March 2, 2024 

Back in Connecticut, Moriah Jefferson has familiar championship dreams

'Any time you’re in Connecticut, it feels like a family'

Eight years after she hoisted her fourth consecutive NCAA national championship, Moriah Jefferson is back in Connecticut. The 29-year-old point guard, who was traded to the Connecticut Sun on Feb. 3 in exchange for wing Rebecca Allen, is excited to be back in the state where she’s had so much success. 

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“Getting the news for me, it was just kind of a full-circle moment,” Jefferson told reporters in a press conference on Feb. 29. 

Mohegan Sun Arena, the home of the Connecticut Sun, is about a 40-minute drive from the University of Connecticut, where she spent a dominant four years with teammates Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck. The three of them remain close and still text regularly. Stewart is coming off of a WNBA MVP campaign for the New York Liberty, and Tuck is entering her second season as a member of the Sun’s front office.

“Especially with Morgan being here as the assistant [general manager], you can’t really ask for a better situation,” Jefferson said. “Our four years in college were incredible. Being so close to UConn is going to be a good opportunity for me to get a chance to kind of go back there as well.”

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Just a week before the trade, Jefferson had joined former UConn teammates for a reunion of the 2013 and 2014 national championship teams. At the time, she didn’t know she’d be heading back to play in front of many of the same fans for the Sun. 

“Any time you’re in Connecticut, it feels like a family,” Jefferson said. ”There’s such a huge crossover from Suns fans and UConn fans. So for me, every time I come back to Connecticut and I play at Mohegan, I always get a really good cheer from the crowd.”

After years of knee problems, Jefferson is excelling again

Jefferson was the No. 2 pick in the 2016 WNBA Draft (Stewart and Tuck went first and third, respectively). She enjoyed a great rookie season, averaging 13.9 points and 4.2 assists per game and being named to the All-Rookie team. Then began years of knee injuries; she missed 13 games in 2016, 17 games in 2018, the entire 2019 season and most of 2020. 

Through the injuries, many would have given up and pivoted to something different. Not Jefferson, though.

“For me, it’s about one day at a time, small goals,” she said. “So getting off of a crutch, that’s a small goal. Taking a step, that’s a small goal. And I celebrated those things as if I was on the court. I think for me, doing those things helped me when I get back on the court, with my confidence, but [also] my mentality of understanding that basketball is what I do and I love to play, so I’m not going to take one day off or one day for granted.”

Minnesota Lynx point guard Moriah Jefferson goes up for a layup with the ball in her right hand.
Moriah Jefferson, shown here playing for the Minnesota Lynx in June 2022, could make a major contribution for the Connecticut Sun this season. (Photo credit: John McClellan | The Next)

She said that growing up undersized — Jefferson is 5’6 — helped her maintain confidence through injury despite the outside noise: “Since I was a kid, I’ve always been overlooked, just because I’m so small. And so going through injuries, that was another thing where I’ve heard, ‘Oh, is she good enough to come back?’” 

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Championship aspirations

In 2021, Jefferson enjoyed her first fully healthy season since her rookie year, averaging 17.2 minutes per game for the Dallas Wings. It’s been all uphill from there: The following season, she averaged 10.8 points per game on 47.4% 3-point shooting for the Minnesota Lynx. Last year, she had another healthy year for the Phoenix Mercury. She averaged 10.5 points per game on 43.3% shooting, but Phoenix had a difficult season, finishing with the WNBA’s worst record.

Alongside Sun mainstays Alyssa Thomas, DeWanna Bonner and Brionna Jones, Jefferson hopes to have the chance to compete for a WNBA championship. The Sun finished with a 27-13 record last year, and in Thomas, they have one of the best players in basketball. 

“I’ve won on every level except the WNBA,” Jefferson said. “So obviously, I want to get a championship. That’s never an easy thing to do. We’re playing [in] the hardest league in the world. But for me, that’s my end goal, so coming here, I want to do whatever I can to make this team better and to get as close as possible to that goal.”

The two-time defending champion Las Vegas Aces will still be the team to beat. Stewart and the Liberty, who defeated the Sun 2-1 in the semifinals last fall, will also be tough competition. 

But the Connecticut Sun retained their veteran core this offseason and should once again be in the mix. That level of collective experience should help Jefferson thrive. 

“Being able to play with a team who’s already established, who knows exactly what they have to do, it just makes your job as a point guard a lot easier,” Jefferson said. “For me, listening to them, what’s important for them — they already know their bodies, know their roles on the court, so, as a point guard, it’s kind of a dream.”

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Jefferson brings a strong pick-and-roll game and steady 3-point shot to a roster that has often lacked spacing. She’s excited to play a brand of free-flowing, read-and-react basketball. “It’s easier. It’s not really cookie-cutter, robot type of basketball; you have a lot of different flows and different reads. Playing with [Thomas] and [Bonner], I think that’d be really easy to do.”

Though training camp doesn’t begin until late April, Jefferson said she’ll get the playbook early and start studying film in preparation for the season. She’ll play whatever role is needed; historically, as a point guard, that’s been a leadership role, but she noted that every team and coaching staff has a different need. 

“It’s really important for me to know what everybody else does on the court, just so I can make sure I’m putting them in the right positions to be successful,” Jefferson said. “[I’ll] watch a lot of film [and] try to talk to the players about what they like, where they like to be on the court, what their favorite type of plays [are]. That way, I always have three or four plays in my head constantly going so I can be ready for the next pass or the next read.”

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For now, she is just happy to be healthy and able to play the game she loves, recognizing it’s not easy to stay in the WNBA for as long as she has. 

“​​My mindset has always been the same,” Jefferson said. “I’m going to show up every single day, work as hard as I can, play as hard as I can.”

And there’s perhaps no better place for Jefferson to continue her storied career than in front of the fans who watched her at the top of the mountain.  

“I’m excited to get a chance to be back here — not playing for UConn, but playing for the Sun,” Jefferson said. “It’s really fun to see how my game has grown from college until now and to be able to get a chance to show the fans that.”

Written by Noa Dalzell

Noa Dalzell covers the Boston Celtics for SB Nation's CelticsBlog, and the Connecticut Sun for The Next Hoops. Her work has also appeared in FanSided and Swish Appeals, as well as CLNS Media. When she's not writing about basketball, she's playing basketball or lobbying for a more sustainable food system.

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