New coach Stephanie White pledges a fresh start for Sun

New Connecticut Sun head coach Stephanie White on Tuesday teased a new offensive system and fresh energy she intends to bring to Uncasville in hopes of finally pushing a franchise that’s been on the cusp of winning a championship over the edge.

“To me, a change, a fresh face, a fresh system, fresh energy, a new vibe is something that can elevate, that can create some new energy and hopefully give us an opportunity to continue to compete for championships,” White said at her introductory news conference.

White is a former WNBA player herself who served as an assistant on the Indiana Fever’s 2012 championship squad and as the franchise’s head coach from 2015-2016.

The Sun are coming off an appearance in the WNBA Finals, their second in four years, where they fell to the Las Vegas Aces. They also made the semifinals in 2020 and 2021.

Team president Jennifer Rizzotti said one of the criteria players requested as the organization looked to replace Curt Miller, Sun coach from 2016-2022 before he left for the Los Angeles Sparks in October, was that the new coach would be a former player.

White — who won the 1999 national championship at Purdue before playing five seasons in the league — emphasized that her experience has helped her become a players’ coach who values ​​their viewpoints, embraces honesty and “understands[s] what they’re going through physically, mentally, emotionally.”

Both White and Rizzotti alluded to a new offensive style, that’s “fast-paced, up-tempo, free-flowing,” White said, likely either four- or five-out to provide spacing for players to make plays.

Under Miller, the Sun evolved towards a more defensive- and rebounding-centric identity in recent years with a strong focus on production from their frontcourt players.

One such player, Brionna Jones, who typically plays more back-to-the-basket, is a free agent heading into 2023, as are guards Courtney Williams and Natisha Hiedeman. DeWanna Bonner, Jasmine Thomas (who is coming off an ACL injury) and 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones are all free agents in 2024.

Rizzotti said she’s paid attention to the evolution of the game both in the NBA and WNBA, and how the last few champions in the W have embraced a more modern style. She is currently in the process of hiring a general manager.

“When you look at what style is working in the W right now, it’s having guards that can create shots for themselves and for their teammates and play off of ball-screen and hand-off actions,” Rizzotti said. “It’s being able to spread the floor with 3-point shooting, which hasn’t particularly been a strength of ours. … We’re not going to reinvent the wheel, but I think every team is going to have some free agency moves and some changes to their roster. We’re anticipating the same and so we’ve got to figure out what that looks like for us.”

White, who most recently was head coach at Vanderbilt from 2016-2021 and also worked as an analyst for ESPN, the Big Ten Network and Fox Sports — agreed there’s more of a “retool” of the roster than anything else. She already loves the squad’s “grit and toughness,” comparing the way Alyssa Thomas spearheads that to how WNBA and Fever legend Tamika Catchings did so — “you can’t underestimate how far that takes you.”

“We want to bring a championship here to Connecticut,” White said. “We have the pieces to do that. We have the mentality to do that. We’re going to put the staff together that puts the best product on the floor and puts our players in position to be successful, night in and night out. “

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