Connecticut Sun

The Connecticut Sun are an American professional basketball team based in Uncasville, Connecticut that competes in the Eastern Conference of the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA). Along with the Minnesota Lynx, the club was established in 1999 as part of the league's expansion from ten to twelve teams. The Miracle, the club's previous moniker, originated that year in Orlando, Florida, as the sister team to the NBA's Orlando Magic. Financial straits left the Miracle teetering on the brink of disbanding before the Mohegan Indian tribe purchased and relocated the team to Mohegan Sun, becoming the first Native American tribe to own a professional sports franchise. The derivative of the club's name comes from its affiliation with Mohegan Sun, while the team's logo is reflective of a modern interpretation of an ancient Mohegan symbol.

Capitalizing on the popularity of women's basketball in the state, as a result of the success of the UConn Huskies, the Sun also held the distinction of being the only WNBA franchise not to share its market with an NBA team from 2003 until the Seattle SuperSonics relocated, leaving the Storm as an independent team in Seattle.[3]

The Sun have qualified for the WNBA Playoffs in twelve of their eighteen seasons in Connecticut.

Before the franchise relocated to Connecticut in 2003, the team operated as the Orlando Miracle. The Miracle played their home games at TD Waterhouse Centre in Orlando, Florida, as the sister team of the Orlando Magic. After the 2002 season, the NBA sold off all of the WNBA franchises to the operators of the respective teams, which placed the league in the middle of team contractions, relocations, and potential labor strife. Since Magic ownership was no longer interested in retaining the rights to the Miracle and no local partnership was reached, the organization ceased operations and was purchased by the Mohegan Tribe. On January 28, 2003, it was announced that the Miracle would immediately move to Uncasville, Connecticut and change its nickname to the Sun (in reference to the Mohegan Sun casino).[4] The Sun's nickname, color scheme and logo are similar to that of another defunct Florida-based franchise, the Miami Sol, which folded at the same time as the Miracle's relocation to Connecticut.[5]

With a new home in Uncasville and two former UConn Huskies on the roster, the Sun entered the 2003 season looking to build upon a 2002 campaign in which they missed the playoffs due to a tiebreaker with Indiana. The Sun underwent a total overhaul during the off-season – selecting Debbie Black in the dispersal draft and acquiring former Connecticut star Rebecca Lobo to add another local attraction to join Nykesha Sales.[6] General manager Chris Sienko named Mike Thibault, a coaching veteran with two NBA titles as an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Lakers, as the first head coach for the franchise.[7]

On May 24, 2003, the Sun hosted the first regular season game of its inaugural season, which was shown on ABC, the league's new broadcast partner. The Sun yielded to the two-time defending champion Sparks before a sellout crowd of 9,341. At the conclusion of the 2003 season, the Sun finished with an 18–16 record, which clinched the first playoff berth since the franchise relocated. The Sun swept the second-seeded Sting in the first round of the playoffs, and before being swept by the Detroit Shock in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Rebecca Lobo announced her retirement after seven seasons in the WNBA. The Sun returned Katie Douglas, Nykesha Sales and Taj McWilliams-Franklin, the group that formed Thibault's nucleus. General manager Chris Sienko fortified that core with former UConn product Asjha Jones, who was acquired in a three-team trade, and Minnesota Golden Gophers phenom Lindsay Whalen, who was taken with the fourth overall pick in the 2004 Draft. The Sun managed to snag a top pick in one of the deepest draft classes in league history by trading perennial all-star point guard Shannon Johnson, a move that was universally panned by Sun fans.[8] The Sun selected Lindsay Whalen amidst rumors they would trade her to the Minnesota Lynx.[9] However, she remained on the team as the Sun posted an 18–16[10] record in an equally-talented Eastern Conference, winning the #1 seed. In the first round, the Sun defeated the Washington Mystics 2–1. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Sun rolled on, sweeping the New York Liberty. The Sun had made it to the WNBA Finals in their second season of existence. In the Finals, their run would end, as they lost a hard-fought three-game series, 2–1, to the Seattle Storm.[11]

In the 2005 off season, the Sun acquired 7'2" (2.18 m) center Margo Dydek.[12] With a dominant post presence, the Sun controlled the Eastern Conference, posting a 26–8 record,[13] the best regular season record for an Eastern Conference team in WNBA history.[14] In the playoffs, the Sun flew to the finals, sweeping the Detroit Shock and the Indiana Fever. In the 2005 WNBA Finals, the Sun were matched up against an equally dominant Sacramento Monarchs team. Also against the Sun's luck, Lindsay Whalen played through the series with injuries. The Sun had home-court advantage, but it was of no use; the Sun lost the Finals for the second straight year, 3 games to 1, in the first WNBA Finals played in a best-of-five format.[15]

The success of the franchise was rewarded in 2005, when the Sun were selected to host the annual WNBA All-Star Game. The All-Star game was arguably the most exciting in WNBA history with the two teams combining for 221 points. At the end of the game, Lisa Leslie became the first woman to ever dunk in an All-Star Game.[16]

In 2006, the Sun would match their 2005 record[17] and it looked like a return trip to the Finals was certain. Mike Thibault received the WNBA Coach of the Year Award, and it appeared as if no team could stop the Sun. All five starters were named to the WNBA Eastern Conference All-Star team: Katie Douglas, Margo Dydek, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Nykesha Sales and Lindsay Whalen. This feat had never before been achieved in WNBA history. In the playoffs, the Sun would quickly sweep the Washington Mystics. But in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Sun were upset by the Detroit Shock, 2 games to 1, on the Sun's home floor.[18]

The Sun stumbled out of the gate in 2007, posting a dismal 5–10 record by late June. However, the Sun stormed back into playoff contention by winning 11 of their next 13 games, to finish the regular season at 18–16,[19] good enough to win the #3 seed in the Eastern Conference. In the playoffs, the Sun faced the Indiana Fever in the first round. The Sun came into the series having won all four regular season contests against the Fever. In Game 1, despite holding a 17-point lead in the third quarter, the Sun allowed the Fever to force the first triple-overtime game in WNBA playoff history, ending with a 93–88 victory for the Sun. However, the Fever would respond by winning the next two games and therefore the series, including a playoff record 22-point come-from-behind win in Game 3.[20]

The front office knew something had to be done to save the team from another disappointing finish. During the 2007–08 off-season, the Connecticut Sun made major changes to their roster in an effort to win that ever-elusive championship title. The Sun made three trades, one sending Katie Douglas, the face of the franchise, to the Indiana Fever, a deal that signaled the end of the partnership that led the Sun to consecutive WNBA Finals appearances. In return, the Sun received Tamika Whitmore who would surely create a physical presence in the paint, something that the Sun had been lacking in previous years.[21] Following that monumental trade, Nykesha Sales announced she would sit out the 2008 season due to multiple nagging injuries.[22] 7'2" center Margo Dydek also took the season off due to her pregnancy.[23] With three former starters missing from the Sun lineup, most sports critics and publications predicted the team to finish fourth in the East. Some even claimed the Sun would finish sixth, only ahead of the expansion Atlanta Dream.

Contrary to these predictions, the Sun started the season with an outstanding 8–1 record. Soon, however, the team found itself in a disappointing slump. The Sun went on a five-game losing streak, the worst ever for a team under Mike Thibault. The team finished the regular season with a 21–13 record which placed them second in the Eastern Conference, only one game out of first place.[24] In the playoffs, the Sun's youth and inexperience caught up to them; the New York Liberty won game three on the Sun's home floor and for the second straight year, the Sun failed to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.[25]

Exceeding many expectations during the 2008 rebuilding season, the Sun looked to come back even stronger in 2009. There was no reason to believe the Sun would not contend for playoff position. During the first six seasons the team has been in Connecticut, the Sun have tied the highest winning record of any team in the WNBA during that time period, posting a record of 127–77, translating into a winning percentage of .623, with the Detroit Shock having the same exact record for those six years. That success has reflected itself in the team's attendance, which has surged from 6,025 in 2003 to 7,644 in 2008.

The 2009 WNBA All-Star Game was held on July 25 at 3:30pm in the Mohegan Sun Arena. It was the second time the Sun had hosted the game. It was broadcast nationally on ABC (HD).[26] Like the two previous seasons, they would start the season on a struggling note. But they later won 7 out of their next 10 games, putting them in playoff position. Halfway through the season, however, there was a three-way tie for second place which included the Sun, the Dream, and the Mystics. The Sun, plagued by a late-season injury to all-star Asjha Jones missed the playoffs for the first time since moving from Orlando. Sun fans found an unwelcome and unfamiliar ending to the 2009 season. They finished overall with a 16–18 record and finished 6th in the East. After the team was ousted from playoff contention, Thibault said there would be changes.

After a late-season implosion in 2009, head coach Mike Thibault had to make some crucial decisions for a team whose culture completely broke down last year. Connecticut started its rebuilding process quickly, acquiring DeMya Walker in the Monarchs' dispersal draft. The Sun then snagged the first overall pick in the 2010 collegiate draft in a trade with the Minnesota Lynx; a trade that would have the Sun's most recognizable face in starting point guard Lindsay Whalen, along with the second overall pick, shipped to Minneapolis. This package netted the Sun Renee Montgomery, who would prove to be luxury in the deal. Thibault continued to reshape his roster after introducing Kara Lawson at a press conference as a new member of the Sun.[27] Lawson was formerly a member of the Monarchs' team that decimated the Sun's chances of a WNBA title. Lawson, along with Montgomery, formed a backcourt that would be able to dictate pace and bolster the Sun's perimeter arsenal attack. The Sun also signed reserves Anete Jēkabsone-Žogota and Tan White to multiyear contracts to solidify the Sun's revamped backcourt.

The Sun came into the 2010 WNBA Draft with two picks in the first round – the first and seventh overall picks, the latter of which was acquired one day prior to the draft from Tulsa. With its first overall selection in franchise history, the Sun took UConn standout and Player of the Year recipient, Tina Charles, the consensus top prospect available. By playing alongside premier talent at the collegiate level, Charles had shown that she was ready to pilot an offense and lead this franchise into the post-Sales era. After the selection of Charles, Thibault had the remainder of the draft to fortify the weapons around his newly acquired center. To diminish the losses of Amber Holt and Chante Black, both of whom were part of the package deal with the Shock, the Sun selected Kansas product Danielle McCray. Prior to the draft, it was understood that McCray wouldn't be available to participate in the upcoming season due to an ACL injury she sustained in college. There was risk involved concerning her durability, but McCray's potential as a superstar was reason enough to take the leap of faith. The Sun cemented its guard corps with the selection of Allison Hightower in the second round. Thibault wasn't finished making a mark on draft day as he maneuvered around the draft board to address the Sun's suspect defense. He nabbed former Cornhusker Kelsey Griffin, who was taken third overall, in a trade once again involving the Lynx. This trade would have the Sun relinquishing their first and second round picks in next year's draft. The acquisition of coveted players through the draft and free agency capped an off-season of change that had transformed a franchise for the future. Although the reconstruction of the Sun remained a work in progress, this talented class of prospects would serve as the foundation for a team that jumped back into contention quicker than anyone anticipated.

After the 2010 WNBA season, news surfaced that the Connecticut Sun was the first franchise in WNBA history to turn a profit.[28]

The 2011 season started well for the Sun. Few changes were made in the off-season, which gave the team some consistency and a year of experience on which to build. Sandrine Gruda and Anete Jēkabsone-Žogota decided to sit out the season, so the Sun looked elsewhere, adding Jessica Moore and relying on rookie Danielle McCray to step up and score. In a tough Eastern Conference, the Sun held a 9–5 record going into the All-Star break.

In his decade-long pursuit of an elusive title, Mike Thibault found himself in the proverbial hot seat to engineer a deep run. But an absence of urgency was reflected in the team's free agency approach – making small waves to pry Thompson and Cash from their respective teams – to solely ink rugged forward Mistie Mims[29] in relief of Charles. Sticking with the status quo meant the roster was set so much so that the Sun drafted an unheralded Malian prospect. Going into the season, Thibault had assembled a deep roster that necessitated only a couple minor moves to cap the off-season process. The coach's patience paid dividends when his burgeoning core bolted to a 6–1 start highlighted by a chafed Montgomery turning the starting reins over to Hightower.[30] Leading into the 1-month Olympic hiatus, the Sun strung together a five-win streak to improve to a league-best 15–4 mark. Following the ill-timed Games, which saw the club's Jones-Charles tandem help capture gold for Team USA, Connecticut continued to perform superbly while short-handed. They finished the season 25–9, with a better road record (13–4) than as hosts.[31] The Sun fended off late Liberty rallies to sweep their way into a joust with the Fever in what was the team's first Conference finals since 2010's radical facelift. In the series, the Sun took themselves to the doorstep of a Finals berth after notching a decisive Game 1 rout. But building on a stirring two-point Game 2 win and a rally cry after losing Douglas, Indiana derailed the Sun's seemingly predestined trip in a 71–87 home romp, a defeat that essentially cost longtime coach Thibault his job. The lion's share of the season's fortunes came from the talented triumvirate of Lawson, Jones and league MVP Tina Charles flanked by Mims and sixth woman Montgomery carving a niche as an energy duo off the pines. Though failure was what came to mind in taking stock of the team's decade season; the Fever capturing the year's title being emblematic of that.

On November 20, 2012, Mike Thibault was relieved of his duties as head coach for the franchise.[32][33] While at the helm, he amassed a 206–134 record en route to 8 playoff appearances, four Eastern Conference titles and reaching the WNBA Finals twice in his ten-year tenure. However, Thibault's squads have had the notoriety for failing to flip their proverbial switch to close games; honing a burgeoning reputation for folding under pressure.[34] This dubious distinction, coupled with the failure of achieving a franchise-first championship, led to the coach's dismissal. With an eye to accomplishing the objective of a WNBA title, the team hired Hall of Famer, Anne Donovan, as Thibault's successor.[35][36] Among other WNBA stints, Donovan was the head coach of the '04 Seattle Storm team that captured the league title over, ironically, the Sun. Donovan hired Catherine Proto and Jennifer Gillom as her assistant coaches for her initial season. In 2014, Proto became Scouting and Video Operations Manager for the Sun and Steven Key replaced her as an assistant coach.[37] During Anne Donovan's run as head coach she had gone 38-64 in three seasons with the Connecticut Sun before resigning as the head coach in 2015.[38] Curt Miller would be named head coach of the Connecticut Sun starting in the 2016 WNBA Season.

With Curt Miller at the helm of the Connecticut Sun moves had to be made in the off-season to show early signs of improvement. Elizabeth Williams was sent to the Atlanta Dream for the 2016 fourth overall pick in Rachel Banham.[39] In April 2016 the Sun traded Chelsea Gray to the Los Angeles Sparks along with two second round picks in the 2016 WNBA Draft and a 2017 first round pick for Jonquel Jones and the Sparks second round selection in the 2016 WNBA Draft.[40] In the 2016 WNBA Draft, the Connecticut Sun selected Morgan Tuck with their third overall draft pick.[41] After getting three wins in sixteen games on the 2016 season, the Sun moved Kelsey Bone to the Phoenix Mercury for Courtney Williams and a second round draft selection in the 2017 WNBA Draft.[42] Closing out the 2016 WNBA Season the sun would win eleven out of the remaining twenty games finishing with a record of 14-20 missing out on the postseason by three wins. In February of 2017, the Sun would trade Camille Little to the Phoenix Mercury for Lynetta Kizer from the Indiana Fever and eighth overall draft selection Brionna Jones in the 2017 WNBA Draft from a three team trade. [43] Ahead of the 2017 WNBA Season, Chiney Ogwumike was suspended due to an injury she suffered overseas causing her to miss the 2017 WNBA Season. [44] It would only take a 1-5 record in the month of May to turn the early start of the season around for Connecticut finishing with 6-2 and 7-2 record in June, July, and August to clinch a playoff spot. The Sun would finish the season going 21-13 just one win short of tying the New York Liberty for the Eastern Conference Regular Season Title. With the recent changes in 2016 to the playoff format, Connecticut got a bye to the second round of the WNBA Playoffs against the Phoenix Mercury. The Sun went on to lose their second round game 88-83 and despite that loss more success was soon to come. Chiney returned to action in the 2018 WNBA Season while Stricklen resigned for another run with the Connecticut Sun. [45]

The Sun play in the Mohegan Sun Arena. Mohegan Sun is owned by the Mohegan tribe.[46] The arena is located at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut. Despite the inclusion of “Connecticut” in the name, as Native American tribes are sovereign entities, and as the Mohegan Sun Arena is located on the Mohegan reservation, the team technically isn’t under the jurisdiction of the State of Connecticut, although the team is still considered to be located in Connecticut, just not under the state government’s jurisdiction. Mohegan Sun Arena is smaller than most other WNBA arenas, with the maximum capacity (lower and upper levels) for a basketball game being 9,323.[47] The Sun is one of the only top-level professional sports franchises located in the state of Connecticut, along with the New England Black Wolves of the National Lacrosse League, which are also owned by the Mohegan Tribe and also play at the Mohegan Sun Arena, and the Connecticut Whale of the National Women's Hockey League, which are located in Danbury.

The Mohegan Sun Arena is located in the center of the mall area of the Mohegan Sun Casino.[48]

As of the 2021 season the television home of the Sun is NESN. For the 2021 season NESN will air 22 games, 7 on the regular network and 15 on NESN+. [54]

Previously, Connecticut Sun games aired on WCTX (MyTV 9), a local television station for the state of Connecticut. It was the second time WCTX had aired Sun matches. They were also the original home of Sun matches prior to the 2010 season. More often than not, NBA TV picked up the feed from the local broadcast, which are shown nationally. Broadcasters for the Sun games on WCTX consisted of Bob Heussler and Rebecca Lobo, Jennifer Rizzotti or Kara Wolters. From 2012–2014 Sun games were broadcast on CPTV Sports (CPTV-S). For the 2011 season, Sun games were broadcast on Comcast Sports Net New England, with Mike Gorman as an announcer.[55] In addition to Mike Gorman, broadcasters in the past have included Leah Secondo and Kara Wolters.

Audio broadcasts for all home games are done by Bob Heussler, which (excluding blackout games, in which case are available on ESPN3.com) are streamed to the WNBA League Pass game feeds on the league website. Furthermore, some Sun games are broadcast nationally on CBS, CBS Sports Network, ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC. The WNBA has reached an eight-year agreement with ESPN, which will pay right fees to the Sun, as well as other teams in the league.[56]