July 13, 2020 

The Connecticut Sun have a smooth transition into life at IMG Academy

The players are using the extra downtime to bond and get ready for the shortened season

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Connecticut Sun forward DeWanna Bonner talks with the media via Zoom from IMG Academy, Bradenton, Florida, USA on July 11, 2020. Screen capture courtesy of Chris Poss.

The single-site season has been a blessing in disguise as the Connecticut Sun, who welcome six new players this season, have been able to spend time as a team and bond during their downtime.

DeWanna Bonner, who comes to Connecticut after spending the first 11 years of her career in Phoenix, said the team hangs out in the hallway and is able to bond instead of hanging out in their own separate apartments. 

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who comes to the Sun after five years with the Storm, said the team plays UNO, watches plastic surgery shows, and sits outside when it’s not too hot. 

The team even has a leaderboard, something that is hotly contested. After being asked who was the best at UNO, chaos ensued. 

“Media: Who’s the best at UNO?

Alyssa Thomas: AT [Alyssa Thomas]

Mosqueda-Lewis: No. There’s a leaderboard

AT: AT’s on the leaderboard

KML: AT cheats she looks at people’s cards so we need a way to start over, a clean slate because it’s not very clear right now. And the rules are never clear either just so. Not everybody plays the same.” 

Alyssa Thomas believes that the time spent off the court will help them on the court, “I think this is a great time for us to bond off the court, being that we are a new team and just getting familiar with each other. I think it’s gonna be super important, our chemistry off the court, and hopefully, that will translate on the court.”

For Bonner, the hardest part has been figuring out the routine, but as a mom, she’s enjoying the downtime and the rest she has been able to get. However, she believes by the mid-point of the season she’ll be ready to lose her mind. 

Bonner’s two children with Candice Dupree are staying with family about an hour away from IMG Academy. She wanted her daughters, who turn three later this month, to have a little structure in their lives with school and their normal routine. 

“They’ve kind of gotten used to it because I go overseas and play …  it sucks that I can’t you know just hop in the car and go see them or anything like that but hey they are good kids they’ve taken in stride with it and call me on FaceTime all the time so it’s pretty cool,” she said. 

Thomas is looking on the bright side to staying at IMG Academy for the season, “Honestly, it’s not that terrible. For me it’s easy, my meals are there for me, I have my room it’s cleaned. I get a fresh towel so I’m honestly enjoying it.”

Rookie Kaila Charles has used her downtime to work on the mental aspect of her game and relax before the hectic season begins, this has included both reading and painting. 

She said that the first practices have been intense, but necessarily so, saying, “We’ve been getting up and down the floor, trying to get back in shape, and so it’s a lot. It’s a big difference but I’m just soaking up everything that I can, asking questions, trying to learn and try to make sure I learn from my mistakes if I make any. So, it’s tough but that’s what I want.” 

Charles has been working on her basketball IQ and seeing the floor. She mentioned having played the 4 in college and needing to adjust to playing more of a guard position. She has been working on looking for other people, getting them involved, and making plays for others, not just trying to score. 

Conditioning and staying in shape was a concern for many ahead of training camp. 

Thomas believes her conditioning is where it needs to be despite not having played basketball since March.“I think right now it’s just about getting our touchback and the more we’ll play the more we’ll get in shape,” she said. 

Mosqueda-Lewis compared shooting to riding a bike, saying the first day was rough but it’s gotten better every day. 

Similarly, she can see the chemistry starting to build slowly every day that the team is playing together. 

Head coach Curt Miller believes his team’s conditioning is better than expected but said that play is inconsistent and rusty. His challenge so far has been trying to figure out what to work on with so many new faces and so few practices ahead of the start of the season on July 25. 

He noted that his team was, “still a little sloppy in stretches but, um, you know, certainly expected sometimes their minds are moving faster than our skill right now.”

Miller starts preparing for practice with 10 hours of work to do and he works to pare down the plans until it’s one practice worth. 

Miller misses the teaching the game aspect from coaching in college, something he has gotten to do this season with so many new players. 

“I’m really energized, that’s what I love most about the game I love being on the practice floor. I love trying to scheme things, I love making adjustments. I’m a competitor. Really really ultra really competitive and so that really fuels me so I’m having a lot of fun, pulling my hair out that we don’t have more time with this group but we’re going to do the best we can to be ready when games start,” Miller said. 

He noted that some members of his team are getting tired legs and that it’s a long day of practice for the players with just 10 of them on the court. Because of this, he is trying to walk the fine line between keeping his team fresh and not overworking them, while still preparing them to play more minutes as Natisha Hiedeman and Briann January have yet to join the team in Florida. 

He believes that his team will be underappreciated and overlooked but believes his team still has a lot of fun pieces. 

Overall, Miller understands the importance of the WNBA coming back for all those watching. 

He said, “I think mental health-wise being able to turn on and see live sports and enjoy live sports is something that is very important to all of us and I’m proud to be a part of a league that has taken a ton of precautions. The amount of planning is daunting to get us to this point, we know we still have to be very diligent and be careful and do our part to try to keep this bubble safe and healthy for the players so I’m excited to be a part of it. But at the same time, we really got to stick to our guns and do our part to try to keep this as healthy as possible.”

Written by Natalie Heavren

Natalie Heavren has been a contributor to The Next since February 2019 and currently writes about the Atlantic 10 conference, the WNBA and the WBL.

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