Former BIG EAST Player of the Year finds success with Connecticut Sun

Natisha+Hiedeman+attempting+a+3-pointer+in+the+Connecticut+Sun%27s+74-67+win+over+the+Las+Vegas+Aces+on+June+1.+%28Photo+Courtesy+of+the+Connecticut+Sun.%29

Natisha Hiedeman attempting a 3-pointer in the Connecticut Sun’s 74-67 win over the Las Vegas Aces on June 1. (Photo Courtesy of the Connecticut Sun.)

UNCASVILLE, Conn- When the Connecticut Sun ran out of the tunnel at Wintrust Arena in Chicago Sat. June 19, Natisha Hiedeman saw a familiar group sitting behind the team’s bench. 

“The whole Marquette program was there,” Hiedeman said.  

Even though it was a different regime than the one that coached her, the Marquette alum was not surprised.

“They were never my coach, but it’s just the love and support that goes both ways,” Hiedeman said. “I feel like it’s going to be a forever thing (that) no matter who’s playing there or coaching there, it’s just a respect thing. That’s important for me to always recognize Marquette and be a part of Marquette.” 

Now in her third season with the WNBA’s Sun, Hiedeman said representing MU remains special to her.

“Marquette will always be home,” Heideman said. “I feel like we started something really great there but (also) Marquette has set me up to be successful not only in the WNBA, but after as well.” 

Along with then-head coach Carolyn Kieger, the Green Bay native helped turn around the Golden Eagles program and put it in the spot it is today with Megan Duffy at the helm. 

Hiedeman and MU won the program’s first ever BIG EAST Tournament title in 2017 with a defeat of No. 1 DePaul.

Then in 2018-19, the program saw its peak. 

The Golden Eagles were ranked in every Associated Press poll of the season for the first time in school history after a program-best 27-8 record. 

In that same season, MU earned its third-straight NCAA Tournament berth, which was the program’s first three-consecutive appearances in the Big Dance since 1997-99.

Individually, Hiedeman etched herself into the record books. She holds the record for most 3-pointers made in a game (6), and is first in career 3-pointers (301) and third in scoring (1,913). 

Despite all the accolades, which includes the unanimous BIG EAST Player of the Year in 2018-19, Hiedeman said she never thought of the possibility of playing in the WNBA during her time at MU. 

“When I was at Marquette, I was just so focused in the moment all the time,” Hiedeman said. “I never was thinking too far ahead. So the day that I got drafted was when it really was like, wow.” 

Early Hardships 

Hiedeman’s journey through the professional ranks to where she is now has hardly been easy.

After the Minnesota Lynx drafted her with the 18th overall pick in the 2019 WNBA draft, she was immediately traded to the Sun. 

Then she didn’t make the cut for the regular season roster despite a strong training camp with the Sun. 

Hiedeman later joined the Atlanta Dream, teaming up with Marquette alum and then-Dream head coach Nicki Collen.

“Once I got a call from the Sun and (then) picked up by Atlanta, I was just grateful for the opportunity to join another team and kind of just bring my personality to the team,” Hiedeman said. 

She never saw action in a Dream uniform as she was waived by the team July 4, 2019.

Heideman then found her way back to Connecticut when she was claimed off waivers by the Sun.

It was just a blessing,” Hiedeman said. “I felt like Connecticut was home from the start and always was meant to be home. So to be able to be back meant a lot.” 

Hiedeman credited the support she received from her family and friends to help keep herself positive as she coped with moving around. 

In her first season with the Sun, she averaged 10.2 minutes per game in 20 regular season contests with the Sun while shooting 46% from 3-point range. 

At the same time, Heideman was seeing herself serve a different role than she served at MU: coming off the bench. 

Going from Marquette where I had the ball in my hands a lot to then coming off the bench in the WNBA my first year playing very limited minutes, it just makes you take advantage of every opportunity,” Heideman said. 

The guard said as she embraced being a bench player, it allowed her to appreciate and value the time she saw on the floor. 

With the Sun making it to the WNBA Finals her rookie season, Hiedeman became the first MUWBB alum to score and appear in the WNBA playoffs.

Finding Herself 

In her third season with the Sun, Heideman is now experiencing a breakout season. 

Hiedeman credited her success and finding herself in Connecticut’s system to understanding her role and knowing what is expected from her on the court better

“Not every day is going to be perfect. You just gotta keep working,” Hiedeman said. “We have really great peers on the team so just listening and doing whatever the team needs me to do, that’s what I feel like is the biggest change.” 

The 2018-19 unanimous All-BIG EAST First Team honoree said her growth has also come from learning from teammates Briann January and Jasmine Thomas. 

“They are always in my ear and helping me the most,” Hiedeman said “It helps you a lot (when) somebody has been in your position and who’s done the same thing as you did (in) practice, games and everything. They definitely took me under their wing and helped me a lot.”

Sun head coach Curt Miller said he sees two significant areas of growth in Hiedeman: confidence and leadership.

Hiedeman was put into the position of leading the Sun’s offense during the team’s training camp as some players were still playing overseas. 

“With Jasmine Thomas missing all training camp and Bri January missing all but a few practices, it was Natisha Hiedeman’s team,” Miller said. “She ran our team the entire training camp which allowed her to have her voice heard.” 

Even though the level of competition is different, Hiedeman said the experience of running the Sun’s offense brought a familiar feeling back.

“Carolyn Kieger had a lot of faith and belief in me to really just go out there and be me. When I’m on the court now, here in Connecticut, it’s kind of the same,” Hiedeman said. “Curt has a lot of belief in me and trusts me to do what works on the offensive end. So I feel like this style of play translates a lot and I think that has helped a lot.” 

For Hiedeman, leading Connecticut’s offense in the off-season, led to five starts in the team’s first six games of the season. 

During that stretch, Hiedeman averaged 12.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3 assists and 3.3 steals. 

Thomas, a 2017 WNBA All-Star, said Hiedeman’s versatility with the ball on the offensive side makes her stand out.

“She can score the ball, she can shoot, she can shoot off the dribble, shoot off the catch which allows us to really space out the floor but also she’s just solid with the ball,” Thomas said. “She keeps her dribble in pick and roll situations so she’s able to be a really good playmaker.” 

Miller said Hiedeman’s ability to shoot the 3-pointer is valuable to the team. 

“(She is) one of the best ball screen point guards that we have who clearly can get really hot from the arc and has extended range to be able to spread the floor,” Miller said. 

As of July 2, Hiedeman is top 20 in the league in 3-pointers made per game and is attempting twice as many 3-pointers per game than she did in her previous two seasons. 

“That ability and that comfort adds to the Sun’s game so much because the Sun last year had the second to last three point percentage in the league,” The Athletic Connecticut Sun Beat Reporter Charlotte Carroll said. “They were a couple weeks ago in the very top of the league in that. It adds to the Sun’s game dramatically.” 

Spark of swag off bench

“You can’t deny that she doesn’t bring the energy,” Thomas said. “She is the director of vibes.” 

One area where Hiedeman is able to show her “swag” is on the defensive side of the ball.

“On the defensive end she’s really locked in and plays with a lot of energy,” Thomas said. “She started off the season having almost like three or four steals a game, so she’s just an all around player.”

“Tee always brings a lot of energy on the court (and) off the floor,” Jones said. “I know she’s gonna bring the energy defensively (and) offensively. I know she’s always gonna be ready for the kickout to hit the three and I know she’s gonna find me on the roll so she’s always contributing.”

With two more games left before the WNBA season is put on pause for the Tokyo 2021 Summer Olympics, Miller says Hiedeman’s role on the team is known for when they begin their push for the playoffs Aug. 15.

“(Her) role for us is to spark us off the bench and lead us from the point guard position if she’s on the floor,” Miller said. 

Hiedeman is averaging 8.5 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.1 steals through 18 games this season.

“Natisha is having a fantastic year. The growth in her game still here in year three is guarding these really talented guards,” Miller said. “She’s a big piece of this and of the bench for us to achieve some of the goals that we have in mind. We’re looking to her to continue to be in that conversation as most improved in the league (as well).”

Hiedeman said she hasn’t allowed her game to be affected by these conversations. 

“I know that my teammates and my coaches believe in me so it’s been tossed around in the air a little bit but I’m really not thinking about it too much,” Hiedeman said. “I’m just focused on getting better each and every day.”

And if the Sun need a big shot or two off the bench over the course of the remainder of the season, Hiedeman is ready as shown throughout her MU career.

“It’s in the bag,” Hiedeman said. 

This story was written by John Leuzzi. He can be reached at john.leuzzi@marquette.edu or on Twitter @JohnLeuzziMU.