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The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, Sept. 21. 2022

(Happy Basketball Wednesday. It’s a great day in women’s basketball, both because the World Cup is starting, and because Robert Sarver’s tenure as owner of the Mercury is ending. I will be off next week — the great Alex Simon of Bay Area News Group will be filling in.)

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Brionna Jones was still emotional about a half-hour after her Connecticut Sun lost to the Las Vegas Aces in Game 4 of the WNBA Finals. We stood talking in the hallway leading back toward the Connecticut locker room, Jones’ face still wet with tears as she began grappling with what’s to come.

I mentioned to her what Curt Miller had said about her — that having her on the floor down the stretch of Game 4 had as much to do with rewarding those who had given the most to this Sun team as it did a strategic decision — and she smiled at another level reached.

“Yeah, I mean, when you say it like that,” Jones said, laughing. “I never thought of it like that. In the moment, I’m just thinking of continuing to do what I’ve been doing.”

What Bri Jones has been doing is exceeding any reasonable goals for herself since the moment the Sun drafted her eighth overall in the 2017 WNBA Draft, six picks after Alaina Coates, five after Evelyn Akhator, Jones the third big selected. Since then, she’s justified Connecticut’s faith in her many times over, while playing a variety of roles.

Few people throw a King Charles III comp on Bri Jones, but they should — she’s been basketball royalty for some time, but denied her starring role, not by an accident of birth, but rather, an accident of drafting. She was a Jonquel Jones stand-in after Jonquel opted out of the 2020 bubble season, Alyssa Thomas stand-in when Thomas’ injury cost her nearly all of 2021, and then back to the bench as the kind of luxury few teams ever have.

She did it without complaint, without the seams showing — no small thing, given the unique skillsets of Jonquel Jones and Alyssa Thomas. She even did it in what is likely her final game with the Sun, keeping Connecticut afloat after Jonquel went to the bench with her fourth foul late in the third quarter of Game 4. If not for a Riquna Williams explosion, it might have been enough to carry the Sun into a Game 5, perhaps even a championship.

But in that familiar corridor, she knew, too, that her time in Connecticut could be coming to an end. Jones is a free agent, on the cusp of a massive contract from somewhere. And the very players who she’s shadowed make signing her to such a deal in Connecticut virtually impossible, given the salary cap.

Jones said she planned to huddle with her family, with her agent, the capable Boris Lelchitski, and figuring out what situation “is best for me, who do I work with?” Even as she pondered it, she knew there were miles to go — overseas in Prague this year, and aiming “to get better”, suggesting that there are higher levels for Jones, even now.

Before that, though, she knew she was getting on a plane to Australia, where USA Basketball will make ample use of her talents in the World Cup. Do not be surprised to see her playing a featured role — the gap between Jones and the stars in this league has disappeared, and Cheryl Reeve and her staff know it as well as anyone.

And as she continues on to her third team this year in Prague, the WNBA teams in need of a versatile big will line up to offer her the world, hoping to be Bri Jones’ next employer.

Everything she’s worked for is here, and yet she’s still always working. So I asked her: will she have any time to decompress amid this rise? She let out a sigh of exasperation at the very idea.

“I don’t know,” she said. “This is what I’m going to go figure out, too.”



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This week in women’s basketball

Molly Bolin Kazmer needs to be in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

Kiah Stokes, WNBA champion.

Good big-picture stuff on the Sun from Ben Pickman.

Jackie Powell on how A’ja Wilson reached this level.

Chantel Jennings on Becky Hammon’s journey.

Rachel Bachman on why we’re seeing a drop in high school girls’ participation in basketball.

Maitreyi Anantharaman reflects on the Finals.

Steve Kerr has Robert Sarver thoughts.


Five at The IX: A’ja Wilson, Chelsea Gray, WNBA champions


Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: Eleni Demestihas, @strongforecheck, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.