Jun 18, 2019
- Mechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.
Jasmine Thomas can sense it instantly: That slight shift between her Connecticut Sun team being sufficiently fired up and teetering toward the edge of an emotional cliff. The Sun player with the most experience — Thomas is in her fifth season with Connecticut and ninth overall in the WNBA — she knows exactly what coach Curt Miller needs from her.
“You can feel when your team is getting out of character. When I stay steady, it helps, I can notice us stay calm,” Thomas said. Then she added with a laugh, “And, you know, Curt can be kind of feisty. He can get a little riled up, so I try to be that mediator.”
The Sun are off to a 6-1 start, and this weekend will face the past two WNBA champions: at Minnesota on Friday, and at home vs. Seattle on Sunday (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). While they’re not getting ahead of themselves, the Sun have quiet confidence as a team, much like Thomas has individually.
In post player Jonquel Jones, Connecticut has someone with all-around superstar ability; she’s currently averaging 18.0 points, 12.1 rebounds and 3.0 blocked shots in her fourth WNBA season.
“She’s had that playing experience overseas that’s helped her to adjust to the speed and physicality of the game,” Thomas said of the 6-foot-6 Jones. “But it’s also being in a system that’s designed for each player to play her game.
“We know she’s versatile, and she’s able to show all those things here: pushing the ball in transition, breaking someone down one-on-one, hitting the 3, but also using her size on the inside.”
In Courtney Williams (14.7 PPG), one of the best midrange shooting guards in the league, Connecticut has someone who can get hot and can’t be stopped. Alyssa Thomas (10.3 PPG, 9.1 RPG) and Shekinna Stricklen (8.9 PPG) are veteran starters who each know their roles well and excel at them. The Sun also have bench that isn’t going to get a ton of minutes or produce huge numbers, but fits what Connecticut needs.
And then there’s Jasmine Thomas, who is currently averaging 10.9 points, 5.0 assists and 2.1 steals. She’s a glue player at point guard who really found herself by coming to Connecticut. She loves the fans’ passion there, saying, “They really understand basketball. What’s great about Connecticut fans, when things are going great or not great, they understand why, the different dynamics. And I think that builds a bond with the players.”
She loves the team that has developed there, and how they all rely on one another.
“Now, we’re so comfortable with each other,” Thomas said. “When someone is lacking in any area, there’s always someone that’s going to pick them up. The character, the way this team was designed was strategic, everyone is a good fit on the court and off the court. We’re hard workers; we challenge each other, and that builds a level of respect.”
And she loves that it has turned out this way: The tough times she faced and two trades she might not have been thrilled about at the time have all led to where she is now.
Seattle, which drafted her out of Duke with the last pick of the first round in 2011, traded her before her rookie season started. That deal was OK by her; it sent her to Washington, D.C., her home turf (she’s from Vienna, Virginia). But after two years with the Mystics, she was dealt to Atlanta.
She admitted that trade “hurt a bit,” but with the Dream, she got a chance to play in the 2013 WNBA Finals. Then in 2015, she was traded to Connecticut. At the time, the team was still coached by the late Anne Donovan; Miller would take over in 2016. The Sun were in the midst of a four-year stretch (2013-16) of missing the postseason. Yet Thomas has had a chance to blossom in Connecticut.
Part of that has been her development during her overseas career, where she has had some very good experiences, but also some very challenging and isolating ones.
“I found a place where I could become myself,” Thomas said. “I don’t want to sound like that person who is always ‘positive Patty,’ because really, there were times I lost my confidence and doubted myself. But my character is to work hard through it all.”
Thomas doesn’t try to spin the Sun’s second-round playoff losses at home to Phoenix the past two years. Those stung, and they’ve meant the Sun haven’t won a playoff game since 2012. Connecticut would like to avoid the single-elimination rounds entirely this year, and instead finish in the top two and advance straight to the semifinals.
“Our goal is the bye; to reward ourselves for a great regular season,” Thomas said. “But if that doesn’t happen, we’re not afraid of facing that [single-elimination] situation again. We’re not going to be thinking about the past. We’ve let it go.”