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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Soul searching has paid dividends for Brianna Banks

When her freshman season came to an end Brianna Banks couldn't help but be overcome by a sense of emptiness and feeling of unfulfilled promise.

Banks' blazing speed was figured to be put to use during her first year at UConn and that was occasionally it was. But on the biggest stages Banks found herself glued to the bench. Banks never got in during UConn's regular-season losses to Baylor and St. John's, did not play in the Big East final against Notre Dame and then as UConn advanced further in the NCAA tournament, the 5-9 guard from Newnan, Ga. found her role being diminished as Banks played a total of five minutes in the regional semifinals and finals against Kentucky and Penn State. Banks first season at UConn ended with her not getting into the game in a Final Four loss to Notre Dame.

Banks knew something had to change and when she finished her school work and headed home to Georgia she knew it was time to look at herself in the mirror. Three weeks back home was enough time for Banks to realize that the way she was going out her business at UConn simply wasn't cutting it especially with three gifted freshmen coming to UConn.

When she returned to campus in early June her teammates and coaches immediately noticed a difference.

"It started gradually changing as the year went on but in the summer when I went home I came back with a completely different mindset," Banks said. "If I wanted to succeed I had to have a completely different mindset."

I asked Banks if it was something UConn head coach Geno Auriemma, associate head coach Chris Dailey or one of the assistant coaches said that made the difference or was it one of her teammates challenging her to practice at a higher level or perhaps it was mother's sage advice which did the trick.

"It was me," Banks said. "I had to figure out some things for myself and once I did that I came back with a completely different mindset. It is a lot easier when you have the mindset of going hard all the time.

"Fatigue was a lot of it. That caused a lot of my problems being tired and not being able to push through my tiredness mentally."

The first time I heard of the new, improved Brianna Banks came in late June when I caught up with Dailey after her round in the celebrity Pro-Am at The Travelers Championship in Cromwell. Dailey was asked which players were impressing her during offseason workouts and she did not hesitate in mentioning Banks' name.

"Brianna Banks is like a different kid," Dailey said. "She is different academically, basketball wise, in the office more. She has probably been in the office more the last few weeks than all of last year. She is just at a different comfort level. I think she is in a really good place. I don't know how it translates into basketball, it translates into growing up. It is definitely nice to see and that will help with basketball because she will approach things differently and in the right way. It is great to see."

Banks could play a key role in the upcoming season especially if UConn looks to press and trap with one of its deepest teams in a few years. The ability for speedy guards like Banks and freshman Moriah Jefferson at the front of the press could wreak havoc with opposing teams.

"We are going to be a running team, all day, completely straight running," Banks said. "I am real excited. I am ready for the season to start. I can't wait."

Banks made an interesting comment when I asked her about Jefferson and fellow freshmen Morgan Tuck and Breanna Stewart.

"They are really good actually," Banks said. "The freshmen last year, my class, we did well but we didn't have as much potential as they do right now."

Feeling that she didn't actually mean that they had more potential but perhaps that they have adapted to the speed of the game and Banks agreed that "they are a lot quicker to adjust."

I also spoke to junior guard Bria Hartley about Banks (and other topics which will be the subject of another entry later this week).

"Brianna went through a lot of tough workouts this summer," Hartley said. "I think she really had to work on pushing herself and working (through) when she was tired. I just think it was the same thing for me my freshman year. I think this year now she understands that. You can tell in workouts she is pushing herself more and more and working to get better.

"I think she has a very quick first step similar to how Tiffany (Hayes) was when she was here. I think she is the type of player who can create because if she is getting into the lane (the opposing team) is going to have to help so it is going to help open up opportunities with our teammates. She can get to the lane and score anytime she wants in my opinion. Every time she puts her mind to it that she wants to go out there play aggressive and not be tentative she is going to score and she is going to make plays for us."

I asked Bria what led to Banks' transformation.

"I think a lot of that year experience," Hartley said. "It helps you out a lot. I think she is more comfortable. She understands more of what she needs to do more on this team and I think it just comes from having one year under her belt."

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