May 5, 2022
How the Sun reached their final 11 players
'If I could combine them all, we'd have the perfect person'
UNCASVILLE – Faced with a tight salary cap and tough decisions, the Connecticut Sun decided to overhaul their bench, cutting three returning players and bringing in a mix of experience and upside to fill out the roster.
The Sun cut third-year players Kaila Charles and Beatrice Mompremier, and second-year player Stephanie Jones on Wednesday, bringing the team down to 11 players – the number they’ll keep on the roster this season.
The cuts of Charles and Mompremier in particular came as a surprise because both have played significant bench roles in their two seasons, but head coach and GM Curt Miller went with positional need and upside over experience – bringing in first-round rookie guard Nia Clouden, forward Joyner Holmes, and guard Yvonne Anderson – who will make her first WNBA roster after an impressive career playing overseas.
The Sun’s roster – loaded in the frontcourt and at the wing, and without enough cap space to carry 12 players – proved to be a challenging puzzle for Miller and his staff to piece together over training camp, and he was not looking forward to making final cuts.
“What people fail to realize is that it’s not always the best 11 players, it’s the best 11 players that fit under the cap together,” Miller told The Next. “There are certain combinations that didn’t fit, and it contributed to some of those tough decisions.”
“Unicorn” Joyner Holmes wins frontcourt spot
Finding a big to come off the bench wasn’t an easy choice for Miller, who said each post in camp had a skill set that could get them on the roster. He said Mompremier is a physical defender who can protect the rim and grab defensive rebounds and that Stephanie Jones has a high basketball IQ.
“If I could combine them all, we’d have the perfect person we’re looking for,” Miller said.
With a front court of A. Thomas, J. Jones, and B. Jones, along with 6’4 Bonner in and out of the mix, the backup post won’t see as much time as backup bigs on other teams.
But players won’t have as much time to rest between games because of the condensed schedule, so Miller said he needs someone who will be able to play minutes every night just to give the stars some time off the floor.
The choice came down to third year player Beatrice Mompremier, second-year Stephanie Jones, and Holmes, who played in 19 games with the New York Liberty in 2020 and spent time with the Las Vegas Aces last season.
Mompremier filled the role Miller was looking to fill, averaging about 9 minutes a game and playing in all but one game in her two seasons with the Sun. But Miller said Holmes had the highest ceiling, and opted to bet on unlocking her potential despite her lack of familiarity with the Sun’s system.
“There’s a burst of unicorn-type athleticism, there’s a burst of unbelievable play,” Miller said.
The MVP has also taken notice of Holmes’ motor, complimenting her to the press the day after the team hosted a closed scrimmage against the Liberty on April 26. Jonquel Jones said Holmes was in the right place to make defensive plays and to get the Sun moving in transition.
“I appreciate her energy, her effort, and I feel like a lot of times that helped us to finally get over the hump and get over our tiredness a little bit,” Jones said.
Holmes said everyone in the locker room expects nothing less than a championship this season, but on an individual level she wants to do everything she can to be the best teammate.
“I can be whatever they expect, or whatever they need out of me,” Holmes said. “Whatever I can do – rebound, run, assist, score… Overall that’s my goal. To be a great teammate.”
Sun swap wing depth for guard depth
Charles had a significant role off the bench in her first two seasons in the league, and earned enough trust to start the Sun’s Game 4 semifinal game against the Chicago Sky last season.
But Miller said the Sun want to play lineups with Jonquel Jones, Bri Jones and Alyssa Thomas, with Thomas playing the wing. Since they also have DeWanna Bonner at the wing, they didn’t have as much of a need for a big, athletic wing like Charles.
“The ultimate decision was connected to the big picture of trying to get three All-Stars on the floor together,” Miller said. “It was difficult to waive a family member who’s been a big part of a very successful team for two years. But again, the big picture of trying to put our best players on the floor together forced us into carrying less big wings.”
In her second year, DiJonai Carrington now finds herself as one of the more experienced players on the bench. She built on her impressive showing at Athletes Unlimited to have an excellent camp, and Miller has been impressed with her defense and energy.
“On defense, she’s a problem. She’s a pest,” Miller said. “She was one of the top two in deflections in all of training camp, so she was really being disruptive.”
She led the Sun in minutes coming off the bench against the Atlanta Dream during the preseason, and ended the night with 12 points, six rebounds, two assists, three steals, and one block.
Miller said the Sun will need her to shoot better from outside this season, but Carrington brings the spark the Sun are looking for from the bench. And her teammates praised her confidence from behind the arc after the preseason game, with Jonquel Jones saying Carrington has already shown improvement as a shooter and in her body control.
Carrington said she’s worked hard in the offseason to improve her game, and it means a lot to have that recognized by the MVP. She said she’s not done improving, and wants to continue to do the little things that help the team win.
“By no means am I complacent or am I content with where I am,” Carrington said. “But I worked hard on my three point shot, I worked hard on just being more confident, and making my decisions coming off ball screens, and my body control when I am trying to go to the rim.”
While the Sun built their identity around their defense, Clouden was drafted for her scoring. And Miller said her offensive game has been “as advertised” through camp. She’s shown she can score in bunches, something the Sun could use off the bench.
Miller said the rookie Clouden will need to adjust to the professional league, where players are more physical than in college. She’ll also need to learn to play both guard spots to find more time on the floor,but Miller said he’s confident that she has a bright future.
“Physicality, defense is her area of growth, and she certainly will be thrown into the fire her rookie season to get better and learn how to survive in this league,” Miller said. “But I’m really excited about her potential.”
Clouden said she knows Miller brought her in to be an offensive spark plug off the bench, and she said she wants to stay aggressive without forcing shots to earn her time on the court. She said she’s excited to learn from the experience of trying to put the pieces together to win a championship.
“I think this is a great situation for me to be in as a rookie, being around people who have one thing in mind – and that’s winning championships,” Clouden said.
Yvonne Anderson gets her Sun shot
Yvonne Anderson arrived late to camp and Wednesday was her fourth practice with the team. Miller said it’s hard for a player to break onto a WNBA roster for the first time ever while arriving late to camp, but Anderson did.
The moment came later than Anderson expected, but she said she was grateful for her journey. Her eight years playing overseas, because it brought her to the position she’s in now – as a WNBA rookie with patience from persisting at her goal, and a game that has evolved and matured.
My game, it’s just, it’s survived,” Anderson said. “I know a lot of players that I started with, they’re not here. I know players who are younger than me, and they’re not still playing. My game is just, it’s mature. And I think that just came with the timing. And maybe that’s just what my journey was supposed to be.”
Anderson has had an impressive overseas career, most recently with Umana Reyer in the Italian League. She’s already played against WNBA players in Europe and in international play, including some of her current teammates, like Jonquel Jones. Anderson also helped the Serbian national team to a fourth-place finish at the Tokyo Olympics.
“What best describes Yvonne that we all see from coaches to teammates, is she’s got a poise about her that speaks to her experience as a pro,” Miller said. “While she’s never played in this league, she’s been professional a long time and she plays at a pace that you can be successful at and there’s a poise about her that is indicative of being a 30 plus year old pro.”
After only about a week of practice after arriving from overseas, Anderson played in her very first WNBA live game on Sunday – albeit a preseason game – and ended up playing more minutes than everyone but Carrington.
Playing mostly at the point guard position, Anderson ended the exhibition with 11 points on 3-for-4 shooting, four rebounds, and three assists – and she impressed the coaches with her ability to run the point and play at the right pace for the team.
Anderson said she signed with the Sun on the first day of free agency knowing the staff and players already had a level of respect for her game and wanted to see what she could bring to the team.
Miller said he has been watching her game closely overseas for years, but her success overseas meant she was still playing postseason games there and couldn’t make it to training camp. This year, Miller said the Sun rolled the dice even though she was going to be late for camp, and Anderson made the most of her opportunity.
“It is not easy for a player to come back into training camp delayed, and then be asked to play the point guard position and lead the team from that position and be late to training camp and earn an opening day roster,” Miller said.
Anderson said she knows she needs to bring toughness on defense and pace and composure on offense. And she’s also tasked with replacing the energy that the former Sun reserves brought every night.
Anderson also knows she’s put herself in position to play on one of the most competitive teams in the world’s most competitive league
“At this point in my career, I’m not used to walking onto a team that expects to lose or is just hoping to compete. I like to play for the best coaches with the best players,” Anderson said. “On this team specifically, you’re playing with some of the best players in the world, (including) the best player in the world.”
“It’s a challenge because you know, you have to raise your level, but at the same time, I’m not intimidated,” Anderson said. “This is where I feel I belong, and I’m willing and ready to do whatever they expect of me to help us get to our goal.”