Joyner Holmes embracing training camp experience with Connecticut Sun after abrupt end to season in Ukraine – Hartford Courant

Joyner Holmes embracing training camp experience with Connecticut Sun after abrupt end to season in Ukraine – Hartford Courant

Joyner Holmes’ heart is heavy when she turns on the news these days. As the Connecticut Sun forward watches CNN reports on the war between Russia and Ukraine, she sees a country that looks completely different from the place she played in for seven months for Ukrainian club BC Prometey in the 2021-22 season.

“How it looks now,” Holmes said, “it’s just, it’s really sad and it hurts my heart.”

When Holmes arrived in Ukraine late last August, people were talking about the conflict, but she says everything that unfolded in the following months was still “abrupt” and “not expected.”

Holmes and BC Promise played a game on Jan. 27, defeating Castors Braine by over 20 points. The following day, she went home for the national team break. She hadn’t previously planned to do so, but with the threats getting worse her coach let her go. Less than a month later, on Feb. 24, Russian troops began to invade Ukraine.

“It was abrupt and I hate that for these individuals that I was playing with and their families,” Holmes said. “… You get so close to them and you get to know them and stuff, and so it’s like these people are almost like your family members in a sense. And seeing them lose their homes and their houses and seeing them not be able to contact their families is just something you really can’t put into words, because it’s not happening to you but you can see it firsthand. And so it was hard.”

Holmes didn’t return to the country. The team finished the season in Bulgaria, though it was still cut short.

“Honestly, it kind of sucked,” Holmes said. “… I think we lost like three games the entire season — one in Ukraine — and so I was really looking forward to kind of finishing the season out, winning the cup and going to the finals and stuff like that.”

Holmes then spent about a month back home in Texas. Preparing to compete for a spot on the Connecticut Sun, who signed her to a training camp contract in February, was a challenge with the structure of practices and games gone.

“That was tough mentally,” Holmes said. “Like, you see all these people playing and you want to be at that caliber and be playing at that caliber when you get to camp, so I think that was a little challenging for me, but I settled in pretty well so I’m enjoying it so far.”

The 6-foot-3 Holmes, who played with the New York Liberty in 2020 and spent time on the Las Vegas Aces at the start of last season before being cut, then came to Connecticut for training camp with the Sun. Holmes said she has focused on extending her shooting range, passing, being more vocal and post defense.

Veteran guard Jasmine Thomas mentioned Holmes as one of the players who had stood out so far. Assistant Chris Koclanes has been impressed as well.

“What I’ve appreciated most about Joyner is her coachability,” Koclanes said. “She just came in eager to learn and apply, and she is the ultimate team player right now. Just she’s so gifted, right? She’s got so much athleticism. There’s so much there, potential. And she’s really, really trying to learn and play within the system, right?

“She’s naturally gifted. She can go and make all these plays. It’s just a matter of her being able to play within a system. You know, can she do what we’re trying to do on both sides of the ball, and she’s been really intentional about that.”

Holmes’ task in training camp certainly isn’t an easy one: She’s been going head to head with league MVP Jonquel Jones each day in practice. In describing the experience guarding Jones, Holmes thinks back to when her season overseas was abruptly ended because of the conflict in Ukraine.

“It’s been interesting going against the MVP every day. It’s not something that you would think or expect to be doing two months ago,” Holmes said. “So I’m having fun with it. Jones is great on and off the court. She helps us a lot in different segments and different areas and stuff, so that’s really helpful. But just trying to have fun and learn as much as you can with with the individuals around you.”

Lila Bromberg can be reached at lbromberg@courant.com and @LilaBBromberg on Twitter.

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