Before the 2017 WNBA season began, the narrative surrounding the Connecticut Sun could be summed up in three words: youth, growth and future. They had potential, sure, but were probably a good 2-3 years away from making noise in the East – as evidenced by nearly every media outlet predicting they’d finish with one of the worst records in the league.
Deep down, however, Curt Miller knew how good they were. He knew how hard his staff worked to put the team in the best possible position to succeed. He knew Jonquel Jones would emerge as a bona-fide superstar. He knew how remarkable the chemistry was. But it didn’t stop him from working 18 hours each day.
That’s how a Coach of the Year prepares.
Panic never consumed the team when they lost Chiney Ogwumike for the season. Or when they lost four of their first five games. Or when they were 2-5 and faced the Dream (a team Miller had never beaten), Liberty and the undefeated Lynx without Alex Bentley (Belarus), Lynetta Kizer (back) and Morgan Tuck (knee). Instead, the team rallied around Miller and went 3-0 and averaged over 99 points per game while handing the Lynx their first loss of the year. And when they found themselves down by 11 in the fourth quarter against the Storm without Jasmine Thomas? No panic. No fear. They went on a 13-2 run in the final five minutes to seal the victory.
That’s how a Coach of the Year inspires.
From the moment he was hired, Miller set out to change the Sun’s culture. “Changing the culture” is a tired phrase; we hear it ad nauseum. It’s something many coaches say but fail to accomplish. Miller, though, has not only changed the Sun’s culture, he’s made it better than ever. Jasmine Thomas has said repeatedly that Miller just “lets them play.” If you’re a pro, the best possible situation to be in is one where you can play your own game within a game plan – and Miller’s game plans are legendary for their detail and intricacies. That is to say, it speaks volumes for Miller to adapt and change on the fly to allow each individual player the opportunity to showcase their unique skillsets.
That’s how a Coach of the Year trusts.
Nobody cares more about his players than Miller. Nobody. From lengthy conversations before and after practice to quick messages on Twitter, Miller always makes sure his players know how much they mean to him. For example, in the wake of the terrible tragedy at Charlottesville, Miller let each of his players know he would unequivocally have their back if they wanted to express themselves through social media. Most coaches don’t want that distraction. But for Miller, some things are bigger than basketball.
That’s how a Coach of the Year loves.
Whatever adversity the Sun has faced this year, big or small, they’ve risen above it. After struggling at the beginning of the season, Miller made significant adjustments. He moved Alyssa Thomas to the 4 spot and added Courtney Williams to the starting lineup. Since that point, the Sun has won 18 of their last 23 games and they lead the WNBA in points, field goals made, 3-point percentage, offensive rating and assist to turnover ratio.
That’s how a Coach of the Year adapts.
With Miller at the helm, the 2017 Sun has not only been the biggest surprise of the WNBA season, but also the most entertaining. They play with one another, for one another – a feat that isn’t easily accomplished at the professional ranks. With five games to go, they’ve already surpassed their 2016 win total by five games, have the best record in the East and have emerged as a legitimate WNBA Championship contender.
Exceeding expectations. Inspiring confidence. Maintaining honor and integrity.
That’s what a Coach of the Year is.
And what Curt Miller embodies.