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Q&A with Nat St. Laurent: Behind the Jared Conners trade

By Jerome Taylor | May 3, 2024

Just when it seemed like an already newsworthy California Redwoods’ offseason was slowing down, the ‘Woods traded for Jared Conners five days before the 2024 PLL College Draft presented by Q-Collar.

The Redwoods sent their second-round pick (#13 overall) in this year’s draft to the Utah Archers in exchange for the LSM. 

With players like Eddy Glazener (retirement), Garrett Epple (signed with the Boston Cannons), and John Sexton (retirement) departing this offseason, it seemed pretty clear that the Redwoods would be in the market for at least one pole on draft night. 

But just like the Chris Gray trade – why wait for the draft to get an elite talent when you can get one today?

Last season, Conners scooped up 18 ground balls, caused nine turnovers, scored two 2-pointers, and had one assist en route to helping the Archers win the PLL championship.

So, in addition to shoring up a new-look defense with his talent, he has the pedigree to hopefully lift the ‘Woods to their ultimate goal in the upcoming season. 

But now, without a first or second-round pick in this year’s draft, the Redwoods’ draft strategy has changed.

And what about the other poles that the Redwoods signed this offseason? How does this change how Owen Grant and Ryan Kennedy fit in the Redwoods defense now? 

Once again, I caught up with Redwoods General Manager and Head Coach, Nat St. Laurent, to answer those questions and more.  

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You couldn't let the league sleep, huh?

No, we are in the business of trying to put the best Redwood team together we can, and that's what I'm doing – staying in the fight all the way through the draft.

Should we assume the rationale for this trade is similar to the Chris Gray trade?

Yeah, I've been big on Jared [Conners] since he played in high school, and we watched his career through UVA.

Then, in the 2021 draft that he and TD [Ierlan] were in together, we were sitting there with that pick, and we had two guys that we loved. We were thrilled to go with TD because we needed a face-off guy, and we love TD. But it was not as easy as people think sitting in that position trying to pick Jared or TD. So we've wanted [Jared] for a long time, and the opportunity presented itself, and we were able to make it happen. 

It wasn't easy for the Archers either, I'm sure. He's a tremendous talent, and this was one of those trades that we think will work out well for both clubs.

You mentioned liking Conners since he was in high school. Now that you’ve seen him develop as a pro, what will he bring to the Redwoods?

He's won a national championship in college and a professional championship. He will probably compete and be in the mix for the world team when those tryouts come around. So he knows what winning takes, and he brings that pedigree with him already in a very young career. 

As a person in our locker room, we know he's already close with TD. Those two are super excited to play with one another. We know he's a Western New York guy—so please, people, stop calling those guys upstate. The real upstate is north of [Pittsford]. He knows Charlie Bertrand; he's competed with these guys.

Ryder Garnsey and some other guys texted me immediately after this trade was made, and they were fired up about it. 

Jared is very good off the ground. He's big, tall, rangy, and has a great stick. So he is bringing a lot to the table that I don't think we would have gotten with a second-round or even a first-round draft pick.

He's filling some big shoes, but we know he can fill the shoes left behind by Sexton. He brings us the versatility to take our first-round draft pick from last year, Owen Grant, who we think is also a generational talent, and move him in close where he's proven he can play and make us better. And now we've got the possibility of those two big guys running transition. 

Did that 2021 draft-night “want” increase with John Sexton and Eddy Glazener retiring?

Yeah, it did. We've got some guys in the organization that we feel very confident in now. But with Johnny retiring and then Glaze retiring, those are both all-star type players, and we knew that even with the draft as deep and talented as it is, it's not quite as strong defensively as it was last year.

And we just felt like the moves that we were able to make this offseason picking up Chris Fake, Holden Garlent, and Malik Sparrow, young guys that still got some things to prove. Plus, now you can get a guy that is arguably the best LSM – with Michael Ehrhardt not in the league anymore – and we already felt like we had the next best with Owen Grant. Now we feel like we might have two of the top, which allows us to put  Owen Grant in close, giving us a tremendously young and talented defense of Arden [Cohen] and potentially Chris Fake and Owen Grant.

How does getting Conners affect the plans heading into the Draft and training camp?

The ultimate goal this offseason, with free agency, was to make training camp young, energetic, and extremely competitive.

The thought process is “Get Jared Conners for our second overall draft pick”– done. Next question.

We can bring [Conners] in at LSM, and Ryan Kennedy was outstanding for us last year.

So we feel like we've got a nice one-two punch to shore up that side. And now we can focus on a couple of other positions heading into the draft. 

And we still have three picks—I think that's something people are sleeping on. We've got two in the third round, where we've historically done very well. And we have a fourth-round pick, and there will be a bunch of players who do not get drafted who will be very good in the PLL. I get to be almost like a fan. I get to see how this draft works out.

Are you finding value in trades this offseason because of the premium on this year’s draft picks?

Yeah, we owe it to our current team, anybody who knows me, and the history that I've been fortunate enough to be a part of that over the last five years. We've made trades that we felt would impact our team right away. 

There is an unknown with draft picks. Some draft picks don't work out. 

Now, look at Jared Conners. He’s proven, won a championship, and won a championship on a team within our division. 

I know these guys coming out of the draft will be great, but they'll have to adjust to shorter shot clocks, faster play, and shorter fields.

The other thing, too, is if you draft a guy, you're not guaranteed to get them for the first week. When we drafted Charlie Bertrand, we didn't get him right away because UVA had won the national championship. Versus knowing we're getting these guys and inserting them into our lineup. They will play right away, and they've already proven themselves at this level. 

Also, it is an extremely deep draft. Guys will be available throughout the draft, and we'll be sitting there looking at players we earmarked as the best fit for us. It's not necessarily always the best player available. You have to choose the best fit for your team, organization, and needs. We felt that Jared was just somebody that we would never get in the second round.

There are a lot of pieces that play into these decisions. And if anything, I'm respecting this draft even more because I know how deep it is and how great some of these players who will be available in the later round are. I really value those later-round draft picks and building around the core that we have.

Without a first- or second-round draft pick, how does that change your draft strategy?

Now we get to sit back, and eventually, teams will get criticized, like we were criticized for the Cole Kirst pick last year. Remember that on national television?

We were picking what was best for the Redwoods. Other teams are going to do that, and because of that, there are very good players, who should probably go higher in the draft, be on the outside looking in. 

It's not always about taking the best player available.

You have to choose the player who best fits your team. That's going to shake some things up, and some of these really good players will fall. And we will be there to pick three of them. 

And we haven't said we're out of the first or second round. I'm still getting on a plane and heading to ESPN. If a guy that we think is an absolute must-have is floating around, and we can find a way to get up there and get him, then we're willing to do what we got to do to make that happen.