When DeWanna Bonner joined the Sun in February 2020, the team was a few months removed from the 2019 WNBA Championship after dropping a heartbreaking winner-take-all Game 5 against the Washington Mystics.
Jonquel Jones, the franchise’s cornerstone player, had been constantly telling Bonner throughout the offseason that she was the missing piece they needed to win it all.
“Just buttering the bread,” Jones told media on Thursday. “And I buttered the bread correctly.”
Almost a year and a half after Jones helped recruit Bonner to the Connecticut Sun, the two will share the floor as teammates for the first time when the Sun take on the Atlanta Dream at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Fans will have to wait another year to finally see the vaunted big three of Jones, Bonner and Alyssa Thomas – as Thomas sits out the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon. But even without her, Bonner and Jones’ size [Bonner is 6’4” and Jones 6’6”] and ability to score from three levels make them one of the more intriguing duos in the league.
“To finally be able to see [DeWanna Bonner] and [Jonquel Jones] on the court is going to be scary,” Thomas said. “I mean, this is what we’ve all been waiting for. To have such length and to stretch the floor like that.”
A two-time WNBA champion from her days playing with Diana Taurasi on the Phoenix Mercury, Bonner said she wants to hang a championship banner in the rafters at Mohegan Sun.
There are banners now for conference championships, player numbers that have been retired, Mohegan Sun Arena stadium of the year awards, and a recognition of ten sold out Billy Joel concerts [a New England record]. A WNBA Championship banner would make a welcome addition.
Bonner is excited to finally meet the fans and play in her new home arena, and she wants fans to know that she is going to bring energy and her full effort every time she steps on the court.
With the length of a power forward and the skills of a guard, Bonner can put on a show. She had two 30-point games and eight 20-point games last season, ending up third in the league in scoring. She is the definition of a volume shooter, launching 16 shots a game. She’s also one of the best rebounders in the league, and her long arms can cause havoc on defense.
“I’m always gonna bring it. I’m gonna bring it every night,” Bonner said. “I’m gonna try to bring the same energy and enthusiasm I’ve always had. Those who have seen me play, I get hyped, I get ready.”
Jones opted out of the 2020 season because of health concerns surrounding COVID. She watched the Sun from her home in the Bahamas, and was in constant contact with her teammates. She said she was happy to be relaxing at home with her family for the first time in a long time, and she doesn’t regret making her decision. Still, she felt like she was missing out, and is excited to get back on the court with the Sun.
“If I could have just said, ‘Take me back for the playoffs and let me play,’ I would have done that for sure, because I definitely wanted to be there, seeing how close the team was and understanding that we have a team that can compete for championships,” Jones said.
Overseas commitments complicate season start
Jones and Bonner will likely make a dominant pair, but the Sun are under pressure to develop chemistry and learn to play with each other quickly. Jones – who recently returned from playing with UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia after winning the EuroLeauge and Russian league championships – will only have practiced with the team twice before opening night.
“It’s still a lot of learning, it’s still a lot of growing, but I expect it to be something that definitely thrives,” Jones said of her chemistry with Bonner.
WNBA players frequently play overseas in the offseason to supplement their salaries. Veteran point guard Jasmine Thomas won’t be available for the first game of the season, and Briann January joined the team for the first time yesterday, because of their commitments to their overseas teams.
The Sun also have a young and inexperienced bench because the majority of the salary cap is committed to six players on guaranteed contracts. With the veterans missing from training camp, it resembled a try out more than a traditional camp where teams would be working on their lineups, perfecting plays, and developing team chemistry.
Miller has instead been busy trying to get the players in camp up to speed with the team’s system, and most of them have been cut in the last week. Jones said the team talked in practice on Thursday about a perception that their bench isn’t as deep as others in the league.
There’s no doubt the Sun will rely on young players to step up off the bench. Heading into her third season, guard Natisha Heideman will be one of the most experienced reserves. Miller will also be looking towards second-year players Kaila Charles and Beatrice Mompremier, and rookie Dijonai Carrington, to step up.
“I think that’s a place where we’re going to be able to grow,” Jones said.
The Sun know it may take a few games to get their footing, but they’re no stranger to being the underdog.
The Sun were underestimated in 2019, thriving on a gritty, underdog mentality and rallying behind their “#DisrespeCT” slogan as they came one game from winning a championship. Even after they turned an 0-5 start in 2020 into a deep semifinals run, the Sun still feel like they haven’t gotten the respect they deserve as a top team in the league.
Jones especially feels the lack of respect. She was an MVP candidate in her last season – she was the 12th highest scorer in the league, and led the league in rebounds and blocks. That she still feels she has to prove herself should terrify her opponents.
“I always feel like people underestimate me,” Jones said. “I always feel like, for the things that I’ve been able to do in the league, I just don’t feel like there’s enough respect behind my name. I’m coming into the season definitely trying to prove something, especially since I sat out last year.”
Even though the #DisrespeCT slogan has become somewhat of a running joke among opposing fan bases – as the Sun have been one of the best teams in the league over the past two seasons – there are still those who count them out.
ESPN put the Sun eighth on its preseason power rankings, meaning they would just barely get into the playoffs.
Bonner said she doesn’t pay attention to power rankings or what other people are saying about how Connecticut stacks up to the other 11 teams in the league, but knows that no one expected a 10-12 sun team to make it to Game 5 of the semifinals last season.
They’ll head into this year with the same focus, looking to hit their stride at the right time and playing their best basketball when it matters most.
“We just focus on us and we grow every day, and when the time comes when it’s important we play our best basketball at that time, anything can happen,” Bonner said. “We’ve just got to keep going and getting better. I’m definitely more so focused on what’s going on here and how we can get better and build, and wait patiently for our players to get back.”
The Sun return to Mohegan Sun Arena for the first time in 586 days on Sunday to face Diana Taurasi and the Phoenix Mercury. The arena will allow about 2,300 masked fans to attend the first nine home games, through July 9 when the league takes a break for the Summer Olympics. The Sun will release information later on about arena capacity after the Olympics.
New England Sports Network [NESN] will locally broadcast 22 of the Sun’s 32 games across NESN and NESN+. The Sun will also have four games broadcast on ESPN3, one on ESPN2, and five on CBS Sports Network and seven on NBA TV. As part of new league partnerships, the Sun will also stream on Twitter twice, Facebook five times and Amazon Prime three times.