By Ben York
Second-year Connecticut Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller pauses for a brief moment during Monday’s intense first practice.
“We’re playing five-on-0 right now, but we have to make passes exactly how we would in the game,” Miller said, direct and to the point, but with his always-positive tone. “That chest pass would never make it through the paint in a real game. Let’s go; run it again.”
That interaction is a microcosm of a typical Curt Miller practice.
Fast. Purposeful. Detailed.
“We’re instilling a culture here,” Miller said after the first day of training camp. “We call it, ‘The Connecticut Way.’ We want to play hard – really hard, play for each other and, most importantly, win.”
The first day of camp is always fraught with expectations, excitement and anticipation. The true “grind” of a WNBA season hasn’t yet begun, and the entire team is just beginning to get a feel for one another.
Nevertheless, there is an unmistakable sense of optimism that permeates throughout the entire squad.
And that starts at the top.
“We are cautiously optimistic,” Miller added. “Many teams in the league already have a solid idea of who will make their final roster. We, on the other hand, are using training camp to determine our final roster. Players are giving it their all on each drill, and that really goes a long way.”
The sense of optimism in this Sun team correlates, in large part, with how they ended 2016 (third-best record in the league after the All-Star break). Carrying that momentum over to a new season is certainly possible, and it’s a challenge that excites Miller and his staff.
“It doesn’t take talent to play with passion and communication,” Miller said. “That’s part of the culture we are instilling. I’m a big believer in attitude and effort. I don’t want bad body language or bad attitudes. In addition to the wins, I think that really won over our fan-base last year. They team cared for each other, especially in the second half of the season, and it showed in our games.
“Each year brings new personnel, sure, but the momentum can absolute carry over if we play that way – and I think we will.”
The Sun will be the youngest team in the league when the 2017 season begins. For Miller, though, that’s not used as a crutch. Rather, he sees distinct advantages to the Sun’s youth movement.
“It kind of creates a chip-on-your-shoulder mentality,” he said. “That can be a catalyst to a team who plays unselfish, passionate basketball.
“It’s the first day, but I’m pleased with what I’ve seen so far.”