By RENALDO DORSETT
Tribune Sports Reporter
The Connecticut Sun are two weeks away from the WNBA season opener, Jonquel Jones is in training camp and Sun head coach Curt Miller expects a big year from his All-Star forward.
The Sun traded former No.1 overall pick and All-Star forward Chiney Ogwumike to the Los Angeles Sparks for a 2020 first-round pick - a move that could lead to a bigger role for Jones.
“No more looking over her shoulder,” Miller said on Episode 24 of the SunCast podcast. “It was easy if one of them was in foul trouble or having an off night it was easy to have a shorter leash. ‘JJ’ experienced that in her second year, her breakout year, she had a longer leash because we didn’t have Chiney. Obviously you clear some air space for her, really excited about her fourth year and what kind of season she’ll have for us.”
The Sun exercised the fourth year team option on Jones in September. “To be a championship team Jonquel Jones has to blossom into one of the premier players in the league,” Miller said.
Last offseason, Jones missed the entire training camp and preseason which Miller noted was a setback throughout the year.
Jones had another successful WNBA offseason this year as her team captured the EuroLeague women’s championship. Her UMMC Ekaterinburg of the Russian Premier League won their second consecutive and fifth EuroLeague title.
“The delay in her arriving at training camp last year was detrimental to her in the beginning part of the season. Excited to have her back,” Miller said. “I’m excited to see the growth and development that an international season had when you had post teammates of Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury), Emma Meessemen (Washington Mystics) and Maria Vadeeva Los Angeles Sparks).
“Three bonafide post players in the WNBA, she got to practice against that collection of post group everyday in Russia so I’m really looking forward to her growth and maturity.”
When Ogumike was injured for the entire 2017 season, Jones posted a breakout season, but was relegated to a reserve role in 2018 once she returned to the floor.
With an increased role, 2017 was a season full of milestones for the Grand Bahama native.
In her second season, she was named to the All-WNBA Second Team after she averaged a double double, set the league’s single season rebounds total, was named an All-Star and was awarded as the WNBA’s Most Improved Player.
Jones finished the year averaging 15.5 points and 11.9 rebounds per game - a dramatic increase from her rookie season when she averaged 6.8 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. Her record-setting total was 403 rebounds for the season. She also added 20 double doubles.
Jones’ historic season included several individual milestones, including becoming just the second player in league history to record three 20-rebound games in a single season.
“A really important motto of our team since my arrival has been, fight for the role you want and be a champion in the role you earn. While everyone is going to scratch and claw for minutes in the role they want for this team, the professional thing we ask as
the season gets underway as roles become clearly defined is to be a champion in the role you earn,” Miller said, “We have superstars, we have really talented players, we may not have the mega superstars like the Diana Turasi, Brittney Griner or Sue Birds in the league but our depth is special and as long as you can keep the chemistry we work at, depth can really help you.”
Once Ogwumike returned, Jones faced limited playing time and a dip in production.
Her playing time dropped from 28.5 to 20.5 minutes per game as a reserve and she started only 16 of the 34 regular-season games. Jones was still named the 2018 WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year, earning the honour as the league’s top reserve for the first time in her three-year career.
She averaged 11.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, a career-high 1.7 assists and 1.24 blocked shots per game last season. She tied for ninth in the WNBA in blocks and ranked fifth in field goal percentage (55.0) and second in three-point field goal percentage (46.7).
With 50 three-pointers made, she surpassed her total from the previous two seasons combined (36). During the Sun’s 9-1 finish to the season, Jones averaged 18.5 points and 6.6 rebounds. That stretch included four games of 20 or more points.
The Sun will open the preseason by hosting a two-day preseason event involving the Atlanta Dream, Dallas Wings and New York Liberty on May 13 and 14. The preseason double-header on the May 13 starts with Dallas and Atlanta tipping off at 5 pm. The Sun host the Liberty at 7 pm. On May 14, the Liberty meet the Dream at 5 pm and the Sun faces Dallas at 7 pm. The Sun will close out the preseason on Sunday, May 19, traveling to Albany, New York to take on the Liberty at 2:30 pm.
The Sun will open the 2019 WNBA season on Saturday, May 25 against the Washington Mystics. Game time at Mohegan Sun Arena is set for 7:30 pm.