Despite the hubbub surrounding the Chiney Ogwumike trade, roster continuity and depth bolster the Connecticut Sun’s playoff chances.
In 16 long seasons — 20 if you include the four years the franchise existed as the Orlando Miracle — the Connecticut Sun remain title-less, only making the finals twice.
The Sun represent their state’s only current professional sports team (always remember the Whale and that one time the Patriots claimed they were moving to Hartford), but one that makes perfect sense.
With UConn perennially competing for the national title every March, the appetite for hoops is high. It also means the fans in the region are accustomed to a heightened level of success.
The team plays its home games at Mohegan Sun, a mere 45-minute jaunt from UConn’s main campus in Storrs. Since taking over the Orlando franchise in 2003, the Sun compiled a respectable 300-244 record, good for a .551 winning percentage, and 10 playoff appearances. While respectable, they haven’t channeled the same success as their Husky counterparts.
The Sun enjoyed an interesting offseason, dealing former first overall pick, Rookie of the Year and two-time All-Star Chiney Ogwumike to the Sparks for a 2020 first rounder. Many a head was scratched when the move happened, but it then came to light Ogwumike forced their hand, asking for a trade to Los Angeles where she could play alongside her sister, Nneka, and push her media career forward.
Look, as a born and raised Connecticutian who now resides in New York City, I get it. Uncasville, Conn. doesn’t exactly offer the same glitz or opportunities as L.A. I can also understand how it doesn’t sit well with the fan base. A star forcing their way to another team certainly isn’t new or unique to Connecticut though.
While replacing Ogwumike’s production won’t be easy — she led the Sun in scoring and rebounding last season — it’ll clear a frontcourt logjam and open opportunities for others to grow.
It’ll start with Jonquel Jones. The former All-Star and reigning Sixth Woman of the Year will be given more room to grow and a bigger piece of the pie. She forms an ideal inside-outside frontcourt pairing with Alyssa Thomas.
Head coach Curt Miller also expects bench center Brionna Jones to step up this year after her stout international season in the Russian Premier League where she put up 16 and 9.
They will also lean on a strong draft. Ninth overall pick, Kristine Anigwe will have the first crack at a big role. Anigwe was a monster in her four years at Cal, averaging 22.5 points and 16.5 rebounds her senior season. She somehow fell to the ninth pick and joins a Connecticut team looking to make the playoffs for the third consecutive year.
They landed two former Players of the Year in the second round. The Big East’s Natisha Hiedeman out of Marquette came in exchange from the Lynx for Lexie Brown and the Big 12’s Bridget Carleton out of Iowa State. However, the Sun are the deepest team in the league and both will battle just to claim a roster spot. What they lack in top-line superstars, they make up for in depth.
Despite the trade fallout and headlines, Connecticut’s title hopes are bolstered by its continuity. Four of last season’s starters return to their roles, with Jones (who started in 2017 when Ogwumike ruptured her Achilles) rounding out the fifth spot. And if injuries strike, they have the luxury of capable backups to soak up minutes.
Their sustained competence and established familiarity give them a high floor. They’d only need to catch a few breaks along the way (like avoiding the Phoenix Mercury in the single elimination rounds) to get to the big dance.