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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Class of 2002 forever changed UConn's fortunes

Back in the late 1990s UConn was a very strong program but still yet to establish itself as the super power it is the current time.

Eager to prove that the Huskies run to the 1995 national title was not a one-time only experience, UConn coach Geno Auriemma and his staff felt it was imperative to get more athletic.

It started with the recruitment of Shea Ralph. The following year Svetlana Abrosimova came in and then came the coupe de grace with the signing of perhaps the best recruiting class in women's basketball history.

Sue Bird and Keirsten Walters added speed at the guard position but it was the signing of forwards Swin Cash, Asjha Jones and Tamika Williams which changed the way the Huskies played the game.


"We were going through a lot of changes from our first Final Four in 91, the kind of team we had - small and not the most athletic bunch in the world," Auriemma said after Sunday's U.S. senior national team practice at Armerican University. "The '95 team that won a national championship was unbelievably good but other than Nykesha (Sales) we weren't the most athletic bunch. Little by little, adding Shea, adding Svetlana we started looking more like teams around the country that we had to beat. Asjha, Tamika and Swin made is possible for us to really expand all the things that we wanted to do our on the court. We became a much more aggressive team in terms of  how we wanted to play defense and how we could influence other teams. I remember their freshman year it seemed like we averaged 100 every night. It was fun to watch because I hadn't experienced anything like that. They did have a huge impact on not just UConn but how people viewed our program."

I was on the verge of coming onto the UConn women's basketball beat for the first time when the recruitment of that class was in full swing. I remember the naysayers saying it made no sense to bring in Cash, Jones and Williams since they were pretty much the same player. Some people would go as far as predict that there was no way the three of them would play together for four years.

Well, they not only stayed but they thrived. They led UConn to a pair of national titles and if Abrosimova and Ralph had stayed healthy during the 2000-01 season, it's not out of the question that UConn could have won three straight national titles.

Considering that Cash and Jones join Bird as members of that recruiting class to be named to the U.S. Olympic team I asked Auriemma about the reaction now to those who questioned his basketball sanity for bringing in Cash, Jones and Williams in the same class.

"People have always misunderstood my kids go to a certain school or why kids want to play with other players," Auriemma said. "Asjha, Tamika and Swin are not at all alike and that is what people on the outside fail to see. Their games are not alike, they are not alike in personality, they are just three different people who came to our school and played three distinct roles. The three of them were able to create something that had they gone to school individually, it would never have been able to happen for them.The outside world doesn't understand that part of recruiting."

Securing that class was not an easy chore.

"Tamika Williams was the national high school player of the year but the player I wanted was Asjha," Auriemma said. "We knew we were going to get Tamika because I think I was the first coach to see her when she was in ninth grade or something like that so I knew we were going to get Tamika. We had to work our butt off to get Asjha but that was who I wanted. I said 'she is the best offensive player out of all three. Swin, we just gave up on. I said the hell with it, she is not interested in Connecticut, I don't want her anyway and then she called us and said 'why aren't you recruiting me?' I said 'I didn't think you wanted to come.' She said 'I want to come to Connecticut.' I said 'you know where we are so let's go.' Between the three of them, they all came for different reasons at different times but what has happened to them since they left Connecticut, in some ways I am not surprised. They were great people then, they are great people now. They were great players then and are even better players now."

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