Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

UConn recruiting target Willoughby taking her time

Three prospects from the Class of 2016 visited UConn over the weekend and two of them (guard Crystal Dangerfield and forward Kyla Irwin) committed earlier this week. Obviously that got me thinking it might be a good idea to check in on Jocelyn Willoughby, the other talented high school junior to visit over the weekend.

Well, here's what her high school coach Liz Bona Beach had to say when I reached out to her via email.

"She is early in the process. UConn was a very good visit. She was impressed. It was an important visit that will help her as she goes through the process."

Willoughby, a 6-foot wing, is coming off an outstanding sophomore season at Newark Academy as she averaged 23.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 4.4 steals. She had 10 double-doubles with 20 20-points games, six games with at least 30 points in 26 games. She came one steal shy of a triple-double in a Jan. 30 game against Newark Central.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Kyla Irwin commits to UConn

Before Kyla Irwin arrived on campus over the weekend for her unofficial visit to UConn she dreamed of one day suiting up for Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma's Huskies.

That dream became a reality when she became the second member of the Class of 2016 to commit to UConn.

"It was everything," Irwin said. "It the best of both worlds. It is such a great program; the campus is very nice; the coaches coach just like I like it; I have family in Connecticut and it can't get better than that.

"I am cloud nine and I have never been so happy."

Irwin, a 6-foot-1 junior forward at State College (Pa.) High School, had 13 20-point games and averaged 19.6 points per game. She is a hard-nosed, aggressive player who attempted 150 free throws in 26 games as a sophomore.

"I love this game more than anything," Irwin said. "Every play I am in there, I talk a lot, always excited and always enthusiastic about the game and I think that is kind of what drew coaches to me. I know this game inside and out so I think i have been around this game long enough that it is the only game I really ever loved."

UConn began showing up at her AAU games and although she was unable to make it up for First Night, she was on campus later in the weekend.

"It is something I have always dreamed of. I literally dreamed of it so I know I made the right decision," Irwin said.

Irwin is coached by her mom, a former Branford High School star who played at Penn State. While the former Bethany Collins remained in State College, the rest of her family remained in Connecticut so there will be a large caravan with her supporters from Branford to Storrs when Irwin gets to UConn.

SNY to televise 17 UConn games

SNY announced its broadcast schedule for the upcoming UConn women's basketball season.

The first of the 17 games being televised is the Nov. 23 game against Creighton. SNY will also air all three games in the Gulf Coast Showcase while the Dec, 19 game against DePaul is another highlight.

Here's the list of games being televised by UConn's regional television partner.

With that part of the schedule released that means the only the Nov. 14 season opener against UC Davis will not be on television as it will streamed live exclusively on ESPN3 and through the ESPN app. The two exhibition games will also not be televised.

Sun. 23 CREIGHTON Gampel Pavilion, 1 p.m.
Fri. 28 College of Charleston  8:30 p.m.
Sat. 29 Minnesota or Vanderbilt 
Sun. 30 vs. TBA 
Fri. 19 DEPAUL Webster Bank Arena, Bridgeport 7:30 p.m.
Sat. 27 SMU XL Center 1 p.m.
Wed. 31 at East Carolina Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum, Greenville, N.C. 2:30 p.m.
Wed. 7 TULSA XL Center 7 p.m.
Sun. 11 at SMU Moody Coliseum, Dallas 3 p.m.
Wed. 14 TEMPLE Gampel Pavilion 7 p.m.
Wed. 21 at UCF CFE Arena, Orlando, Fla.  7 p.m.
Wed. 28 EAST CAROLINA XL Center 7 p.m.
Tue. 3 CINCINNATI XL Center 7 p.m.
Sat. 7 at Memphis FedExForum, Memphis, Tenn.  3:30 p.m.
Tue. 17 HOUSTON XL Center 7 p.m.
Sat. 21 at Tulsa Reynolds Center, Tulsa, Okla. 3 p.m.
Mon. 23 at Tulane Devlin Fieldhouse, New Orleans, La.  8 p.m.

Here's the full schedule with TV information

Date Opponent Site TV Time
Sun. 2 WEST CHESTER (exhib.) Gampel 1 p.m.
Sun. 9 POST (exhib.) XL Center 4:30 p.m.
Fri. 14 at UC Davis The Pavilion, Davis, Calif. ESPN3 10 p.m.
Mon. 17 at Stanford Maples Pavilion, Palo Alto, Calif. ESPN2 9 p.m.
Sun. 23 CREIGHTON Gampel SNY 1 p.m.
Fri. 28 College of Charleston SNY 8:30 p.m.
Sat. 29 Minnesota or Vanderbilt SNY 2:30 or 8:30 p.m.
Sun. 30 vs. TBA SNY
Sat. 6 at Notre Dame ESPN 3:15 p.m.
Fri. 19 DEPAUL Webster Bank Arena, Bridgeport, Conn. SNY 7:30 p.m.
Sun. 21 vs. UCLA ESPN2 5 p.m.
Sat. 27 SMU XL Center SNY 1 p.m.
Mon. 29 DUKE XL Center ESPN2 9 p.m.
Wed. 31 at East Carolina SNY 2:30 p.m.
Sun. 4 at St. John’s ESPN2 1 p.m.
Wed. 7 TULSA XL Center SNY 7 p.m.
Sun. 11 at SMU SNY 3 p.m.
Wed. 14 TEMPLE Gampel SNY 7 p.m.
Sun. 18 USF Gampel ESPN2 1 p.m.
Wed. 21 at UCF SNY 7 p.m.
Sun. 25 at Cincinnati ESPN2 3 p.m.
Wed. 28 EAST CAROLINA XL Center SNY 7 p.m.
Sun. 1 at Temple ESPN2 2 p.m.
Tue. 3 CINCINNATI XL Center SNY 7 p.m.
Sat. 7 at Memphis SNY 3:30 p.m.
Mon. 9 SOUTH CAROLINA Gampel ESPN2 8 p.m.
Sat. 14 TULANE Gampel CBS SN 4 p.m.
Tue. 17 HOUSTON XL Center SNY 7 p.m.
Sat. 21 at Tulsa SNY 3 p.m.
Mon. 23 at Tulane SNY 8 p.m.
Sat. 28 MEMPHIS Gampel CBS SN 2 p.m.
Mon. 2 at USF Sun Dome, Tampa, Fla. ESPN2 7 p.m.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Add a new name to UConn's Class of 2016 recruiting targets

I have a hunch that the recruitment of the Class of 2016 is going to be one of the interesting processes to follow with the first commitment coming out of Tennessee and UConn having its eyes on multiple players from Texas and California which is always a challenging proposition getting those players to come to Connecticut.

With Geno Auriemma away at some key periods in the recruiting process due to his national team coaching commitment he sped up the process of identifying the players in the class who he thinks could be a good fit. It's already paid off with the commitment of top guard Crystal Dangerfield.

There are plenty of guards and wings on UConn's radar but getting a post player is a major priority. Well, they don't come much bigger than a new recruiting target as Auriemma and his staff have been in contact with 6-foot-9 Nigerian Felicia Aiyeotan, a junior at Neumann-Goretti High School in Philadelphia.

Aiyeotan, who plays for the powerhouse Philadelphia Belles AAU program, visited Kentucky over the weekend and Santarelli said UConn, Notre Dame, Penn State and USC are among the major programs taking a look at Aiyeotan.

Santarelli said Aiyeotan runs the floor well, catches the ball well, has an outstanding drop step and has a tremendous upside.

Both her high school and AAU coaches said Aiyeotan, who has only been playing organized basketball for a couple of years, has made tremendous strides over the last several months.

Santarelli said the interest from UConn is relatively new and they haven't been down yet to check her out in an open gym and that the recruiting process is just starting to pick up and there is no date planned for her to come to UConn for a visit yet but she is definitely a name I'll be keeping an eye on.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Rival coach: UConn commit Dangerfield "a one-man press breaker"

Now that UConn has its first commitment in the Class of 2016 it is time to try to quantify what type of player the Huskies will be getting.

I watched a highlight tape of Crystal Dangerfield playing at Blackman High in Murfreesboro, Tennessee and she looked so much like Moriah Jefferson did when the current UConn point guard was lighting it up for the THESA Raiders it is eerie. But I wanted somebody with more basketball knowledge than me to give me a take on Dangerfield.

Well, Blackman High School lost just one game during Dangerfield's sophomore season and the defeat was at the hands of Incarnate Word Academy in St. Louis (whose best player is UConn Class of 2015 commit Napheesa Collier) so I spoke to IWA head coach Dan Rolfes tonight to get his impressions of Dangerfield since the teams split highly-competitive games a season ago.

"I remember her very well," Rolfes said. "Just like a super quick, super fast athletic point guard. In the game that we lost, we got down and we are a very athletic team but we could not press her. She is just a one-man press breaker."

Does he think she has similar potential as Jefferson did coming out of high school?

"No doubt about it. She has a great jumper, she has a jumper like a guy, a legit jumper. She can dribble penetrate and pull up in the paint."

Dangerfield's commitment gives UConn a head start on what could be a challenging recruiting year. The Huskies have a top-notch group of freshmen in Sadie Edwards, Courtney Ekmark, Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams. I've spoken to more than one women's basketball insider who believe the next batch of recruits (Collier, De;Janae Boykin and Katie Lou Samuelson) has the potential to rival one of UConn coach Geno Auriemma's most talented classes. Historically, it has been a challenge to secure commitments from elite players following a class like the one the Huskies have coming in next year so to get a top five national recruit like Dangerfield is a major bonus.

"He just gets great athletes with skill," Rolfes said. "You look at the balance they they've got. You have kind of a do it all in Napheesa Collier, you have a crazy fast athletic point guard, Katie Lou can shoot lights out and you size and you have another big post player in De'Janae."

As for Collier, Incarnate Word Academy starts practice on Nov. 3 and kick off the season in the Tour of Champions in Fort Smith, Arkansas from Dec. 11-13. Unfortunately there aren't any Blackman/Incarnate Word Academy games on the 2014-15 schedule. The first game for Blackman is Nov. 25 against fellow Tennessee school William Blount although Blackman coach Chad Hibdon said he is still searching for a mid-November game after one of the scheduled games was recently canceled.

Hibdon called UConn "a great fit" for Dangerfield.

"She is driven and determined for excellence in everything she does, Hibdon said. "UConn has high standards in academics and in the athletic arena and that firs will with her personality traits.

"Crystal is unbelievably talented and doesn't have to dominate the ball. She understands the team concept. She can shoot it and score and understands how to lead the team to success."

Blackman begins practice on Oct. 27.

I'm very curious to see what UConn's Class of 2016 is going to look like when all is said and done. The Huskies are involved with some elite prospects including Lauren Cox, considered by just about everybody to be the best player in the Class, Joyner Holmes, Natalie Chou, Jaelyn Brown, Tori McCoy and Sabrina Ionescu who could all be top 10 national recruits before the 2015 early signing period gets here. UConn is also very high on Jocelyn Willoughby, one of the first night visitors out of Newark Academy. I happened to be up at UConn this afternoon working on a football story and State College (Pa.) junior Kyla Irwin was up there with her family. I let her, her family and the UConn coaches do their thing without interruption but the whole group seemed to be having the time of their lives. Kelly Jekot is another high scoring Pennsylvania wing who has visited UConn. I also have seen reports that Michigan wing Kysre Gondrezick included UConn among her final seven schools.

Crystal Dangerfield commits to UConn

UConn received its first commitment from the Class of 2016 when guard Crystal Dangerfield committed while on a visit this weekend including being in attendance at First Night festivities on Friday.

She announced her decision on her Twitter account

Blessed to be able to say that I committed to UConn this weekend #BleedBlue ❗️❄️

When I went out to Colorado Springs for the U-17 and U-18 national team trials I spoke the Dangerfield, a 5-foot-5 guard from Murfreesboro, Tennessee who is ironically most often compared to current UConn point guard Moriah Jefferson, who she could ultimately end up replacing at UConn.

She admitted that Jefferson is her favorite women's player. 

"Her tenacity is something I look at. I just emulate her."

She still recalls a conversation she had with Geno Auriemma.

"My high school coach is telling me that they want me to call and I talked to Geno, we had a conversation. Three minutes into it my hands were sweating, I was star struck. It was a fun sit down, it was my first time sitting down to talk to a college coach so that was fun."

Dangerfield, considered to be one of the top players in the Class of 2016, helped her Blackman team finish No. 1 in the USA Today final national poll. Blackman, also featuring Tennessee commit MeMe Jackson and Middle Tennessee State pledge Alex Johnson, figures to be one of the nation's top teams again this season.

Dangerfield was a member of the 2013 U-16 national team where she was a teammate of UConn Class of 2015 commits De'Janae Boykin (who was also at First Night) and Katie Lou Samuelson. Dangerfield started two of the five games in the FIBA Americas U16 Championships, averaging 7 points per game to go with nine assists and seven steals. She also was 7 of 12 from 3-point range in the tournament.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

UConn's Stokes delivers from long range

All of her teammates had long since finished with their media responsibilities following Wednesday's opening practice when reigning national player of the year Breanna Stewart was fielding her final few inquiries.

There was a sense of glee in Stewart's voice when she spoke about the offensive potential of the player most likely to be the Huskies' starting center this season.

"I don't think any of you have ever seen her (make a 3-pointer)," Stewart said.

Well, that is no longer the case.

Of the seven field goals made by the women's players in last night's First Night scrimmage, four of them were 3-pointers. It was hardly a shocker to see Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, perhaps the best 3-point shooter in the country, hit one. Morgan Tuck made seven in the eight games she played a season ago and eight of the 12 shots Tierney Lawlor as a freshmen came from behind the 3-point line so it was not a stunning revelation that they also made one. However, Stokes confidently attempted a pair of 3-pointers last night, one went in and one was off the target.

In 107 career games Stokes has attempted 276 shots, all of them from inside the 3-point line. However, during shooting drills at Wednesday's practice Stokes was hitting from downtown with as much regularity as any other player.

She doesn't plan on challenging Mosqueda-Lewis for the team lead in 3-pointers this season but said don't be stunned when you see her firing away from the perimeter.

"I always shoot 3s but consistency is the next step," Stokes said. "It is just another thing to add. I want to be a post player first but I want to have more options and I don't want to be limited to being just scoring inside."

There were five recruits at First Night. De'Janae Boykin was the only one already committed but don't look for any quick commitments from the other four (juniors Crystal Dangerfield and Jocelyn Willoughby and sophomores Andra Espinoza-Hunter and Megan Walker). They did make it onto the court for some quick dancing before the event started but were sitting too far from me to get a sense of how much they enjoyed themselves, However, I couldn't imagine any recruit not having the time of their lives at an event like last night's.

One last recruiting item, don't look for a future Husky to play in the HoopHall Classic held each January in Springfield. Event organizers try to have one game featuring a potential UConn recruit but I reached out Greg Procino, the Director of Events and Awards at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and he said attempts to set up a game with a UConn recruit did not work out and the only game featuring teams outside the Springfield area is one with Maryland commit Kiah Gillespie's Capital Prep team squaring off with Oregon powerhouse South Medford High, Capital Prep also features junior guard Desiree Elmore, who committed to Syracuse earlier this week while South Medford's top players include senior Keyari Sleezer and junior Julissa Tago.

Friday, October 17, 2014

This was one night to remember at UConn

There used to be a time when fans would show up several hours beforehand on the day of the annual basketball fan fest now known as First Night.

There was a dip in the interest which was obviously noticed at UConn because those responsible for athletic marketing obviously put in a lot of work in preparing for this year's event.

There was a lot to work with since both teams are coming off winning national championships and ESPN was in the house. However, the people at UConn deserve tons of credit for putting their thinking caps on because this was as good of a First Night/SuperShow/Midnight Madness event as I can remember (and I came to my first one of these 15 years ago).

It started with the dedication of the basketball practice facility named the Werth Family UConn Basketball Champions Center. Then there was the always popular autograph signing session.

Once First Night began UConn paid homage to its championship pedigree having a member of a title-winning squad walk each of the 13 national championship trophies onto the court. The appearance of UConn legends like Ray Allen and Sue Bird certainly added some energy to the evening's festivities.

Then came the brilliant idea of unveiling both national championship banners.

Last year have the men's and women's teams take part in a mixed-gender scrimmage was a hit and it was a fitting end to the event with Team Geno edging Team Kevin 38-37.

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Morgan Tuck each hit 3-pointers for Team Geno while Kia Nurse had four points and Moriah Jefferson an unforgettable assist to Rodney Purvis with an alley oop for Team Kevin.

"They work so hard and I know it is extra special for them because they were underdogs," UConn senior center Kiah Stokes said. It is fun to celebrate with them because we both (won titles),

"It is great to have a great fan base, it is one thing to play in front of fans that have to drive in but when you have the local kids on campus that come to campus, it is just amazing. I think they are the best fans in the country, some schools might disagree but they support us whether we win or lose."

Another bonus was having freshman Gabby Williams, who saw her junior and senior seasons of high school end prematurely due to torn ACLs, taking part in the scrimmage - her first full 5 on 5 action since arriving on campus.

"There is no more thinking anymore, no more worrying," Williams said, "I am just out here having fun."

Rosters set for UConn's First Night festivities

After a balloting via social media UConn announced the breakdown of the teams for tonight's scrimmage.

Team Kevin will feature women's players Natalie Butler, Moriah Jefferson, Kia Nurse, Kiah Stokes, Breanna Stewart and Tierney Lawlor playing alongside Omar Calhoun, Kentan Facey, Pat Lenehan, Rodney Purvis, Phil Nolan and Terrence Samuel. The women's players on Team Geno are Saniya Chong, Sadie Edwards, Courtney Ekmark, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Briana Pulido, Morgan Tuck and Gabby Williams. They will be joined by men's players Nnamdi Amilo, Ryan Boatright, Amida Brimah, Sam Cassell Jr., Daniel Hamilton and Rakim Lubin.

Doors at Gampel Pavilion open at 5 p.m. with an autograph session with players from both teams as well as both head coaches running from 5:30-6:30 p.m. The event kicks off at 7 p.m. There will be a 3-point shooting contest as well although the highlight figures to be the unveiling of the national championship banners as well as the pomp and circumstance as UConn looks back on the combined 13 national championship the two programs have won.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

UConn's freshmen excited to get rolling

One of the highlights of UConn's early season practices is seeing how the freshmen get acclimated.

It wasn't that big of a deal last year with Saniya Chong the only new scholarship player but yesterday was the introduction of freshmen Sadie Edwards, Courtney Ekmark, Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams as well as transfer Natalie Butler.

I consider this group to be one of the more intriguing collection of newcomers since I have been covering the team.

You have Edwards, the Meriden native who spent a season playing in New York and two more at Blair Academy in New Jersey. Butler is a rebounding machine and a rare transfer into the program. Ekmark made the unusual decision to bypass her senior season of high school and had a variety of different basketball experiences over the last year. Nurse's experience with the Canadian national team has been well documented and then there is Williams, a top five finisher in the high jump at the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials who saw her final two high school seasons end prematurely due to torn ACLs.

All five were out there early and often during the portion of practice the media was allowed to watch. There were nervous moments as they attempted to learn the different drills, absorb the coaching from Geno Auriemma and his staff as well as the encouragement they were getting from their more experienced teammates.

"It was tough in the beginning but we kind of caught on," Nurse said. "It was something we were excited to be a part of."

Ekmark echoed her classmate and roommate's take on her first official practice as a Husky.

"It is awesome," Ekmark said. "Obviously we are fired up and excited for our first college practice, it was good, it was fun. It was a different level of intensity for all of us because it is a different jump from high school to college.

"Moriah (Jefferson) and Kaleena (Mosqueda-Lewis) are really helpful. I know to me I can talk to them if I ever need help with anything and I can ask them  so it is really nice to have them here and it is fun playing with them also."

Nurse is grateful to have leaders like Jefferson and Mosqueda-Lewis to help show her the way.

"They are great leaders," Nurse said, "They give us everything we need to know and we are never surprised with anything thanks to them. They are great basketball players, have great basketball IQs and we just learn from them every day."

UConn coach Geno Auriemma said one of the points of emphasis with the newcomers is to have them make shots. With a grueling preseason conditioning program and the way the challenging practices take a toll on them, they are going to have to learn how to fight through the fatigue.

"Everything is new right now so we are learning a lot of new stuff," Ekmark said. "We are trying to keep our legs on our shots but you have to keep shooting."

Nurse just recently got back to campus after spending most of the summer with the Canadian national team. It was time well spent as Nurse was a starting guard on a team which finished fifth in the FIBA World Championship for Women.

"I feel great," Nurse said, "I got a couple days off when I came back. Your body can only take so much and my body got used to playing for a long time all the time so I am lucky to have the staff here that help you rehab everything."

One of the biggest concerns was going to be if Nurse fell too far behind academically due to all the class time she missed while she was overseas. Turns out there was no cause for concern.

"I caught up," Nurse said, "The teachers have been really great and my room was spotless due to Courtney, she kept it clean. Everybody has been really great, the academics center, everybody has worked really hard and I am really grateful for them."

It's looking like the rosters for tomorrow night's scrimmage will not be announced until tomorrow morning so stay tuned. By the sounds of it, UConn is putting together quite the program to pay homage to its championship pedigree. More details will be coming out in the next 18 hours although Wener Ladder announced it will be presenting the ladders the men's and women's teams used to cut down the nets after winning the national titles in April.

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