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Mercury pleased with ASU standout Brunner on roster

Arizona State forward Sophie Brunner (21) drives to the hoop against Michigan State during a first-round game in the women's NCAA college basketball tournament Friday, March 17, 2017, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

PHOENIX — A month ago, Sophie Brunner was preparing for finals at Arizona State University.

Now she is playing in the most competitive women’s basketball league in the world.

The Mercury forward attended training camp after receiving an invitation from General Manager Jim Pitman. It was something she was not necessarily expecting.

“I was just seeing what was going to happen, opportunities were coming, or what door were open,” Brunner said. “This one was open, and I took advantage of it.”

Brunner left ASU ranked among the top five in many of the program’s statistics. She finished third all-time in points and field goals as well as second all-time in rebounds. Her performance in the NCAA Tournament was equally impressive, finishing first all-time in rebounds, second in points and fourth in assists in program history.

Despite her success, she was not selected in the WNBA Draft. She was offered a contract out of training camp, and the Mercury are happy to have her.

“I don’t think she was ever anticipating she’d make the roster, but we liked her from Day One, we liked her through her college career,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said.

Brunner has not seen much action during the regular season. She has appeared in two games, grabbing three defensive rebounds and missing a shot in nine minutes. While the game contributions on the stat sheet are minimal, her coach notices her contributions in other areas.

“Her effort level, her compete. She does all the little things well.” Brondello said. “You’ve got good players around her, you don’t need everyone the same. So you needed someone to do all those little things.”

The transition has not been too difficult, Brunner said. For her, it’s all about learning the new plays offensively and defensively, plus learning how to play small forward. The coaching staff has seen a nice transition out of the former ASU player.

“Transitioning to the pros, it’s a learning experience for her. She’s someone who has grasped it really quickly,” Brondello said.

The Mercury are playing Brunner at the small forward position, and Brondello said that Brunner “has to get used to defending on the perimeter a little bit more.” Other than that, Brondello feels that Brunner is a good all-around player.

“I think she’s solid at all of it. I just think she needs to get better at everything,” Brondello said.   

This year’s Mercury team is full of new players, as 10 of the 12 did not play for the team last season. Brunner is not the only new addition, but she is one of five rookies. She has been able to bond with fellow first-timer Stephanie Talbot, and that can help with getting settled.

“You can go through things together, learn your way around together,” Talbot said. “On road trips, you always have someone to eat with. You don’t have to get around alone.”

Brunner’s contract is not guaranteed, and she comes in every day, working hard to keep it. While she works toward a better deal, she enjoys every day of the ride.

“It’s good to just have a job in the sense, but I don’t really see it as a job because it’s so fun,” Brunner said.