The Connecticut Sun Are The Coldest Welcome To The League

In April, DiJonai Carrington, the impeccably eyelashed Connecticut Sun guard, asked fellow WNBA players to share their “welcome to the league” stories. Natasha Cloud said she’d been punched in the face by Diana Taurasi on the follow-through of a transition three, and then, somehow, called for the foul. (“And she made it. +4 / I got subbed out.”) Dearica Hamby offered less granular detail, but anyone familiar with Sylvia Fowles’s Hall of Fame rim protection could understand her answer: “A Syl block 😩.” Haley Jones, who briefly overlapped with Carrington at Stanford, didn’t write any words in her answer, only a simple ellipsis. The video said enough:

The Twitter thread painted a colorful picture of all the ways a WNBA player can be “welcomed” to the league, some of these ways more excruciating than others. But you either die a rookie or live long enough to see yourself become the welcomer. On Tuesday night, Carrington would become another person’s “welcome to the league” story: The fourth-year guard accounted for eight of Caitlin Clark’s 10 turnovers as the rookie finished with 20 points on 5-of-15 shooting in her Fever debut. And even when Carrington came out of the game in the second half with some cramping, her teammates picked up the slack. There may be no worse welcome to the WNBA than playing the Connecticut Sun, loaded with strength and size at every position, a hazing ritual if there ever was one. Despite three years of coaching and personnel changes, they remain the league’s trickiest team to solve.

The Sun achieve this by being a team of basketball mutants. DeWanna Bonner led her team with 20 points last night, moving herself up the all-time scoring list with a layup in the third quarter. Stopping Bonner is made harder by her blend of post size and guard mindset. If there is a long-distance shot she has ever felt uncomfortable taking, it would be a surprise. I’m sometimes taken aback by the on-paper version of her, a 30.4 percent career three-point shooter. The version lodged in my memory is much deadlier; perhaps she saves her three-point makes for important moments.

Together, Bonner and Alyssa Thomas (a fellow guard trapped in a post player’s body) form a literal odd couple. As the sportswriter Lindsay Gibbs pointed out, when Bonner moved to fifth on the all-time WNBA scoring list, she passed her ex-wife, Candice Dupree, and the bucket was assisted by Thomas, Bonner’s fiancée. Thomas finished the game with the ninth regular-season triple-double of her career.

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The Sun can always be relied on for stout defense and offensive chemistry—they beat the Fever, 92-71, without much sweat—so it was more impressive to see their big preseason questions answered satisfyingly on the basketball court. In her return from the Achilles injury that kept her out for most of the 2023 season, Brionna Jones won the physical battle in the paint against Aliyah Boston, limiting Boston to just six field-goal attempts (and offering ammo to those truthers who believe the Sun could’ve beaten the Liberty in the semifinals last year with a healthy Jones). Connecticut’s new backcourt looked perfectly capable, even without wing Bec Allen, who went to Phoenix in a sign-and-trade deal this offseason. Rachel Banham, a sometimes-maddening pickup from Minnesota, showed that when she can leave the point guarding work to someone else, she’s an excellent shooter. Tyasha Harris shed her shooting-shy reputation and made three threes in the first quarter. And for all the attention Carrington’s defense rightfully earned her, it was her 16 points and comfort in the starting lineup that should excite Sun fans. 

More than 2 million viewers watched the Fever-Sun season opener, the biggest television audience for a WNBA game in 23 years, so at least Clark isn’t alone. Plenty of other people got their “welcome to the league” moment courtesy of a relentless, rejuvenated Sun team, too.

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