April 22, 2022
Jonquel Jones is back in Connecticut with unfinished business
Head coach Curt Miller: 'Here’s the MVP'
UNCASVILLE, Conn. – When the league MVP hits free agency, naturally she’s going to draw a lot of interest. But when the calls came in to Jonquel Jones this offseason, she turned them down.
“Nothing too crazy. Just shutting down a lot of people,” Jones told The Next on Monday, describing her free agency. “A lot of people want me to come to their team, but I just feel like we have unfinished business here.”
The Connecticut Sun have fallen just short of winning the franchise’s elusive first championship each of the past three seasons. Last season’s crushing semifinal loss to the Chicago Sky led to speculation in some corners that Jones would take the opportunity to look elsewhere for her first WNBA title.
But Jones reportedly took less than the league maximum salary that she likely would have garnered from anyone else in order to stay with the Sun. That gave the team enough cap space to bring back All-Star guard Courtney Williams, who played a key role in the team’s 2019 Finals run.
“You think about 2019, and we were so close. We were literally minutes away from being champions,” Jones said. “A couple play calls, a couple calls from the referees, a couple things we could have done better, and it’s a different outcome.”
The Sun lost starting guard and defensive stalwart Briann January to the Seattle Storm in free agency – but the team is still as talented as ever, boasting six WNBA All-Stars and a big three of Jones, DeWanna Bonner and Alyssa Thomas – all fully healthy and together for the regular season for the first time.
“With [Alyssa Thomas] healthy, like, we got through the whole season without her [last year], and we had a great season – so imagine her being here, too,” Jones said. “I couldn’t walk away from our team without being able to see what we were like at full capacity and full potential.”
While most of the roster will look the same as last year, the return of Thomas and Williams will bring a new look and a faster pace to the Sun.
Last season, the Sun leaned into their defensive dominance and put the league into a grit-and-grind vice grip on their way to a 26-6 record – playing at the slowest pace in the league and allowing the fewest points per game since the 2011 Seattle Storm, according to Her Hoop Stats.
“With Courtney back, I think our style of play is going to change,” Jones said. “We’re going to be able to get up and down the court faster, and it’s going to be another way that we can be successful.”
Third-year guard Kaila Charles has known Jones since her high school days in the D.C. area, so she was happy on a personal level to have her friend back. And on a basketball level, Jones is integral to the team’s success, she said.
“Every year, she’s tapping into a new level, and I’m really excited to see what she’s going to bring this year,” Charles said. “And I’m glad she’s on our team, and we don’t have to go against that.”
Jones led the Sun in scoring last season with a career-best 19.4 points per game and was one of two players in the league to average a double-double. Jones also finished last season with a career-high in three-point attempts per game and made 36.2 percent of them. Director of Player Development Awvee Storey thinks she can shoot better from the perimeter and has a chance at being the first player to win back-to-back MVP awards since Cynthia Cooper.
“I’ve definitely challenged her [on] her balance, being able to finish plays through contact, shoot the ball better at the 3-point line. She can always get better,” Storey said. “The next level to her game is a mid-range game – off the dribble, things like that. I think that’s very important when they take away that three-point shot. One dribble, two dribbles, pull up. So that’s our challenge this year. If she can do better in those areas, I don’t see why she couldn’t win it again.”
Jones said getting stronger has been one of her biggest focuses, and being able to bang in the post with the league’s bigger players. She said she’s also been working to adjust to the extra defensive attention that comes with being one of, if not the best, players in the world.
Before arriving in Connecticut on Sunday, Jones spent two months at home in the Bahamas after her season with UMMC Ekaterinburg ended early when Russia invaded Ukraine. She said she loved spending time at home with her family and friends, but started to miss the game and her teammates. Nothing simulates the on-court, five-on-five experience, she said.
“When you get back out here, it’s a different feeling. You get to feed off the energy of your teammates, you get to, you know, crack jokes and laugh and smile,” Jones said. “And I think today really just reminded me of how much I just love the game. And you know, I’m so happy to be back.”
Head coach Curt Miller said it’s been years since Jones has been in a training camp, even for a few days. Last season, Jones was one of several Sun veterans who arrived late because of overseas duties. She only had two days of practice before playing in the season opener.
Not only will Jones benefit from practicing with the team, her presence is a huge boost for the young players in camp, Miller said.
“You just felt it in her first practice today,” Miller said. “She was leading vocally, everyone was following her. You could see some of the wide eyes. You know, ‘Here’s the MVP.’”