bonner in particular.
“She plays like a guard and shooting over long and tough guards actually helps my game,” Kelly said. “Just being able to score and compete against the talent that’s there. I feel like it’s going to be competitive, and I’m ready just to have some fun to play with somebody that can play.”
Pick No. 30 (third round): Aleah Goodman – 5’9 SG, Oregon State
2020-21 stats: 16.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists per game
Goodman has been one of the most efficient sharpshooters throughout her college career, especially from 3-point range. Her 48.9 percent shooting from deep during her senior campaign was a career high and is the best in the draft class.
Alongside her deadly deep shot is experience commanding the offense as a floor general. Her assist rate and assist-to-turnover ratio improved every year at Oregon State, and Miller spoke very highly of her leadership and basketball IQ.
“(She’s) so underrated in ball screens, can really get herself into the paint, can get herself to the rim, a real good ball screen guard. …. We have followed her closely and feel she’s been undervalued and underrated for much of her career,” Miller said. “She epitomizes what Oregon State players are like: smart basketball IQ, efficient, humble, and they become great leaders out there.”
Goodman had spoken to the Sun’s staff a few different times, so she knew there was interest from the team. Still, waiting to hear her name called was difficult.
Around pick No. 17, Goodman decided to calm her nerves by shooting hoops instead of watching the draft. She said she was shooting pretty well, even though the basket was lowered for her younger brother, and soon after some screams from her family followed by a call from Coach Miller, it had set in that she was the newest member of the Sun.
Despite leaving her home state and embarking on a cross-country move, Goodman said she’s excited to compete in camp and learn from the Sun’s core group of veterans, particularly Briann January, who Goodman saw on the sidelines a few times as an assistant coach for Pac-12 foe Arizona State.
“Coach Miller talked about the vets that they have on the team, and I think there’s so much to learn from those guys, whether it’s their actions, what they’re saying, and just kind of taking all that in,” she said.