By Ben York
During a particularly grueling stretch in a recent practice, Jasmine Thomas noticed the team wasn’t quite executing a defensive drill to its standards.
It’s not that they weren’t playing hard. Far from it. But for Thomas and the Sun, it’s the small stuff – the details – that will end up making a big difference when the season starts in May.
“We’re going to keep doing this,” Thomas said to the team, firmly, but with encouragement. “We gotta get this right. C’mon, let’s go!”
On the surface, it might not seem like that big a deal. But for a team as young as the Sun, it absolutely is.
Immediately afterwards, the team reset and practice was elevated to another level.
Like someone flipped a switch.
“It’s definitely a conscious decision by me,” Thomas said in regards to her role as a leader. “Being a veteran on this team, I try to be both vocal and lead by example.”
Thomas emerged as a star in the WNBA last year with the Sun, averaging career-highs in nearly every statistical category (11.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists).
Indeed, the Sun will look to Thomas to put up similar numbers in 2017, but her role as an extension of the coaching staff may be even more important.
“To me, being a leader is someone who is ready to go – on and off the court – at any moment in time,” Thomas said. “Constantly paying attention so if someone has a question about a play, rotation or anything else, they’ll feel comfortable coming to me for the answer. I wasn’t always this vocal in my career, so that has naturally evolved over the years based on what each team needs. I’m not afraid to be wrong and have that discussion so everyone can come to an agreement as a team.”
It’s one thing to say you’re a leader and another thing to have it happen organically. The latter is undeniably the case for Thomas and the Sun.
“We really are so fortunate to have her,” Curt Miller said. “She does so many things for us that never appear on a box score, and many things that obviously do. She has the ability to provide a sense of comfort on the floor. Her leadership is huge. And she is such a professional in terms of setting an example to our young players for how to carry yourself on and off the court.”
In fact, if you ask any player on the Sun roster who they look to as a leader, they’ll name Jasmine Thomas without hesitation.
“I’ve played with Jazzy forever,” said Alex Bentley, who first teamed with her when both were members of the Atlanta Dream. “She’s always been such an amazing vet and leader. She was the same when I played with her during my rookie year. She’s consistent and you always know what you’re going to get from her which really helps the younger players. We have a great connection on the court and I think that will only get better moving forward.”
Every team in the WNBA has talent. The teams that, ultimately, take that next step forward are the ones who figure out how to play with one another and work to get better every single day. As a WNBA veteran, Thomas knows this and points to the end of last season as an example.
But will the momentum from 2016 carry over?
“As soon as we got back together in Connecticut as a team, it felt like we never left,” Thomas said. “It really felt like we immediately picked up where we left off last season. That doesn’t happen often. We’re not satisfied, though; It means we’re going to work even harder.”