Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Friday, April 18, 2014

UConn incoming freshman earns MaxPreps All-American honors

UConn signee Sadie Edwards was a fifth-team selection on the MaxPreps All-American team.

Edwards, a Meriden native, averaged 15.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 2.5 steals as a senior at Blair Academy.

The team was well represented with underclassmen on UConn's recruiting radar.

Napheesa Collier, a 6-foot-2 forward at Incarnate Word Academy in St. Louis, and Katie Lou Samuelson, a 6-foot-3 wing from Mater Dei in Santa Ana, Calif., were named to the first team. As luck would have it, they are among the talented high school juniors currently at UConn on official visits.

Kalani Brown, a 6-foot-5 junior from Salmen High in Slidell, La., and Asia Durr, a 5-foot-9 junior out of St. Pius X Catholic in Atlanta, were thord-team selections.

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U.S. national team to train at Naval Academy

USA Basketball released details of its Hoops for Troops initiative and it includes the fact that the U.S. Senior Women's National Team will train from Sept. 7-10 at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. before embarking for the FIBA World Championships for Women.

There will also be a Leadership Development meeting at the Pentagon on May 7 featuring U.S. women's national team coach Geno Auriemma and men's national team assistant coach Jim Boeheim.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

2015 American Athletic Conference tournament will be held at Mohegan Sun Arena

Pretty much from the time the larger than expected crowds turned out for the early rounds of the American Athletic Conference women's basketball tournament it was expected that Mohegan Sun Arena would serve as the host for the tournament for the second year in a row.

That expectation became a reality when Mohegan was officially named the site of the 2015 event.

Here is the release from the conference

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The American Athletic Conference has awarded the 2015 American Women's Basketball Championship to Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., Commissioner Mike Aresco announced today.

"The American Athletic Conference and its member institutions are excited to return to a venue that demonstrated tremendous support for our women’s basketball tournament," Aresco said. "Attendance was outstanding, the facility is first-rate, and the Mohegan Sun staff provided a great experience for our student-athletes, coaches and fans, who we know will enjoy a return visit next year.”

Mohegan Sun Arena will serve as the host of The American’s women’s basketball championship for the second straight year. Home to the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun, the 10,000-seat arena has hosted championship boxing, college and professional men’s and women’s basketball, Davis Cup tennis, professional bull riding and professional bowling. The WNBA All-Star Game has been hosted by Mohegan Sun Arena four times.

“We are thrilled that we will be bringing the American Athletic Conference women’s basketball tournament back to Mohegan Sun Arena,” said Mitchell Etess, President and CEO of Mohegan Sun. “Our first year was a huge success. We are delighted to continue the relationship, and grow this great event moving forward.”

All 11 American Athletic Conference schools will participate in the 2015 championship. The format calls for three first-round games on the first day, followed by four quarterfinal games, two semifinals and the championship game. The ESPN Networks will provide television and digital coverage of the tournament.

The 2014-15 season will be the second straight year in which the American Athletic Conference has the defending men’s and women’s NCAA champions in its ranks. The American was the only conference to place a team in the semifinals of the Men’s Final Four, the Women’s Final Four, the NIT and the WNIT last season.

The American’s membership in 2014-15 will include UCF, Cincinnati, UConn, East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, USF, SMU, Temple, Tulane and Tulsa.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Top recruit A'ja Wilson picks South Carolina

The UConn women’s basketball team will have to wait until next year’s recruiting class to add some size to its lineup as highly-touted A’ja Wilson signed with South Carolina today.

The 6-foot-4 Wilson, considered by many as the top player in the high school Class of 2014, made her announcement live on ESPNU.

UConn was one of the four finalists for Wilson but in recent weeks and months North Carolina and South Carolina emerged as the leaders for Wilson who averaged 34.4 points, 13.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 3 steals and 5 rebounds as a senior at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School in Columbia, S.C.

South Carolina is set to return its top nine scorers from a team which went 29-5 and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Gamecocks already had one of the top recruiting classes coming in and with the addition of Wilson could be a team that poses one of the greatest threats to UConn's bid to win a third national title in a row.

With Wilson’s announcement UConn’s recruiting for the year is now completed. The Huskies signed wings Courtney Ekmark and Gabby Williams and guards Sadie Edwards and Kia Nurse. UConn is in the mix with some of the top-rated forwards in the Class of 2015 including De’Janae Boykin, Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

UConn's Stewart named Honda Award winner

Add the Honda Award for women's basketball to the growing collection of national player of the year accolades won by UConn sophomore forward Breanna Stewart. She is now a finalist for the Honda Cup as the women's basketball winner of the Honda Award.

Here is the press release with the details

University of Connecticut sophomore Breanna Stewart was named the Honda Sports Award winner for Basketball as announced by Chris Voelz, Executive Director of THE Collegiate Women Sports Awards (CWSA) on Tuesday.

The Honda Sports Award is presented annually by the CWSA to the top women athletes in 12 NCAA- sanctioned sports and signifies “the best of the best in collegiate athletics”.  With this honor, Stewart becomes a finalist for the Collegiate Woman Athlete of the Year and the prestigious 2014 Honda Cup. Stewart was chosen by a vote of administrators from over 1,000 NCAA member schools. Finalists included Kayla McBride (Notre Dame), Chiney Ogwumike (Stanford), Odyssey Sims (Baylor) and Alyssa Thomas (Maryland).

“It is such an honor to be selected as the winner of the Honda Award for women’s basketball,” said Stewart. “ I would like to thank the administrators for selecting me over a group of outstanding players and my coaches and teammates for helping me get to this point where I can be considered for such prestigious honors.”

Named the 2014 Associated Press, Naismith, USBWA, espnW and American Athletic Conference Player of the Year, Stewart led Connecticut to an unprecedented ninth national championship and a 40-0 perfect season. The sophomore forward does some of her best work in the postseason after also collecting The American Tournament Most Outstanding Player (MOP) honor along with the NCAA Championship MOP award.  

Stewart averaged 19.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game for the Huskies. She has scored over 1,000 career points in the third-fewest amount of career games (63) in UConn history. In 40 wins, she scored in double-figures in 37 games and scored 20+ points on 21 different occasions.

“I am very happy for Breanna,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “She worked extremely hard during the offseason, and during the season, to improve on a great freshman year. It is truly rewarding to see hard work pay off for someone and no one is more deserving of this tremendous honor than Breanna Stewart.”

This is Connecticut's second Honda Sport Award winner this year as Marie Elena Bolles captured the honor in Field Hockey after leading UConn to its first National title this year and a school-record third so far in the academic year.

The CWSA presents the Honda Sports Award annually to top women student-athletes in 12 NCAA-sanctioned sports.  Honda Sports award winners will be presented with the honor during on-campus presentations throughout the year and all Honda Sports award winners become a finalist for the prestigious 2014 Honda Cup award presented in June.

Basketball has produced the most Honda Cup award winners with 15 student-athletes in the sport winning the prestigious honor. Most recently Brittney Griner of Baylor earned the honor in 2012 preceded by Connecticut's Maya Moore who had back-to-back wins in 2010 and 2011.

THE Collegiate Women Sports Awards has honored the nation’s top NCAA women athletes for 37 years, recognizing superior athletic skills, leadership, academic excellence and eagerness to participate in community service.   Since commencing its sponsorship in 1986, Honda has provided more than $2.7 million in institutional grants to the universities of the award winners and nominees to support women’s athletics programs at the institutions. 


Tina Charles addresses her departure from Connecticut

While the hierarchy of the jilted Connecticut Sun did not hesitate in describing the events leading to departure of Olympic gold medalist and former WNBA MVP Tina Charles, the former UConn star chose her words significantly more carefully.

Speaking on a conference call with New York Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer, Charles said all the right things during her opening statement. She expressed gratitude to the Connecticut Sun organization, coaching staff, administration, her former teammates and the fans. But it wasn't long until she was pressed for details on the divorce between her and the Sun.

She declined to go into details regarding her conversations with Sun general manager Chris Sienko when he flew out to Russia to soothe over any bad vibes left over from a frustrating 2013 season. He returned believing all was good only to be informed by Charles' agent in late March that she wanted to play in New York and would not play for the Sun during the 2014 season if they held onto her.

All Charles would say on that subject was "I absolutely did consider sitting out."

Here's more from Charles on her decision to force a trade from Connecticut.

"You are going to have ups and downs with a team, every day is not going to be perfect. I faced that my rookie year and I faced it my previous year. Connecticut has great parts but I looked at the bigger picture and the bigger picture was Coach Laimbeer, Cappie (Pondexter), the New York Liberty and the opportunity that they presented.

"My decision to leave the Sun is based on winning and being in New York. Coach Laimbeer and the Liberty organization is headed in the right direction and I very much want to be a part of that."

Monday, April 14, 2014

Dolson, Hartley remaining teammates; Charles headed home

It was a pretty uneventful day at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Oh, other than the fact that Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley will remain teammates at the pro level and Tina Charles' run with the Connecticut Sun ended after four seasons.

Dolson's day was probably the only one that was anything close to normal. She was picked by Washington with the sixth overall pick and then Hartley went a few minutes later to Seattle with the seventh pick. However, Hartley wasn't staying with the guard-heavy Storm for very long and she was shipped along with Tianna Hawkins to Washington for perennial All-Star forward Crystal Langhorne.

“I think we are really excited to be able to go through this process with her and now we are going to go in and be rookies together,” Hartley said shortly after finding out she was part of a trade that send All-Star forward Crystal Langhorne to Seattle. “It is a dream come true moment.”

Dolson wasn't in the room when Hartley was drafted but the crowd's reaction made it obvious who went with the seventh pick.

“I was in the hallway and I heard the uproar and I said 'it had to be Bria.'” Dolson said.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma believes Dolson will be a good fit with Washington.“They certainly have had their experiences of working with post players,” Auriemma said. “Mike did a great job with Tina and I think Stefanie brings a lot to any organization. He has a certainly style of play that I think taps into Stefanie’s skills and she is going to be phenomenal pro.”

There were rumblings of some transactions taking place on draft day. With all due respect to Langhorne, word of the block buster came before the first pick was announced with Charles being shipped to New York in exchange for the fourth overall pick, used to select Maryland's Alyssa Thomas, a No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft and Kelsey Bone, taken in the first round in 2013 by New York.

The Sun hierarchy did not hold back in making it clear that this trade was Charles' doing.

“It is so disappointing but we have to move on as an organization,” Connecticut Sun general manager Chris Sienko.

“Two weeks ago was when we heard that she was not going to play. She said through her agent, if (she was) not traded she would sit out. We were expecting her to be here, she knew we were selecting Chiney and they would be a lethal duo but we moved on, that is our job as an organization. We are not going to be held hostage by anyone or anybody and we are going to do what is best for our organization. New York stepped up to be able to get her.”

Then there is this from Sun head coach Anne Donovan.

“We had hoped Tina would want to be a part of our future with KT (Katie Douglas) and we were so looking forward hoping that Tina would be a part of that,” Connecticut Sun coach Anne Donovan said. “As time went on, we had no indication until late March that this was going to go down and Tina would not play here. As it stands I think we got really good value out of the trade. We were not the driver of that trade. Tina and New York were the ones who were in the drivers’ seat for that trade.

“I am disappointed but truthfully you just have to have people who are committed to winning and want to be here. Tina did not want to be in Connecticut, she made it clear so moving forward we will have played here who want to be here, will put it out on the line night in and night out. I think all of that is going to translate into a really good team.”

Chiney Ogwumike, taken by the Sun with the No. 1 overall pick, couldn't contain her excitement at being part of the new-look Connecticut Sun.

“I am excited to come in play hard and play,” Ogwumike said. “I just want to play, that is one thing that losing in the Final Four has made me realize I want to get back out there as fast as possible, redemption I guess you can say. I lost to Connecticut and I am going to be in Connecticut.”

When the Sun began the 2013 season, they were coming off a trip to the playoffs with the team built around the all-star duo of Charles and Kara Lawson. Lawson was part of a three-team trade with her landing in Washington and former first-round pick Alex Bentley coming to the Sun. Asjha Jones will miss the season with a torn Achilles which led to the drafting of Ogwumike to play that position. The Sun also signed perennial All-Star wing Katie Douglas, a star on some of the Sun’s great teams, away from Indiana. The Sun also engineered a trade with Los Angeles to get the 11th overall pick for Sandrine Gruda, another player with little desire to play in Connecticut. With that pick the Sun took Duke’s Chelsea Gray, who is expected to miss the upcoming season due to a knee injury she suffered as a senior.

Sienko said that Spanish star Alba Torrens, whose rights are owned by the Sun, is focused on the FIBA World Championships but he is hopeful that she will come over to the WNBA in 2015.

Obviously the games against New York and Washington at Mohegan Sun could have a little extra juice to them this year. Connecticut hosts the Liberty in the preseason and regular-season openers on May 4 and 16 while the first Connecticut/Washington game is June 5 at Mohegan Sun Arena.

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Draft prospects benefited from national team experience

The WNBA is one of the few professional leagues where there is no chance for the top prospects to work out for pro scouts. There has been something resembling a combine at previous Final Fours but it typically is for players who are borderline prospects at best.

Well, this year the WNBA teams should have a better sense about the top players since four of them got to compete with and against current WNBA stars during the U.S. national team training camp back in September.

UConn's Stefanie Dolson, Notre Dame's Kayla McBride, Baylor's Odyssey Sims and Maryland's Alyssa Thomas joined UConn underclassmen Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Breanna Stewart as the active college players able to go through drills with Tamika Catchings, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Tina Charles and other current WNBA stars.

On a recent pre-draft conference call, I asked Dolson and McBride about the impact of taking part in the national team training camp.

"For me it was definitely an eye-opening experience being able to play with all those women at the USA trials," Dolson said.  "I realized that I need to get stronger obviously down in the post, get more physical. That way I'm better at rebounding the ball because obviously being in the league it will be older women who are stronger than most girls in college. 

"I definitely have to work on my strength, work on my quickness.  At the trials, there were a lot of players that could drive right by me.  Doesn't happen a lot in college. 

"There's definitely some things I need to work on."

Here are McBride's thoughts.
"I think it was just humbling. You look at all those great players, that's what you strive to be. It was a great experience. 

"It's a whole different level of play.  Tamika (Catchings), watching how hard she plays the entire game, that's how it is every single game. It's bringing that intensity to a whole other level." 

The draft begins tonight shortly after 8 p.m. with the first round airing on ESPN2. The second and third rounds will be shown on ESPNU. The Connecticut Sun will pick first and the feeling is that Stanford's Chiney Ogwumike will be the first player of the board.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

UConn championship parade draws a crowd

It was one of the largest turnouts for a championship parade in Hartford as the men's and women's national title winning teams were greeted by about 200,000 of their closest friends.

Here's a link to a photo slideshow courtesy of Register photo journalist Arnold Gold

Here are some videos from the special day

Football team thrilled to have front row seat to celebration

There were plenty of images from Wednesday's on-campus celebration that were pretty hard to forget. None will stick with me longer than the emotional speeches from seniors Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley. Then there was the surprising sight of the football team, in full uniforms, walking to area outside the Student Union and taking a knee when UConn coach Geno Auriemma began to speak just as they would have if it were their own coach Bob Diaco behind the microphone.

The football team headed back to practice once the event was over so I didn't get a chance to get their reaction to the heartfelt messages given by Dolson and Hartley. However, it was a subject I brought up with Diaco and a few players after yesterday's spring football game.

"I’ve heard some of that. Coach A (Auriemma) hit me up and ‘thanks for bringing the team,’" Diaco said. "The reality of it is that we got more than we gave. We are listening to those two young ladies at the end talk, sobbing and just pouring out their hearts about how much they love the game, how much they love their school, how much they love their teammates and how much they love their coach. It was priceless for our guys to hear, for me to hear, it was well worth the missed practice time 10 times more important."

Quarterback Chandler Whitmer believes it was a special team bonding experience for the team.

"It was awesome," Whitmer said. "Just seeing the dynasty that Coach Auriemma and those girls have and the school spirit with the boys’ basketball team was there and it kind of fired us up and made up realize we want to be a part of that winning tradition, make that statement and head in the right direction. We are close with those girls. We see them every day, they live in the same building as us so obviously the emotion that they showed was powerful and it was a great way for them to go out. Just to be a part of that, to be around that was good for us."

Last year had coach Paul Pasqualoni and assistant coach Kermit Buggs were at the ceremony but I don't ever recall the entire team coming to an event like that and especially not as a unit like they did on Wednesday.

"They were a great team, those girls and those guys were so dominant and it was great to have that time with them," cornerback Byron Jones said. "We’ve never partaken in any of that so it was great to see how passionate the fans were and to see all their achievements was great.."

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Paperwork for UConn's Morgan Tuck's redshirt request to be filed Monday

I ran into UConn's Senior Women's Administrator Deb Corum in the press box before today's Blue-White spring football game and she said that the request to reclaim Morgan Tuck's season of eligibility is scheduled to be filed with the NCAA on Monday.

Tuck played just eight games before undergoing the second of two knee surgeries and she is right on the threshold of being eligible to get this season back giving her three more years to play but the NCAA still has to give the OK before she is granted the extra year of eligibility.

Where will UConn stars land in Monday's draft?

UConn's Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley shouldn't have to wait long to
hear their names called during Monday night's WNBA Draft
It's a foregone conclusion that Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley will become the 14th and 15th UConn players taken in the first round of the WNBA Draft.

The biggest question is where they will land.

Connecticut and Tulsa have the top two picks and on a pre-draft conference call on Thursday, the team's respective head coaches Anne Donovan and Fred Williams said that Stanford's Chiney Ogwumike and Baylor's Odyssey Sims will be the first two players off the board.

"Sims is quite the player.  Everybody who thinks that it's a foregone conclusion that Chiney Ogwumike is going to be here with us," Donovan said. "We'd love to have Chiney Ogwumike, we'd love to have Odyssey.  It just depends on guard or post truthfully.

"I don't know that Odyssey is not the most prepared player skill-wise to be in the WNBA. She's shown she can pass the ball really well when she played three years with Griner. A lot of people are knocking her now she takes too many shots. That's what her team needs her to do. She's focused defensively as she is offensively. I think Sims is a great get for Connecticut or Tulsa."

As for what Tulsa is thinking:

"Well, we're going to do the opposite of what you do," Williams said. "You got the first call on that one there. But either player on that end is a good find and good pick. You can't count the other players that's in there with Thomas and some of the others. But, yeah, either player is a good fit."

If things go according to the plan with the top two picks that could mean the rest of the draft could be determined by what San Antonio does with the third pick. There have been plenty of rumors of the Silver Stars looking to move out of the pick so that certainly bears watching. If San Antonio holds onto the pick the feeling is it is looking for rebounding help. San Antonio took Syracuse center Kayla Alexander in the first round last year and also have Jayne Appel on the roster.

From the first time I saw Dolson play when she was at Minisink Valley High School, Appel was the player whose game Dolson's reminds me of. That hasn't changed over the last four years. Apparently, I am not alone.

"Similar but Stefanie been fairly healthy and I think she could contribute more significantly early than Jayne did her rookie year," ESPN's Rebecca Lobo said.

San Antonio has tended to draft the "best player available" as much as any other team in recent years. In my opinion, that would be McBride although Thomas could provide some help in the rebounding department.

New York picks at No. 4 and obviously Dolson and Hartley, both New York natives, would be delighted to land with the Liberty. However, if McBride is sitting there I would be stunned if Bill Laimbeer didn't scoop her up in a heartbeat. With New York taking Kelsey Bone and Toni Young a season ago, it would seem as if guard help would be more of a pressing need (although the serious knee injury suffered by former Plenette Pierson could alter some of the thinking).

Indiana made the trip to Connecticut to watch the Huskies practice and Indiana coach Lin Dunn said on the same call that Hartley and Dolson are very much on the Fever's radar.

"I think when we get to the fifth pick there, we've got McBride, Hartley, (Florida State's Natasha) Howard, Dolson, Thomas," Dunn said.  We're looking closely at all five of those players."

Washington and Seattle are set to pick at No. 6 and 7. Nobody knows more about drafting UConn players than Washington coach Mike Thibault and Seattle coach Brian Agler was in attendance at the regular season finale against Louisville and he could take a look at either Dolson or Hartley if both are available (which would be a stunning turn of events if both are still on the board).

"Stefanie's success will be determined more by where she goes and what system they run but I think she could be a really good center at the pro game, she is smart and she gets everybody better," Lobo said. "She doesn't need to take a lot of shots to really affect a game in a really positive way. I think Bria will be really good, she is tough, she is smart, she works really hard and I think both of those players have really great pro careers ahead of them.

"I think Bria it doesn't matter too much (which team drafts her) because of speed, she can do whatever but if Stefanie goes to Atlanta, that is probably not the best fit, a team that just goes up and down, doesn't necessarily run as much of having the post where they can make decisions. There are some places where she could be really, really successful."

Stay tuned as the first round starts a few minutes at 8 p.m. on Monday and will air on ESPN2.

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