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Jasmine Thomas finds home with Connecticut Sun

It took a while for Jasmine Thomas to find the right fit in the WNBA, but the guard helped the Sun return to the Finals in her fifth season with the team. M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- This area is home to Jasmine Thomas. But it took going to Connecticut for her to feel at home in the WNBA. Thomas is an All-Star point guard who was traded three times before her fifth season in the league.

"I remember after the last trade thinking, 'Is this becoming my story? What's my value? What's going on here?'" Thomas said on the eve of Game 1 of the WNBA Finals (ESPN, 3 p.m. ET Sunday). "But I'm grateful for what we're doing in Connecticut because I finally got the opportunity that I think I deserved."

Thomas and the Connecticut Sun will take on the Washington Mystics -- the franchise with which she began her WNBA career -- in the Finals. For Thomas, who turns 30 on Monday, it's a coming-full-circle moment.

She grew up about 20 miles west of here, in Fairfax, Virginia, a contented bookworm. But her dad, Johnnie Thomas, knew his daughter was also an athlete, and a fast one.

"My dad would tell me to go out in the neighborhood and race against the other kids," Thomas said, smiling. "So that was fun for him. But then I was like, 'OK, now I'm going back inside to read.'"

Thomas then got serious about basketball, and she recalls going to the 2002 WNBA All-Star game here in the nation's capital. She enjoyed watching it, but she wasn't aspiring to the WNBA yet. It wasn't until she was at Duke from 2007 to 2011 that she believed she was good enough for pro ball.

Drafted by the Seattle Storm with the last pick of the 2011 WNBA draft's first round, Thomas was traded to her hometown Mystics before her rookie season started. But it was a bad time to go to Washington. The Mystics had finished first in the Eastern Conference in 2010, then had an acrimonious split with their coach and general manager. The next two years, 2011 and '12, were the worst back-to-back seasons the franchise has ever had, going 11-57.

When Mike Thibault took over as coach/general manager heading into the 2013 season, he knew he had to shake up things. That included trading Thomas.

"This would have been the right place for her, but it just was the wrong time," Thibault said. "When I came here, this group had such stagnation that we needed to change something. She was a tradeable piece to change it."

Thomas was sent to Atlanta, which went to the WNBA Finals that year. After the 2014 season, she re-signed to stay with the Dream. But once more, she was traded, this time to Connecticut. That 2015 season was coach Anne Donovan's last with the Sun, and then Curt Miller took over. Which is about the time Thomas started to blossom. Thibault knew it was coming.

"I saw her as player who'd need a few more years at least to get there," Thibault said of his feeling when he traded Thomas. "I always felt like she was going to be a very good defender.

"But offensively, being a pro point guard involves a million choices. It took her time -- and one more trade -- to get to a place where she could grow with the rest of that group."

The Sun's chemistry has been one of their hallmarks, and it starts with Thomas.

"She just has this fantastic demeanor, the kind you want out of a leader," Miller said. "We've been very young, and while we let this core group grow together, she's taken that almost motherly role.

"Her growth has been on the offensive end. To have the freedom to go play, but to know when to pick her spots. When she gets sped up and starts to take difficult shots, that's when she can get in trouble."

That was a focus this year for Thomas: Try not to do too much scoring-wise, and distribute the ball more. The past two seasons, Thomas had led the Sun in shot attempts, with 406 in 2017 and 402 last year. This season, she was third (355) behind Courtney Williams (430) and Jonquel Jones (386).

"That's always been something I've struggled with my entire career," Thomas acknowledged of balancing scoring and playmaking. "Because I do have that combo-guard skill set, but I've been a point guard. Which I've loved; I've embraced the leadership role."

As backcourt mate Williams said, "She's a coach outside of our coach. I'm soaking up as much knowledge as I can from her; she knows so much about the game."

Thomas averaged 11.1 points, fourth-best on the Sun, this season, along with a team-high 5.1 assists. But there are still times when Thomas needs to come up big with buckets. Such as the decisive Game 3 of the WNBA semifinals against Los Angeles last Sunday, when Thomas tore up the Sparks with 29 points on 11-of-14 shooting.

"We know every once in a while, we're going to have a game like we did in Game 3 in L.A., when everything seems to come down to Jas," Miller said. "And she can still have that monster game."