Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Marist added to Paradise Jam field

Maybe UConn and Marist will play after all, only not in Storrs, Hartford or Poughkeepsie, N.Y. but in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

When I went to the MAAC tournament championship game and spoke with Marist coach Brian Giorgis I asked him about the possibility of agreeing to the non-conference game with UConn. He said that UConn calls nearly every year but until the Huskies agree to come to Marist as part of the deal, the Red Foxes won't be playing in either Storrs or Hartford.

Well perhaps the problem has been worked out. Marist has been officially named as one of the teams playing in the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands in November. UConn has also agreed to be one of the eight teams to play in the event. While it is not guaranteed that UConn and Marist would be placed in the same bracket, it would be smart scheduling by tournament organizers if that is the case.

Marist becomes the sixth team officially announced as part of the women's field. DePaul, Hampton, Purdue and Wake Forest are also in the field. Since UConn and DePaul both play in the Big East, naturally they won't be placed in the same bracket. The Paradise Jam will be played from Nov. 22-24. The teams are split into two groups of four teams and each team will play the other teams in the bracket with the winner determined by the results in round-robin play.

U.S. placed in Pool A in Olympics

The United States will join China, Angola and three teams who emerge out of qualifying tournaments in Group A in the Olympics.

Australia is in Group B with Brazil, Great Britain and Russia and a pair of qualifiers.

Host Great Britain, which features former Cheshire Academy star Johannah Leedham, will open round robin play against Australia while the U.S. will get one of the qualifiers in the first game of the Olympics on July 28.

Each team will have five preliminary round games against teams in its pool with the top four teams in each of the two pools advancing to the quarterfinals.

Argentina, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Japan, Mali, Mozambique, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, South Korea and Turkey will vie for the five remaining Olympic spots beginning on June 25.

With the U.S. and Australia guaranteed to be in separate brackets, the biggest issue coming out of the draw was which of the teams would have to face Russia in the preliminary round and the winner or loser) depending on your point of view was Australia.

"It's interesting," said U.S. and UConn coach Geno Auriemma  in a statement. "People might say we've got an easier draw than teams in the other bracket, but you have to remember that China is the Asian champion. They have been climbing back up the world ranks and finished in the top four in Beijing, and Angola will be excited about playing in their first Olympics. Don't forget, we could end up with a very tough pool once the Olympic Qualifying Tournament plays out. There are a lot of very competitive teams still trying to play their way into the Olympics, like the Czech Republic. They finished second at the Worlds two years ago; they have a very disciplined and well-coached team. Regardless of who we have in our opening pool, we're still going to have to get through a lot of very good teams if we want to win gold."

Fans who want to get a look at the 2012 Connecticut Sun can go to open practices on Tuesday from 6-7 p.m. at Mohegan Sun Arena and Thursday from 6-8 p.m. at St. Joseph College in West Hartford.

There is no fee for admission to the practices.

Taurasi in select company

As part of its 40th anniversary of Title IX celebration, ESPN announced the first 10 stars to revealed as part of the top 40 female athletes of the last 40 years.

Former UConn star Diana Taurasi is somewhere between 31-40 as ESPN revealed the first 10 members on the list (in alphabetical order). Wilton's Kristine Lilly is also among the first 10. The countdown to No. 1 begins today on SportsCenter. There is a 24-member panel with two former members of the Brakettes softball powerhouse (Sue Enquist and Donna Lopiano) on the panel of voters.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Another award for UConn recruit Breanna Stewart

UConn incoming freshman Breanna Stewart was named the national high school player of the year by USA Today and the newspaper's five-member first team includes the Huskies entire recruiting class.

Joining Stewart and UConn signees Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck on the first team are Duke commit Alexis Jones and Tennessee signee Bashaara Graves.

UConn Class of 2013 recruiting target Diamond DeShields was named to the second team while Hillhouse's Bria Holmes, who has signed with West Virginia, is a third-team selection.

The field for the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands is slowly taking shape. Howard becomes the fifth confirmed team to play in the event joining UConn, DePaul, Purdue and Wake Forest.

The eight-team tournament will be played from Nov. 22-24 with each team playing three games in a round robin format.

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Monday, April 23, 2012

Ultimate reward for a pair of true pros

If I were asked to give advice to a young player on how to approach the sport of basketball, I would likely make them spend a few hours watching Asjha Jones and Lindsay Whalen not only play the game but their preparation as well.

Obviously I am not alone as the two former teammates will be members of the U.S. Olympic team. Whalen received word of her selection late last month while Jones was officially named to the team today.

There are so many similarities in the way Jones and Whalen go about their business. Neither one of them cares about any individual statistics and are more interested in making winning plays than padding their stats. That is what makes them perfect picks. Sue Bird is the unquestioned floor leader of the U.S. squad. How many minutes Whalen, the only other true point guard on the U.S. team, figures to flucuate from game to game depending on the opponent, pace and way the game plays out. The same could be said about Jones, although it should be noted that Jones was absolutely brilliant in  being named the MVP of the EuroLeague Final Eight. The U.S. team is loaded with frontcourt players. Even after you get by the dynamic center duo of Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles, you have forwards Tamika Catchings, Candace Parker, Angel McCoughtry and Swin Cash as well as dynamic offensive players Seimone Augustus, Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore capable of playing small forward. But it was hard for the selection committee to overlook the familiarity and success rate Jones has against some of the best players in Europe.

I believe that final spot would have gone to Baylor's Brittney Griner had she not removed from name from consideration. I am sure there are those who could make an argument against Jones. When I picked my 12-play squad I selected Candice Dupree in large part because she was the leading rebounder for the U.S. team at the World Championships, Her numbers at that tournament are superior to Jones in every category except for steals. I don't think there would have been any complaints had Dupree been named the 12th player on the U.S. squad today. But there should not be an outrage about Jones  being named either. She is the consumate pro, an incredibly versatile offensive player who can thrive either at the high or low post and is a standout defender. I am sure there are those out there who have raised eyebrows over six former UConn players being named to play for the U.S. squad coached by UConn's Geno Auriemma. But anybody who has been the six former Huskies (Bird, Cash, Charles, Jones, Moore and Taurasi) play has to admit that each have the credentials to make the U.S. squad.

I've had the chance to see Jones and Whalen play throughout their pro careers so perhaps I am a tad bit biased but they add a professionalism to their crafts and are the type of team-first players that figures to serve the U.S. squad well. They've both had to pay their dues.

I won't be headed to Seattle next month when the U.S. Olympic team gathers for the first time since the squad was officially named but I am hoping to make my way down to American University in Washington, D.C. for the training camp in mid July to see how this U.S. team is meshing.

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Former UConn star Asja Jones named to Olympic squad

Former UConn star and current Connecticut Sun forward Asjha Jones became the final member of the United States' Olympic women's basketball team.

Jones joined her former collegiate teammates Sue Bird, Swin Cash and Diana Taurasi as well as fellow former Huskies Tina Charles and Maya Moore as Connecticut graduates comprise half of the 12-member team.

"It's an honor," said Jones in a statement. "My mom, everyone in my family is so excited for me. I think it's exciting how people respond to you when you tell them. A lot of people want to cry. Just to see the way people react to the news is really special. I'm really excited. I'm so excited to be a part of this.
"It was kind of like I was in disbelief and shock,I  kind of put the Olympics out of my head because I didn't think I was going to be on the team. First I was surprised that (USA Basketball Women's National Team Director) Carol (Callan) was even calling me. Then when I answered and she told me the news, I was very surprised, very shocked. I was really, really honored to be picked up."

USA Basketball named the first 11 players at a press conference in Denver last month. The belief at the time was the Baylor's Brittney Griner was going to be the 12th member of the team but the selection committee did not want to burden her with Olympic-related questions with Baylor competing at the Final Four and that she would be named to the team at a later date. However, Griner recently announced that she was withdrawing her name from consideration for a spot. With the team set to hold a training camp from May 11-13 in Seattle, USA Basketball decided to name the 12th and final player on Monday.

"I'm excited," said U.S. national team and UConn head coach Geno Auriemma in a statement. "I think it's well deserved. She adds an awful lot of maturity, experience and talent to this team. Some of the teams that we're going to have to beat in the Olympics, the best teams are really the ones who have the most experienced post players. Asjha has proven herself both in the WNBA and overseas to be able to defend anybody and to be able to score.  She's got experience. All of the things you would look for in a player, she has those qualities. So, when we're looking at who that 12th player was, having somebody with Asjha's experience and certainly what she's done overseas, especially this year, has given us a lot of comfort knowing that we have somebody who can really compliment the other post players who have already been named."

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

And Dixon makes 12 UConn players in WNBA camps

The Tulsa Shock announced that it has invited former UConn guard Lorin Dixon to its training camp which, by my count, makes 12 former Huskies heading to WNBA training camps.

I'm not going to lie about being a little surprised about Dixon getting an invite. It will be interesting to see how she fares in training camp. I do think that her chance of making the Shock would increase dramatically if Tulsa were to schedule North Carolina in a preseason game or at least let Dixon go up against former North Carolina guard Cetera Degraffenreid, who seemed to bring the best out of Dixon.

All kidding aside, Dixon was a top prospect coming out of Christ the King who can be a disruptive force on the defensive end. She was not much of an offensive threat at UConn so for her to avoid being among the first cuts I would have to think she'd have to look for her own shot a little more than she did during her collegiate career. I'm hoping she'll be around long enough to take part in at least one preseason game. Tulsa plays at Atlanta in its first exhibition game on May 5 and wraps up its preseason schedule by hosting Seattle on May 11.

By my count seven of the WNBA's 12 teams will have UConn grads competing for roster spots. The Connecticut Sun leads the way with four players (Tina Charles, Kalana Greene, Asjha Jones, Renee Montgomery) while Atlanta (Tiffany Hayes, Ketia Swanier) and Phoenix (Charde Houston, Diana Taurasi) also have more than one former Husky heading to training camp. Chicago (Swin Cash), Minnesota (Maya Moore), Seattle (Sue Bird) and Tulsa (Dixon) have one UConn product each.

Speaking of UConn guards, Bria Hartley was among the 5,500 fans who were at Rentschler Field for UConn's spring football game on Saturday. She was joined by Michala Johnson, who is finishing out the semester before transferring to Wisconsin.

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Griner won't be 12th member of U.S. Olympic team

Baylor's Brittney Griner announced that she is withdrawing her name from consideration for a spot on the U.S. Olympic squad because of an illness to a family member as well as conflicts with her academic workload.

It was thought that Griner was the likely choice to be the final member of the U.S. team but now the door is opened for another player. Certainly former UConn star Asjha Jones is a strong candidate especially considering that she was recently named the MVP of the EuroLeague playoffs. However the first 11 players named to the squad was dominated by frontcourt players so it will be interesting to see if the selection committee chooses a guard like Lindsey Harding, 2008 Olympian Kara Lawson or former UConn star Renee Montgomery to complete the roster.

If either Jones or Montgomery gets the nod that would mean that half of the 12-member squad would have played collegiately for UConn and U.S. Olympic coach Geno Auriemma as Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Tina Charles, Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi were among the 11 players already named to the team.

Here's a statement from USA Basketball about Griner's situation.

"It's unfortunate that Brittney is unable to participate with USA Basketball this summer, however, we have an extremely deep and talented USA National Team program and remain confident that we will field a very competitive team that all Americans will be very proud of," said USA Basketball Executive Director/CEO Jim Tooley. "This in no way precludes Brittney from future USA National Team events; she is a young and talented player with a bright future ahead of her in international basketball and we look forward to her continued involvement. We wish nothing but the best for Brittney and her family."

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Reaction to news of Pat Summitt stepping down

The talk of Pat Summitt moving into a different role at Tennessee began to intensify at the Final Four earlier this month.

The rumor was the associate head coach Holly Warlick would take over as Tennessee women's basketball coach while Pat Summitt would serve in a new position inside the Tennessee athletic department. The scuttlebutt proved to be accurate as today it was announced that Summitt was named head coach emeritus while Warlick would become the first new women's coach for the Lady Volunteers since Summitt was handed the reins to the program back in 1974.

One of the first people I reached out to today to get reaction was Big East associate commissioner Danielle Donehew. Donehew spent nearly a decade at Tennessee serving a role in the athletic department including being in charge of basketball operations on Summitt's staff.

Donehew was rather emotional when talking about the move pretty much the way I am sure former colleagues of John Wooden and Dean Smith would have been had I interviewed them back when those icons stepped aside.

It is tough enough to see a true legend like Summitt move aside but the fact that the move was made in large part because of Summitt's battle with early-onset dementia only brings out more emotion from those in Summitt's inner circle.

The first part of my interview with Donehew she spoke about issues a little deeper than being able to coach a basketball squad.

"I think that Pat continues to teach all of us important life lessons," said Donehew, who is on the board of the Pat Summitt Foundation which was created to raise funds and awareness for dementia and Alzheimer's Disease after her diagnosis in August. "Over the course of the last season she has inspired so many with her courage and her commitment not only to her team but to the other people around the nation who are patients and caregivers of people who have dementia and Alzheimer's. I think today is a day that Pat is continuing to teach that things happen in life that we can't control but it is how we respond to them that defines our true character. Pat is continuing to teach us that no matter what happens, she is always going to think of others and do her part to help; whether it is supporting the program that she built by handing the reins to the new head coach Holly Warlick, continuing to mentor and be a great role model in the lives of the student-athletes at Tennessee.  Pat will continue to give to the game. I think this is a great day for the game of women's basketball to see that she will continue to be a part of the game and being a great example to all of us to be a mentor, a leader and an encourager and an inspirer to all the good that the game stands for. We are all excited to continue to have her in this game.

"I think for her new passion, in terms of fighting dementia and Alzheimer's, this day is significant because she will continue to commit her time and her energy to her foundation and continue with her vision and her focus of giving to patients and their caregivers, helping to enable the scientists and the doctors that are on the front lines. She hopes that her foundation and by fighting publicly, she can help create a greater awareness of the need of the nation to unite against this challenge. She hopes that she and her foundation might be a part of the solution and be a great teammate to all of the others that are in the fight. Today is a big day for Pat's commitment to fighting through her Pat Summitt foundation and I think it is a big day for the University of Tennessee. I would really like to compliment them for continuing to commit to Pat and I know she is really excited to continue in her role there at the university and for her to now be the head coach emeritus she will be able to do what she loves which is mentoring and giving to the student-athletes and to the coaching staff."

The next question I poses to her was how she would address somebody 10 years down the road who never got to see Summitt coaching at Tennessee and specifically how she would try to explain to them the full extent of Summitt's legacy.
"I think her legacy is certainly a rich one. I would want people to know that she was disciplined, driven, and intense. She embodies a fierce will, a love of competition and a love of teaching the game. She is such a great teacher and motivator. She found a special way to see a student-athlete and she would see what they could become. Then she would work  to help them get there. She was dedicated to her student-athletes and she always gave them her best." 
Finally since it was pretty clear that Donehew knew of Summitt's decision well before today's announcement, I wanted her insight on the timing of the announcement because it seems to me like she wanted to wait until her players had their moments in the sun at the WNBA draft before the news got out about her decision to step down.
"She wanted to put the student-athletes first. As she competed over these 38 seasons, she was not only a great competitor on the basketball court but she was a huge advocate of women's athletics. With all of her decisions, committees, her work with USA Basketball, with all the work that she did on a day by day basis with all the constituencies of the game, her priority was to grow the game and help build the game of women's basketball into something that was stable, was exciting for fans and was positive.  She had a vision for the game that made you want to believe in. I am sure she will be remembered as one of our greatest ambassadors of the game and someone who was truly a pioneer and saw a vision  of what our game could be long before it was close to that."
I also spoke with Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault. Although he hasn't drafted a Tennessee player he has gotten to know Summitt and her staff pretty well during his time in the WNBA.

"You are talking about somebody's real life as opposed to their basketball life which is more important," Thibault said. "Everybody has talked about her greatness, what she has done. She will go down as one of the greatest coaches male or female in college sports. The game will miss her. She has helped elevate the game, made the women's game relevant. I have had the pleasure of being around them, coaching them, coaching some of her players and she has an unbelievably high-class, quality program and I think the basketball world will miss her. She is making sure she has things in her life prioritized and in order."

I asked Thibault what impressed him the most about the way Summitt ran things at Tennessee.

"Like a lot of the top programs whether it is UConn, Tennessee, Stanford and others everybody is held accountable for what they do there," Thibault said. "Coaches and players hold themselves to a higher standard, the team comes first, you are to be a student first, those kinds of things were a priority. Pat was very open to visitors coming in and watching, getting to see things up close."

Finally, the WBCA sent out a statement from their president Beth Bass, a long-time friend of Summitt's.

"When you think of women’s basketball, you think of Pat Summitt. She is the first female coach whose name literally has become synonymous with her sport.

“Of course, we all know her record -- the thousand victories, the eight national championships, and so on -- but we’ll never be able to adequately put into words the contributions Pat has made to women’s basketball and, specifically, to the women’s basketball coaching profession. She is a mentor, role model and inspiration to so many. All coaches of girls’ and women’s basketball have her to thank in large part for the success our game now enjoys.

“Pat is a founding member of the WBCA. She was present in the meeting held during the Olympic Festival in Syracuse, N.Y., in 1981, to discuss the formation of a women’s basketball coaches association. She has been a member and tremendous supporter of the WBCA ever since. We will forever be indebted to her for what she has done through the years for this association.”

Although the quote below was not uttered today, the words of Baylor coach Kim Mulkey spoken when I was at Madison Square Garden for the Maggie Dixon Classic were ones which had to be repeated so I went through my files and found what Mulkey said about Summitt.

"My cell phone was on and you kept getting the ding, ding, ding, ding and the first thought is that it's your children. After about the fourth ding, which is a text message, I look at it and it said what it said. I picked it up and dismissed my staff and kind of gathered my composure. I thought to myself  'I am in here stressing over a basketball game and a staff meeting and practice?' I just called her assistants Mickie (DeMoss) and I talked to Holly (Warlick) because you knew people were going to call and ask questions.  I didn't want to give an uneducated opinion or statement because that is a personal thing. I wanted to talk to them first and get a little more information. When I read the article and how Tyler (Summitt's son) was with her, I don't mind telling you and I am not too proud to say it got kind of emotional because my son is still at home with me and no son should have to stand there at his age and take care of his mom and listen to that diagnosis. My thoughts just went to Tyler. I called her about two weeks later after everything kind of died down and we just talked. I didn't go into great detail on anything, I didn't think those things were necessary. I guess the special that Robin Roberts did hit me really, really hard because there was a doctor that kind of gave a description of what we are dealing with and I didn't want to hear that.  I started hugging her there. There is not an opportunity that goes by. If I see her, I am going to hug her and that is what I did and told her I loved her."

Geno Auriemma reacts to Pat Summitt's retirement

UConn just released a statement from Geno Auriemma reacting to the retirement of Tennessee coach Pat Summitt.

Pat’s vision for the game of women’s basketball and her relentless drive pushed the game to a new level and made it possible for the rest of us to accomplish what we did," Auriemma said in a statement. "In her new role, I’m sure she will continue to make significant impacts on the University of Tennessee and on the game of women’s basketball as a whole. 

"I am thrilled for Holly (Warlick) as this opportunity is well deserved and Pat will be a huge asset to her moving forward."   
Summitt won a record 1,098 games and eight national titles during her run at Tennessee. She also had more players taken in the WNBA draft than any other program.   


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Atlanta Dream "elated and surprised" to land Tiffany Hayes

Former UConn star Tiffany Hayes poses with the WNBA's Renee
Brown after being taken by Atlanta with the 14th pick in Monday's
WNBA draft. (Photo courtesy of WNBA)

 I just got off the phone with Atlanta Dream head coach and general manager Marynell Meadors to get her reaction to adding former UConn star Tiffany Hayes to the two-time defending WNBA Eastern Conference champion.

Atlanta sent its first-round pick to Washington in a deal to acquire Lindsey Harding. When the Dream made its first pick of the draft Meadors was stunned to see that Hayes was still available and she wasted little time in deciding to take the 5-foot-10 lefty guard with the 14th overall pick.

"We were elated that she was but surprised that she was still there," Meadors said. "I (like) her energy level, she is very quick and we like that We like to get up and down the court. She is very aggressive. Sometimes she plays a little too fast but will slow down once she gets a little more mature."

Hayes had the luxury of playing alongside Maya Moore for three seasons and is at her best being a secondary scoring option. Atlanta has a go-to player in Angel McCoughtry so Hayes could have a chance to have a role similar to the one she had earlier in her collegiate career.

"She won't have to carry us, she just has to do what she does," Meadors said. "Anybody who comes out of the UConn program knows how to win championships and we like that about her."

Second-round picks are not guaranteed to make the squad. A spot is available since Atlanta chose not to bring back guard Iziane Castro Marques. Meadors she that Hayes will likely have to compete with Romina Ciappina, a member of Belgium's national team, and WNBA veteran Laurie Koehn for one spot on the Atlanta roster.

"There will be three players vying for a position," Meadors said. "Angel McCoughtry  is our starting 3 (small forward). I know that Tiffany is good enough to swing from 2 (shooting guard) to 3 and we have several other players who can do the same thing. I look for her to come in and do really well, just relax and play her game that is what she needs to do.

I also asked Medors about former UConn guard Ketia Swanier, who was signed by the Dream in the offseason.

"I think she brings in a lot of energy and strong skill set for the point guard position," Meadors said. "Last year we had to play Lindsey Harding way too many minutes and so I look for Ketia to come in and really vie for that starting position but I also think the good thing for her is she can swing to the 2 guard slot." 

Former Memphis guard Brittany Carter was signed to a training camp contract by the Connecticut Sun.

The 5-foot-9 Carter played at Georgia as a freshman before transferring to Memphis where she averaged 15.5 points per game. Carter had 71 double-digit scoring games and scored at least 20 points on 25 occasions.

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Taurasi fined for actions in Turkish playoff series

According to the site, former UConn star Diana Taurasi was fined 10,000 Turkish liras (nearly 6,000 U.S. dollars) for comments she made towards the head scorekeeper and then giving the middle finger to fans while leaving the court. The photo with the report leaves no doubt about Taurasi's actions. She was given a warning but not suspended for her actions.


Some thoughts the day after

It's easy to understand Tiffany Hayes' giddiness after learning that she was taken by Atlanta with the 14th overall pick in Monday's WNBA draft.

There was the obvious joy of being taken by the WNBA team located the closest to her hometown of Lakeland, Florida.

Also, if you are going to fall out of the first round it's never a bad turn of events to go to a team without a first-round pick.

Then there is the chance for Hayes, who played on two national championship teams and four Final Four squads during her time at UConn, to join a team that has reached the WNBA championship series in each of the last two seasons.

Last but certainly not least, there is an opportunity for Hayes to play as a rookie. Iziane Castro Marques is an unrestricted free agent and during the winter there were rumors that she would land in Seattle. If Castro Marques goes elsewhere that could open up a potential spot for Hayes. If Hayes makes the team she would return to Connecticut when Atlanta faces the Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena on June 10 and Sep. 23.

Switching gears, I had my eyes on where Christine Flores, Tavelyn James, Emilie Johnson, Katelyn Redmon, Kayla Standish, April Sykes and Avery Warley were selected in the draft.

Why would I care about seven players with no ties to Connecticut? Well, they were the draft-eligible players who were members of the U.S. team which played in the Pan Am Games. The U.S. team was led by UConn incoming freshman Breanna Stewart. Stewart finished as the team's leading scorer (15.3) and rebounder (11.3).

When talking and writing about Stewart this is one of her achievements which impressed me the most considering the rest of the U.S. squad was made up of current college players. While it wasn't the same thing as playing on the World University Games team which included first-round picks Nneka Ogwumike, Shekinna Sticklen, Devereaux Peters, Glory Johnson and Natalie Novosel, still a high school kid being the go-to performer on a squad of college players is an incredible achievement.

So now it is worth noting that four of Stewart's Pan Am Games teammates were drafted. Standish was the first to go, being taken with the 19th overall pick by Minnesota. Sykes, Flores and Redmon were taken in the third round by Los Angeles, Phoenix and New York.

My final thought concerns Astan Dabo, the first-round pick of the Connecticut Sun. There were plenty of questions surrounding Dabo. Even Mike Thibault, who drafted Dabo, admitted he only saw her play on a limited basis the one time he saw her in person. Well Dabo is expected to be a part of Mali's team which will play in the Olympic qualifying tournament. Mali does not have an easy draw as it was played in a pool with France and Canada which just the top two teams moving onto the next stage of qualifying. If Mali can beat either France or Canada they could be one win away from earning a spot in the Olympics. The qualifying tournament will be played in Ankara, Turkey from June 25-July 1.

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Monday, April 16, 2012

Hayes goes to Atlanta in second round of WNBA draft

Tiffany Hayes had to wait a little longer than expected but the former UConn star landed with the Atlanta Dream with the 14th overall pick in Monday’s WNBA draft.

Hayes was touted as a first-round prospect but slipped into the second round before Atlanta grabbed her.
Hayes, a 5-foot-10 guard who finished in the top 10 at UConn in games and minutes played, points, assists and 3-pointers, believes her time playing alongside current WNBA stars should ease the transition from college to pro ball.

This is the first time in five years that UConn didn’t have a player taken in the first round but both Hayes and UConn coach Geno Auriemma believes Atlanta could be a good fit for her.

"(Not being a first-round pick) didn't matter to me, all I needed was a shot," Hayes said. "I was  anxious all day, I was never nervous. I just  wanted to know where I was going.

"They are definitely an uptempo team and being at Connecticut that is definitely something you learn how to do is be on an uptempo team. That will definitely help me in the long run being with Atlanta now."

It didn't hurt that Hayes grew up in neighboring Florida so going to Atlanta truly was a Dream.

"That is one of the most exciting things about going to Atlanta," Hayes said. "I was definitely hoping that was where I was being picked. I really didn't think I would get to go there but it is definitely a blessing to be there and be so close to home.

"It just feels like I am going home doing the same thing for a great team and a great teammate like Angel (McCoughtry). I was very excited, I was happy and I just happy for my family because that was probably something that they wanted for me to be somewhere close."

Hayes said she is planning to reach out to her former UConn teammate Kalana Greene, who has earned a spot in league even though she unexpectedly dropped out of the first round in the 2010 WNBA draft.

"I can look to Kalana for advice because she went through the exact same situation as me, she turned it into a great thing for her," Hayes said. "I will definitely be in contact with her very soon after this."

Perhaps nobody was happier to see Hayes fall to Atlanta in the second round than Hayes' mother.

"She was always telling me even before the draft that I would love for you to play with Angel she is such a great player and she loved you when you two were in college, she always told me she loved the way you played."

Hayes was available to be selected when the Connecticut Sun were on the clock with the ninth overall pick. However, feeling that the Sun was pretty deep with wing players, the Sun passed on Hayes and took a gamble in drafting 6-8 Astan Dabo from Mali.

"Our roster is basically set unless there is an upset in camp, we work so hard the last couple of years to redo our roster, be young, do all the things to grow up and mature," Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault said. "We all saw the progress of it last year going up to 21 wins and I think we can get more if we do the things we were supposed to. I didn't really want to undo that either. I like the idea of starting trailing camp knowing what we are doing.

"If this doesn't prove to all the people that we only draft UConn players ... Tiffany Hayes is a really good player but I don't know how she would beat out on our team."


I'll be chatting/blogging for WNBA draft

I will be conducting a live blog for the WNBA draft. The link is below

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Connecticut Sun put individual game tckets on sale

The Connecticut Sun announced that individual game tickets went on sale this morning at 10 a.m.

Fans can purchase tickets to all 17 regular season home games at Mohegan Sun Arena as well as tickets for preseason games on May 7th against the New York Liberty and May 10th against the Minnesota Lynx. Tickets will be available at,, or by calling 1-877-WNBA-TIX.
The Connecticut Sun will tip off its 10th season in the state with a back-to-back against the New York Liberty, traveling to face its Eastern Conference rival on May 19th at 4 p.m. before returning home to Mohegan Sun Arena for a rematch on Sunday at 5 p.m. Connecticut will be home for seven of its first nine games.

For more information on the Connecticut Sun, visit Season tickets and a variety of mini-plans packages are also on sale now, and can be reserved by calling a Sun Ticket Representative at 1.877.SUN.TIXX (786-8499), via email at or by visiting

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Another first for UConn?

Since the WNBA's initial college draft in 1997 no university has produced first-round picks in five consecutive years. That could change Monday

If Tiffany Hayes is taken in the first round, something that seems rather likely, it would be the fifth straight year that a former Husky had their name called before the start of the second round. There are few things that make UConn's Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma much happier than the knowledge that his players leave better and more skilled than when they arrived.

“I think that is a big part of what we do, that is one of the things we talk a lot about with kids,” Auriemma said. “We are not going to promise that you win a national championship, we are not going to promise that you are going to be player of the year, we are not going to promise that you are going to play in the WNBA but we do tell you that you are going to get a lot better.
“If you come here you are going to get a lot better and whatever your goals are you are going to have a chance to reach them. When you get some of the best high school players in the country to come to your school, you would hope that a bunch of them get drafted in the first round otherwise you are not doing your job.”
UConn did not have a first-round pick in the first four WNBA drafts but have had a record 12 No. 1 picks over the last 11 drafts including No. 1 overall picks Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Charles and Moore.
Hayes is expected to be taken in the second half of the first round. However, as the drafting of Ketia Swanier with the 12th overall pick in 2008 proved, it is not out of the question for a former UConn player to go higher than anticipated.
“The top teams have the best players,” Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault said. “It is not an accident that they (UConn) have a player, Tennessee has two or three players, Stanford has a player in this year's draft (expected to be taken in the first round). The best players right now for the most part are going to the best teams. You know with a UConn kid or other players from top programs that they are been well coached and there is an expectation of being good every day. You are not allowed to have slippage days, I think that is one of the attractive parts is that these kids have learned to compete on a daily basis and I think that helps them be prepared for our league.”
Brian Agler led Seattle to the 2010 WNBA title with the aid of former Huskies Sue Bird and Swin Cash so he knows a thing or two about the aura that former UConn players bring to the pro game.
“The one thing I always say about players from Connecticut and players from Tennessee and rich in tradition type programs is that they have always hold their college coaching staffs in high regard,” Agler said. “They continue to be a big part of their lives even after they get to the pro level. I think that is important in our evaluation because they are very team orientated. Tiffany definitely is that, she has had a great career there and I see her going in the first round, she has some versatility and some length but definitely her pedigree going through that program for four years playing on the great teams she has will help her. Each team in our league has high expectations and that is where she comes from.”

The draft begins shortly after 2 p.m. on Monday. The first round will be televised live on ESPN2 with the second and third rounds being shown on ESPNU.

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Friday, April 13, 2012

Michala Johnson talks about decision to leave UConn

The chance to play basketball and go to school about two hours from home led to Michala Johnson to leave UConn.
Johnson, who informed UConn coach Geno Auriemma and her teammates of her choice to transfer to Wisconsin at the end of the semester, talked publicly about the decision on Friday.
“I really missed my family and never really had a chance to see them,” said Johnson, who had 77 points and 76 rebounds in 56 career games at UConn.
An added bonus for Johnson, who will have two years of eligibility beginning in the 2013-14 season, will be the chance to play with her younger sister Malayna who will be a freshman at Wisconsin in 2013.
“We played together a little bit when I was a senior at high school and I am excited about it,” Johnson said.
Johnson said she met with Auriemma on Tuesday afternoon to tell him of her decision and then told her teammates individually.
“It was hard, there were a lot of tears shed,” Johnson said. “I am going to miss my teammates a lot especially the three (Stefanie Dolson, Lauren Engeln and Bria Hartley) I came in with."
I asked Michala what she'll remember most about the two years she was at UConn.
"Probably all the good times with my teammates," Johnson said. "We were together so often and we got along so well from day one."
Johnson has three weeks left at UConn and she is planning to enroll at Wisconsin for summer classes in June. She will be able to practice at Wisconsin during the upcoming season but won't be able to play for the Badgers until the 2013-14 season because of NCAA rule mandating transfers sit out one season.


Time for some updates

Thanks to some twitter posts there's some news worth reporting.

First, Bret McCormick of the All-Star Girls Report tweeted that California post Erica McCall is taking an unofficial visit to UConn this weekend. Everything I've been hearing is that the UConn staff loves McCall so she's a prospect worth keeping an eye on.

Here are two updates courtesy of @lovewomensbb. First they said that former UConn star Sue Bird returned to the U.S. to have surgery on her injured nose while the second had former Husky Maya Moore potentially heading to play for Galatasaray next season, taking former UConn star Diana Taurasi's spot on the team. I was unable to translate the link but here it is for those who are interested

Finally, Svetlana Abrosimova is one of 25 players named as candidates for Russia's Olympic team. List is expected to be cut down to at least 18 by late May while former UConn star Asjha Jones is planning to play in Turkey next season according to this report

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Five former UConn stars to take part in U.S. training camp

Former Huskies Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Tina Charles, Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi are among 11 U.S. Olympic team members slated to take part in a national team training camp next month in Seattle.

The May 11-13 training camp will be highlighted by a May 12 exhibition game against China.

Seimone Augustus, Tamika Catchings, Sylvia Fowles, Angel McCoughtry, Candace Parker and Lindsay Whalen will also take part in the first training camp since the announcement of 11 of the 12 members of the U.S. Olympic team.

"I'm looking forward to it because it'll be the first time that the entire team will be together," said UConn and U.S. national team coach Geno Auriemma. "It's been kind of difficult with everybody's schedules to have many training camps. So, I'm really looking forward to it from that standpoint."

Tickets for the U.S./China game will go on sale on Apr. 17 at or

It remains to be seen if the U.S. will name the 12th member of the team and/or the alternates before the start of the training camp.

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Decisions to be made for Connecticut Sun

A knee injury ended Keisha Hampton's career at
DePaul in January but she could be a steal for
somebody in the WNBA draft.
(photo courtesy of USA Basketball)

If Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault has his way he would find a team willing to part with a first-round pick in either the 2013 or 2014 WNBA drafts in exchange for the No. 9 pick in Monday's draft.

However next year's draft is being touted as one of the most talented groups in recent memory and teams aren't willing to give away their No. 1 picks and perhaps miss out on the chance to draft a Brittney Griner, Skylar Diggins, Elena Delle Donne or another one of the top pro prospects. On Thursday Thibault suggested that trading for a first rounder in the 2014 draft is still a possibility.

"I would even take one the following year if we could do that but because of the way our rules are," Thibault said, "I don't think I could do that until draft day so we can't do two years down the road now but we can do it at the conclusion of the draft. We could draft for somebody else at nine and then make a trade for somebody else after the draft for two years down the road."

The issue Thibault and the Sun is facing is perhaps drafting a player in the first round not good enough to make the squad.

"That is the question of the day," Thibault said. "I am not sure if there is. There are good players but us being as young as we've been it is hard for me to envision (the player being there at No. 9). I could be wrong but I don't know if one of the players who is going to be there is better than who we have. Part of it is just based on experience, you come to training camp and a veteran player is going to know how to beat out a younger player. I don't know right now. We have been sitting here trying to rank the players and decide who is going to be there. Nobody in the league can kind of predict the order of the draft at this point. There are too many people at the top who aren't even sure what they are going to do right now.

"Usually I can predict the draft within range of the first seven to nine players. Some of those five or six might be flip flopped but I can pretty much tell. I am pretty sure of five players who are going to do in the top seven but after that it is kind of like a need of a team, it is almost like a beauty pageant in the sense that what looks good to one team doesn't look the same to another team."

Stanford's Nneka Ogwumike is expected to be taken by Los Angeles with the No. 1 overall pick. Miami's Shenise Johnson, the Tennessee duo of Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen and Ohio State's Samantha Prahalis seem to be the prospects most likely to do in the top five.

If the Sun is unable to swing a trade what would it be looking for?
Maryland's Lynetta Kizer could be a
player the Connecticut Sun could look at
 with No. 9 pick in Monday's WNBA draft.
(photo courtesy of USA Basketball)

"The first thought is we draft somebody who we can at least give a chance to make the team, post or otherwise," Thibault said. "Certainly we are not in the market for a point guard. A wing player it would have to be something pretty unique or special, somebody who can play a couple of positions maybe. Post makes the most sense because you at least give somebody a fighting chance at that position to maybe make the team. If you do that, if you end up having a young post player make your team than you are probably going to strip yourselves of some depth somewhere else, you are not keeping a third point guard or you are not keeping one extra wing who can do something specific, that is kind of the debate.

"If we can trade up into the first couple of picks we would consider that but I don't see that happening right now but it is something we would consider."

Notre Dame's Devereaux Peters is another post player expected to be off the board by the time Connecticut is on the clock so that would leave posts like North Carolina's Chay Shegog, Maryland's Lynetta Kizer, Cierra Bravard of Florida State and Georgia Tech's Sasha Goodlett as possible options. The good news is that all four played in the ACC so it's a little easier to watch film of them playing against each other and similar competition. Thibault is no stranger to grabbing foreign players so maybe he could nab Brazil's Damaris Dantas and wait on her to come over to the U.S. or former DePaul forward Keisha Hampton. Hampton is a first-round talent but saw her college career end with a knee injury in January. If she is not completely healed in time for the start of the WNBA season, the Sun could wait to sign her until next year like they did with former first round pick Danielle McCray.

If the Sun opt to draft a wing it will be interesting to see if UConn's Tiffany Hayes or Notre Dame's Natalie Novosel are available when they make their pick.

The draft is Monday beginning at 2 p.m. and will be conducted from ESPN headquarters in Bristol for the second year in a row.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Tiffany Hayes talks about upcoming WNBA draft

Former UConn guard Tiffany Hayes joined likely No. 1 overall pick Nneka Ogwumike as well as Devereaux Peters and Samantha Prahalis on a conference call previewing Monday's WNBA draft.

Perhaps the most interesting comments made my Hayes is that she considered herself an "under the radar player" growing up so that dreaming about playing in the WNBA was not something in her consciousness as she honed her basketball skills.

"When I was younger I wasn't really thinking about it," Hayes said. "I kind of knew about it but it really wasn't in my mind to go. I started late playing and I was kind of an 'under the radar' player my whole life so it didn't really cross my mind that I would be here. When I was younger I didn't even think I'd be on a full scholarship to go to college to be honest so the WNBA was generally not in my mind. Now that I am here, it feels great."

The feeling is that Hayes will go in the second half of the first rounds. A couple of coaches on the call felt like Hayes complimentary role during her UConn career is more of a benefit than a detriment.

The WNBA draft begins at 2 p.m. on Monday and Hayes is one of 15 prospects expected to be on hand at ESPN campus in Bristol for the draft.


Hayes invited to WNBA draft

Former UConn star Tiffany Hayes is one of 15 players invited to attend Monday's WNBA draft.

Leading the list of invitees is Stanford's Nneka Ogwumike, who is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick. Tennessee leads the list with Vicki Baugh, Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen while Miami (Shenice Johnson, Riquana Williams) and Notre Dame (Natalie Novosel, Devereaux Peters) will have two players each at ESPN for the draft. LSU's LaSondra Barrett, Sasha Goodlett of Georgia Tech, Maryland's Lynetta Kizer, Samantha Prahalis of Ohio State, Kayla Standish of Gonzaga and Wisconsin-Green Bay's Julie Wojta are also expected to be in Bristol for the draft.

Los Angeles holds the No. 1 overall pick while Connecticut is slated to pick ninth.


UConn announces departure of Michala Johnson

It is now official as UConn released a statement on sophomore Michala Johnson's decision to transfer earlier today.

“I have really enjoyed getting to know Michala over the last two years,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said in a statement.  “She is a great kid who works really hard in the classroom and on the court.  Recently, she came to us and expressed an interest in being closer to home and I can respect that.  I wish Michala nothing but the best in the future.”

Johnson will complete the spring academic semester at UConn.

Johnson, a native of Bellwood, Ill., saw time in 56 games during her two years at UConn.  She
averaged 1.4 points and 1.4 rebounds in 5.1 minutes per game.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tough encore

UConn fans are understandably fired up about the incoming recruiting class of consensus national high school player of the year Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson (who is rated as the top guard in her class) and Morgan Tuck, who had as impressive a season as any incoming freshman. The three of them make up the nation's top-ranked class and there's plenty of reasons for UConn fans to be giddy.

However, I've been doing this long enough to know that this is going to be a challenging year of recruiting for the UConn coaches. Other coaches have already gone to the well with the "you'll never play there" card. Recent history would indicate that signing a large class, even with six available scholarships seems unlikely.

When UConn signed the class of Tiffany Hayes, Caroline Doty, Heather Buck and Elena Delle Donne what followed was a one-player class of Kelly Faris. The same thing happened the year after UConn inked the Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Asjha Jones, Tamika Williams, Keirsten Walters class in the late 1990s.

So between now and November's early signing period what can UConn fans expect?

Well, for one thing it appears as if the UConn coaches are keeping tabs on more prospects than they have during similar scenarios. The last thing the Huskies want is to have uneven classes so in a perfect world a class of two or three players would be ideal next year.

Among the players considered to be recruiting targets are Diamond DeShields, Taya Reimer, Karlie Samuelson, Erica McCall and Saniya Chong. Jannah Tucker's name has been mentioned in connection with UConn in the past and there have been some rumblings that UConn is keeping its eye on Linnae Harper as well. Although UConn has six available scholarships for next year I'd be surprised to see a class of more than three. Which of the players mentioned actually commit to UConn is still anybody's guess. I would not anticipate any commitments coming in the near future for the Huskies and with UConn coach Geno Auriemma spending much of his summer working with the U.S. national team it will be an interesting process to say the least.

When you add in UConn's pursuit of prized sophomores like Brianna Turner and Courtney Ekmark and this could be one of the more intriguing seven months for the UConn brain trust.

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Offseason could be key for Huskies

When UConn takes the court for its next official practice in mid October, head coach Geno Auriemma figures to see a different group from the one which came within one defensive rebound away from reaching the national championship game.

Of course the arrival of the nation's top-ranked recruiting class as well as the departure of 1,800 point scorer Tiffany Hayes as well as today's news that sophomore forward Michala Johnson will be transferring is just part of the equation. Auriemma is meeting with all the returning players and hoping they use these next few months at continue to grow as basketball players.

"The meetings I am having with them right now are really, really good because they understand more of what I am talking about so in that sense it has really been good," Auriemma said on Tuesday following a press conference announcing plans for his restaurant to be opened as part of the Storrs Center development project. "If you look at it objectively, it would have been a crying shame for us to win (the national title this season). All year long I have been screaming and yelling about ‘we don’t do this; we don’t do that; we haven’t taken care of this; we throw the ball away at the worst possible times; we don’t rebound at the worst possible times.' We have a tendency to stand around and watch at the worst possible times and the next thing you know we are in position to win the game. It goes to show you how hard it is to win a national championship. In ‘95 everybody jumped up and down when that rebound came off the rim right into (Jen) Rizzotti’s hands. She goes coast to coast and we win the game. That rebound (at the end of the second half) landed right in (Notre Dame's Natalie) Novosel’s hands. She didn’t have to reach for it, she didn’t have to go get it. It landed right in her hands. If that rebound lands in anybody else’s hands the game is over. That is how close it is. If Kelly Faris makes the layup and them makes the free throw now it is a three-point game.

"(Rarely do) you go into the offseason where you think evertybody’s got everything covered. Every single player on the team I have been meeting with them the last couple of days and the rest of them today but every single one of them is looking to do something a little more than what they did last year. If you look at the way a lot of them played this year, if you look at where we were really good, where we struggled, you look at the guys who are upperclassmen it is easy to say that Kelly wants to get better. From where she was as a freshman to where she is now, she changed herself completely so what is the next step. Stefanie Dolson same thing, Bria Hartley the same thing, Kiah Stokes ... Are they going to be able to capitalize? Brianna Banks, Kaleena Lewis, you look at them all and say I don’t think any one of them as we went through the season maxed out on who they are. We could be looking at a group of players coming back next year that are not exactly the same as they were. Every one of them is going to be better. That is my goal for them."

As painful as it was watching the national championship game between Baylor and Notre Dame especially since he knows how close the Huskies were to playing Baylor for the national title, Auriemma did watch some of the game.
"I watched a little of it," Auriemma said. "You sit there and are really disappointed. You are disappointed (after the semifinals) but you are disappointed again. It is difficult. You watch how Notre Dame played in that game and every shot they took that didn't go in is going to go in against us. The situation was going to be so much different. That is the first time they ever played each other so I don’t think those guys understood how difficult it was going to be to score against Baylor, you are not going to be able to get in the lane and shoot all the layups you shoot against us or get to the free throw line as much as you do against us so I am not surprised at the outcome. I am surprised that it was wide a gap as it was."

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Geno is investing in Storrs

                                         Here is an artist's rendering of what Geno's
                                         Restaurant could look like.

Geno Auriemma has heard of the negative way that opposing coaches portray the area around UConn.

"Why would you want to go there when there's nothing to do."

Well, Auriemma is getting involved in a project that he hopes will change the image of Storrs, Manfield and the surrounding community.

Auriemma was at a press conference on Tuesday to announce that he will open a restaurant named "Geno's" as part of the Storrs Center development project. Auriemma said he is hoping that his restaurant will be open for business in September.

"The people who have done this, some are not even here,. 27 years ago when I got here, I was
coming up here from the University of Virginia and I lived in Philadelphia," Auriemma said. "When I got here I was under the impression that all the universities in America looked like Villanova, St. Joe's, Penn or Virginia and then I realized after being at UConn for like three days 'no, it isn't.' We were unique in a lot of ways and unique in a way that wasn't good for growth. I always thought that the town, the community could catch up to how fast the university was moving.

"We outraced the town, the community and became so big and so forward moving that something had to happen. It just took the right people, the right time the right collaborations to make it happen. I have been fortunate to have been in the positions where because we have done this already somewhere else, we have done it down at Mohegan Sun ans it has been very successful, I have a great group of people who takes care of that stuff. We are going to be as successful and maybe more so than the place down at Mohegan because I think there is an incredible need here for something like this. I don't mean a need for a restaurant that has my name on it or doesn't have my name on it, we just need more places like this. Next year there will be more buildings, the next year there will be even more buildings until Storrs, Connecticut is
transformed into what a college town, what a college town and college community should look like."


Michala Johnson is transferring

Here is what I have to report regarding Michala Johnson. First, a source close to the situation confirmed that the sophomore forward will be transferring from UConn at the end of the spring semester. Although ESPN HoopGurlz reported on twitter that Johnson would be heading to Wisconsin (where here younger sister is committed to play) and WTNH had a report confirming that information, my source did not know of her final destination.

UConn is not planning to release a statement on the matter tonight but once the details are ironed out, I expect that the school will put out a release.

Johnson averaged 1.5 points, 1.2 rebounds and 4.9 minutes in 26 games as a sophomore. She will have two years of eligibility remaining but will have to sit out next season per NCAA transfer rules.


Report: Michala Johnson transferring to Wisconsin

According to a ESPN HoopGurlz tweet, Michala Johnson is transferring to Wisconsin.

I have reached out to Johnson's high school coach Jason Nichols as well as UConn to confirm this report.

Johnson, a 6-foot-3 sophomore forward from Bellwood, Ill., played in 56 games at UConn and finished with 77 points, 76 rebounds and 15 assists.

Johnson would have to sit out the upcoming season and would have two years of eligibility remaining. She would be reunited with her younger sister Malayna, who has committed to Wisconsin.


Monday, April 09, 2012

UCon recruits get some love from ESPN

ESPN HoopGurlz released its final "Star Watch" and not only did UConn signee Breanna Stewart predictably finish at No. 1 but her soon to be fellow Husky Morgan Tuck ended up No. 2 on the list.

Class of 2013 UConn recruiting target Diamond DeShields landed on the list at No. 9 while highly-touted sophomore Courtney Ekmark, who was at the XL Center for UConn's regular-season finale against Notre Dame, finished seventh.

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Thursday, April 05, 2012

Video of Breanna Stewart throwing out first pitch

The Syracuse Post-Standard has posted a video on its site of UConn incoming freshman Breanna Stewart throwing out the first pitch at today's Syracuse Chiefs/Rochester Red Wings baseball game.

Also, the site has video of Stewart receiving her Gatorade National Player of the Year award at a ceremony at Cicero-North Syracuse High.

Former UConn forward Kaili McLaren narrowly missed being named to Israel's postseason all-star squad.

McLaren who was second in Israel's pro league in scoring (21 points per game), second in blocked shots (1.9) and eighth in rebounding (9.5) for Hapoel Petah Tikva., received three votes from the league's head coaches. The cutoff to make first time was five votes received by Jenna Smith of Ha'bikaa and Ashley Shields of Maccabi Ashdod.


Another performance worth checking out by Maya Moore

Maya Moore gave a glimpse of her singing ability when she teamed with Kaili McLaren to perform the national anthem back during her UConn days. Now here is a video of her performing "Killing Me Softly" by Roberta Flack with her Ros Casares teammate Shay Murphy.


Wednesday, April 04, 2012

UConn finishes fourth in final coaches' poll

UConn was ranked fourth in the final USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll which was released on Wednesday.

Baylor, which capped a historic 40-0 season by beating Notre Dame in last night's national championship game, received all 31 first-place votes. Notre Dame, Stanford, UConn and Maryland round out the top five.

The final Associated Press poll comes out before the start of the NCAA tournament and UConn finished third in that one.

UConn incoming freshman Breanna Stewart will throw out the first pitch at the Syracuse Chiefs' season opener.

Stewart, a 6-4 forward from North Syracuse, N.Y., is the consensus national high school player of the year and led her Cicero-North Syracuse team to the New York Federation AA state title setting tournament records for points and rebounds.

The Syracuse Chiefs are the AAA affiliate of the Washington Nationals and will host Rochester tomorrow at 2 p.m.


Monday, April 02, 2012

Strong ratings for UConn/Notre Dame game

ESPN announced that the national semifinal between UConn and Notre Dame delivered a 1.8 overnight rating which is an 6 percent jump from last year's semifinals between Texas A&M and Stanford. It should come as little surprise that the ratings were highest in the Hartford market with a 17.8 rating.
The second game between Stanford and Baylor registered a 2.2 overnight rating, which is equal to last year’s UConn-Notre Dame semifinal.

Hayes proud of the journey

While Tiffany Hayes, UConn's only senior, wanted nothing more than to have her final game with the Huskies to come in the national championship game she was able to grasp the big picture following Sunday's season-ending loss to Notre Dame.

"You definitely don’t want it to end now," Hayes said. "I think it was a good four years here and I wouldn’t have done it anywhere else. It was a great run here. I wouldn’t have done it anywhere else if I had the chance.”
“We accomplished a lot. Not a lot of people thought we were going to make it this far. Some people might think we’re crazy for saying that, but in the beginning nobody thought we would be here. I am definitely proud of our team, proud of how far we got and proud of how we fought to the end.”

Hayes finished tied for second in games played (154), fourth in minutes (4,381), 10th in points (1,801), eighth in 3-pointers (186), second in free throw made (431), ninth in assists (483), 12th in steals in UConn hisrtory.

The loss hit junior Kelly Faris especially hard. Faris made a serious a huge players to allow UConn to storm back and take a two-point lead with 11.6 seconds left in the second half but she was very critical of her play in the first 30 minutes.

"I didn't do a whole lot throughout the game to help anybody out so that was the few minutes I had to try to get something done," Faris said. "I should have been doing that the entire game and for some reason I didn't.

"It wasn't enough. If I made some steals, that is great but it didn't get us the win. No player should come in here and play the way I did especially if you are a senior or junior and you are relied upon to make things happen. I am disappointed in myself and I hate it because this is how I left Tiffany and it is frustrating."

When the preseason national polls start coming out in about six months I'd expect UConn to rank only behind Baylor considering that Hayes is the only player the Huskies lose and UConn brings in what looks like one of its best recruiting classes ever.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma wasn't sure if this UConn team had all the pieces necessary to make it to the Final Four. After the game he offered a different opinion about next year's squad.

"It would have been great if we would have gotten one more rebound, to be playing Tuesday night would have been wonderful for this group," Auriemma said. "Maybe we are not there yet. I remember Tampa and we kind of had a similar scenario (when UConn lost to Stanford in the 2008 semifinals) and we said we'll be back here. We'll be back next year, there is no doubt in my mind."

The Huskies are always challenged by their non-conference and next season is no different. UConn will play 11 teams which finished in the top 25 in the final Associated Press poll including home games against No. 1 Baylor, No. 4 Notre Dame, No. 5 Maryland, No. 6 Duke, No. 11 Penn State and road games against No. 2 Stanford, No. 4 Notre Dame and No. 22 Texas A&M. The Big East schedule grid will need to be adjusted since West Virginia is leaving. When I spoke to BIg East associate commissioner for women's basketball Danielle Donehew told me during the Big East tournament that if the Big East stays where it is now there will be two home an dhome series in the conference schedule. To me adding No. 14 St. John's to Notre Dame as the team to playUConn twice makes the most sense but we will have to wait and see.

UConn will also play at Hartford and Oregon and play three games in the U.S. Virgin Islands. While the complete field for the Paradise Jam has not been announced Purdue and Wake Forest are among the teams UConn could draw.

Maryland and Penn State bring some new blood to UConn's non-conference schedule. I asked Maryland All-American forward Alyssa Thomas her thoughts on playing the Huskies next season when I spoke to her following the State Farm All-American ceremony.

"We are looking forward to playing them next year, they are a good team and a good program," Thomas said. "Playing other teams from different conferences gives you different looks and prepares you going into the NCAA tournament."

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Sunday, April 01, 2012

UConn fell one rebound shy of reaching title game

In a game when sophomore center Stefanie Dolson missed more than seven minutes in the second half with foul troubles and UConn's most experienced players had long stretches of ineffective play the Huskies still came one rebound away from advancing to Tuesday's national championship.

Four free throws by junior Kelly Faris gave the Huskies a two-point lead with 11.6 seconds to go. If UConn, the stingiest defensive team in the country this season, got one stop it would be playing for the program's eighth national title on Tuesday night.

UConn actually got the desired result as Skylar Diggins missed in the lane but Natalie Novosel grabbed the rebound and scored to tie the game with 3 seconds left. UConn had one last chance but by the time Tiffany Hayes passed the ball to Bria Hartley time had expired.

"Those are plays we have to make at the end of the game and that rebound hurt us a lot," Hartley said.

Hartley was also involved in key play in overtime. With Notre Dame leading by a point Hartley and Hayes had a 2 on 1 with only Skylar Diggins back for Notre Dame. Hayes passed the ball a little early to Hartley allowing Diggins to come over and make a block on Hartley. Notre Dame quickly counterattacked and Brittany Mallory drained her second huge 3-pointer in overtime.

“That was game saving,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “That was huge. That would have turned the game around had they made that layup.”
Hartley gave credit to Diggins for making the sensational play.

"It was a great play on her part," Hartley said. "When you see that you have numbers like that, you have to score. It is a play you have to make and I am mad I didn't make that play."

Speaking of being disappointed, UConn coach Geno Auriemma was quick to second guess himself for pulling out 6-3 freshman Kiah Stokes in place of 5-10 Caroline Doty leaving the Huskies with a five-guard lineup on Notre Dame's last series. The lack of size proved costly when Novosel grabbed the offensive rebound and scored the basket which sent the game into overtime.

"It is funny what you do as a coach," Auriemma said. "Kelly's on the free throw line shooting to put us up two and genius me I send in Caroline for Kiah figuring we could switch on every screen and (then) we give up an offensive rebound. Maybe Kiah would have gotten the rebound, who knows so you second guess yourself in almost every (instance)."

Hartley gave the Huskies

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Maya Moore brings home another title

Former UConn star Maya Moore keeps on stockpiling championships.

On Sunday she helped Ros Casares win the EuroLeague title as she had eight points, six rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots in a 65-52 win over Rivas Ecopolis.

The tournament MVP honors went to Rivas Ecopolis' Asjha Jones, a former UConn star, who had 14 points and seven rebounds.

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Kara Lawson talks about not making Olympic squad

It would not be a reach to speculate that the United States may not be the defending Olympic champions if not for Kara Lawson.

I still remember when Lawson was named to the Olympic team and there were many (including me) who questioned the selection believing that Lindsay Whalen would have been a better choice. (Ironically four years later Whalen made the team over Lawson).

Well in retrospect Lawson played a major role in the U.S. winning a fourth straight Olympic title. In the gold medal game she was perfect from the floor going 5 of 5 including 4 of 4 from 3-point range to finish with 15 points. In the tournament she led the U.S. squad with 24 assists while averaging 7 points per game.

When the first 11 players were named to the 2012 Olympic squad on Friday, Lawson was not among them. I was able to ask the Connecticut Sun guard for her reaction at an ESPN press conference on Saturday morning.

"It is disappointing, absolutely," Lawson said. "You are part of the system and there are only so many spots so wait 'til next time and keep working on your game and you never know what could happen. Absolutely, we are fortunate in the U.S. that we have so many great players. We could send over a lot of different combinations and come home with the gold. They had to do what they saw fit in terms of putting together the best combination so good luck to them."

Lawson said she would be open to being an alternate on the team and certainly she could be in the running for one of the three alternate spots.

Thanks to Caroline Williams of USA Basketball, I can bring you some reaction from first-time Olympian Tina Charles, one of five former UConn stars to make the U.S. squad.

"When I got the call, I was overwhelmed with joy and excitement. It is truly a blessing to be named with the elite players in women’s basketball and the opportunity to play with a great group on the highest level of competition doesn't get any better than that.
"This have been a dream of mine to be a part of an Olympic team and now I’m just going to take advantage of the opportunity."

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It's game day

It's the day that seemed inevitable from the time that Notre Dame and UConn began practice back in the middle of October.

UConn and Notre Dame will square off. for the eighth time since Jan. 8, 2011 and 11th time since Jan. 16, 2010. It will also be the second straight time the Big East rivals will meet in the national semifinals and record-tying third time they will square in the semis. Naturally UConn happens to hold that record as well as there have been three Stanford/UConn national semifinal meetings.

What makes this meeting so interesting is that the three previous showdowns between the two teams could not have been more different. In the first one in South Bend UConn had the ball and a two-point lead in the final minute before a costly turnover allowed Notre Dame to send the game into overtime where the Fighting Irish prevailed.

When they met in Hartford in the regular season finale Notre Dame simply outclassed the Huskies handing UConn a rare second straight home loss (although it did not snap UConn's 99-game home winning streak as I believe I may have written at least once in the days leading up to today's game). In the Big East championship game it was UConn which rolled to victory.

"It is going to be a great game," ESPN's Kara Lawson said. "I have no idea who is going to win, I think I picked Baylor and Notre Dame to play in the finals. I think that is the fun of it. Who knows?"

I believe the battle in the post will be a huge key. If either Notre Dame's Devereaux Peters or Stefanie Dolson of UConn gets into early foul trouble it could swing the balance to the other team. I hate to have to say this but I also think the officials could have a major say in the outcome. If the officials call the fouls that actually happen as seemed to be the case in the last meeting between the team I think that favors UConn. The veteran Notre Dame players are very skilled at selling foul calls and if they get the calls which they did in last year's Final Foul I would think that the Fighting Irish will prevail.

The game is scheduled to tip shortly after 4:30 p.m. here which is 6:30 in Connecticut and will be carried on ESPN.