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Sun Rises To Uncertain Future With 2022 Draft

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It’s a familiar tale. Another year, more talk about how increasingly difficult it is for WNBA rookies to crack an opening day roster. That tragic situation again occurred for the Connecticut Sun heading into the 2022 season, possibly more than most teams. The Sun had three picks in this year’s draft. They selected Michigan State’s Nia Clouden (12th overall), Baylor’s Jordan Lewis (24th overall), and Florida’s Kiara “Kiki” Smith (36th overall).

All-Big Ten Talent

Clouden was selected to the All-Big Ten First Team following the 2021-2022 season. Clouden averaged 20 points and 4.2 assists per game, according to Her Hoops Stats. Her 20 points per game were good for twenty-fourth in the nation. Additionally, she shot just a tick under 40% from three and is proficient at getting to the free-throw line.

Clouden is a two-way player who can be impactful defensively, too. For the defensive juggernaut Sun, it’s sensible that Curt Miller saw Clouden’s potential.

Following the draft, Clouden referred to herself as a “smaller guard who likes to get to her spots and can create for others.” Clouden considers herself to be a three-level scorer and hopes to bring a certain physicality to camp.

Clouden recognizes that much backcourt talent will be present and knows that will push her to be her best. “I want to push people around me, and I want to have other people around me push me to be better every day.”

No Shortage of Guards in Uncasville

With their second-round pick, the Sun drafted Baylor’s Lewis. Miller stated, “she’s an outstanding point guard with a high basketball IQ.” A graduate transfer from Alabama, Lewis was All-Big 12 First Team and Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. She had an immediate impact following her arrival at Baylor, averaging 5.3 assists per game during the 2021-2022 season. A durable player, Lewis also set an NCAA D-1 record for most career games played at 158.

The Sun’s third-round pick, Smith, was somewhat of a “draft and stash.” Unfortunately, Smith suffered a season-ending knee injury towards the end of an outstanding senior season. She collected All-SEC Defensive Team and First Team All-SEC honors despite that setback.

Smith is an explosive player and a catalyst for the Gators. In a comeback win over a Top-25 Texas A&M team, she scored 27 points with nine rebounds and seven assists. Miller said the Sun looked at Smith as a potential first-round pick before her injury. Miller confirmed he looks forward to her camp presence in 2023 and that the “Sun will be there with her every step of the way as she rehabs.”

When asked about the loaded backcourt situation heading into camp, Miller explained that Connecticut is trying to create the most competitive training camp atmosphere possible. “We don’t want anyone to get so complacent that they always are guaranteed a spot on the team.”

Miller desires competition for roster spots.

“We want people to fight for the spots on the team, and there’s no secret we’re looking for some spark with that second unit with some more guard play.”

Opportunity Awaits

Due to overseas commitments, sometimes WNBA players arrive at training camp late. Miller elaborated a bit on how this situation can benefit the team in the long run. “The unintended consequence of having some of your veterans not back in camp is it really gives young players a chance to shine.”

This scenario previously occurred in Connecticut, boosting the team.

Natisha Hiedeman ran the team from the point guard position early in camp, and it gave her a ton of confidence going into the season.” He stated that starting point guard, Jasmine Thomas, will again fulfill overseas commitments to begin training camp.

This obligation will allow Clouden and Lewis to get extra time on the court. Miller relayed that he thought this draft class’s deepest position was at point guard, and the way the Sun drafted confirms that notion.

Miller discussed how the Sun was extremely cognizant that they lost Briann January to free agency. Because of that unfortunateness, one of the primary draft targets was another ball-handler who can also defend.

All three Sun draftees fit that prototype. Miller said, “Nia played a lot of two in college but can certainly play the one. I think Jordan is a great one. She’s got some of that dog in her, like Bri January, that she can guard multiple positions, and she can be physical.” Miller then stated that Lewis will take charges more than anyone in this draft class.

Roster Changes on the Horizon

Following the 2022 season, Courtney Williams and Hiedeman, two heavy rotation guards, will no longer be under contract. The following year, Thomas will become an unrestricted free agent. Is it possible that they all return to the Sun?

Of course. But it’s also possible they don’t.

As with any draft, the Sun desires to build the best team possible for both the upcoming season and future years. If either rookie can crack the roster this season, it’s not likely they would see a lot of playing time, barring injury. But in drafting them, the Sun may be looking a lot further ahead to what Clouden or Lewis can bring to the table next season and beyond.

About Kayla Dos Santos

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