Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Breanna Stewart reflects on Pan Am experience

It's hardly a stunning development when a talent like UConn incoming freshman Breanna Stewart makes a U.S. junior national team. However, the folks at USA Basketball were thinking a little outside the box when they picked Stewart to be a member of the U.S. team playing at the Pan Am Games.

Stewart still had a season left of HIGH SCHOOL basketball and yet she would be a member of a team which included four players who would be taken in April's WNBA draft and that didn't include Avery Whaley, who made it onto the roster of the Phoenix Mercury as an undrafted rookie free agent.

Perhaps the only thing more impressive than Stewart being good and mature enough to be considered for a spot on a team of veteran college players was that Stewart was unquestionably the team's best player. Not only did she lead the U.S. in both scoring and rebounding but her scoring average of 15.3 points was the fifth highest total in the tournament and her average of  11.3 rebounds trailed only the Atlanta Dream's Erika de Souza among tournament competitors.She was the tourney leader in blocked shots and free-throw percentage while ranking third in field-goal accuracy.

Probably just as impressive as her gaudy numbers was the way that Stewart fit in with her older teammates. If ever there was a time when jealousy could rear its ugly head, having a teen still yet to play a game in her senior year of high school playing alongside with players from NCAA tournament programs like Rutgers and Gonzaga and with two of the most prolific scorers in the collegiate game in Eastern Michigan's Tavelyn James and Kevi Luper of Oral Roberts.

"It didn't hurt that I had a lot of USA Basketball experience before but being able to play with and against college and professional players was a great experience for me," Stewart said. "It showed how much faster you have to be and quicker with your decisions on the court and I think that just helped motivate me to get better and be quicker. The Pan American experience was great, staying in the athlete's village with not only just basketball but all these other sports and so many other countries, it was something I will always remember."

So will Carol Callan, USA Basketball Women's National Team Director. It was Callan who came up with the idea of having Stewart be on the Pan Am team since the timing of the event would prevent many colleges from releasing their top players and the U.S. would not have access to pro players either.
"We were trying to figure out how to put that team together because it was during preseason for colleges, it was during overseas time for pros and we were really scratching our heads on what we were going to do," Callan said. "We were kind of thinking that let's put an interesting, almost eclectic group together. Last summer before we had it exactly figured out, I talked to her and said 'hey, would you be interested' knowing that she was still in high school, she is a good student, her school has been very flexible with her schedule and I think they realize they realize her potential so she was kind of our firs draft choice a little bit.

"It was one of those that as her parents now your daughter is moving outside of her peers and they were cool about it. She just simply rose to another level not only with our own team but even Brazil had their Olympic team down there, we had two days of practice before we had to go down there. We stumbled the first couple of games but clearly Breanna belonged."

Moriah Jefferson may be held out of exhibition

UConn incoming freshman Moriah Jefferson may not play for the U-18 team when they square off with Brazil tonight at 7 p.m.

Jefferson hurt her left hand during practice on Tuesday and was able to practice and take part in yesterday's scrimmages after getting her hand taped.

U-18 head coach Katie Meier said she'll wait to see what the medical staff decided whether to allow Jefferson to play.

"It is not my call, I am going to find out from the trainer," Meier said. "There is no need to take a chance. If there is no risk, then yeah but we are not going to risk anything."

The U-17s play Brazil today at 4 p..m. followed by the U-18s facing Brazil at 7 p.m. Both games will be shown live on

While future Huskies Morgan Tuck and Breanna Stewart are flying home on Saturday and not heading to UConn for a couple of days, Jefferson will be heading straight from Orlando to Connecticut on Saturday.

Since Rebecca Greenwell and Mercedes Russell are two of the most highly touted players in the Class of 2013 and both started for the U-17 squad in yesterday's scrimmage against the U-18s, I thought it would be a good idea to catch up with them regarding their recruiting.

UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey went out to Oregon to see the 6-foot-5 Russell play in October but I haven't heard much about Russell regarding UConn. When I asked her if UConn was expressing any recent interest in her Russell said "not really."

After for Greenwell, one of the best shooters I've seen at the practices this week, has received even less interest from UConn.

"I got a letter (from UConn) freshman year and that was i," Greenwell saidt. "I am fine, I don't think I am going to go to UConn anyways."

Greenwell seems to be further ahead in the recruiting process than Russell. She said she was definitely planning to visit Duke and Notre Dame and will likely commit after taking her official visits.

Ekmark drawn to winning

If Courtney Ekmark wasn't a known commodity before the Tournament of Champions, she was certainly on the radar of the major powers after leading her St. Mary's team to the title in the most competitive high school event of the year.

Among those in attendance were members of the UConn staff. When they weren't watching future Huskies Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck shine, they managed to take in Ekmark's games as well in December. Just over two months later the 6-foot sophomore took an unofficial visit to UConn and was in the stands when UConn played Notre Dame in the regulae-season final at the XL Center.

Ekmark's rapid ascension from recruitng target to commit culminated on Monday when she committed to UConn. Both Ekmark and her father Curtis, who is also her high school and AAU coach, talked about the similarities in the winning traditions at St. Mary's and UConn.

"They are cool because they just recruit the best players and if you come, you come and if you don't, yo don't come but it would just be a challenge to go there," Courtney Ekmark said during the U-17 trails earlier this month. "It is definitely similar to our, I see many similarities between my high school and them."

It is an opinion shared by her dad.

"I think what attracts those type of kids to UConn is they want to be pushed and they want to be the best and I think that was attractive to her. Obviously on a much more scaled down level she thought it was similar to the program we have in high school. We have eight Division I kids and the practices are very competitive, you get to practice with a lot of good kids and you get to win a lot of games. I think she looked to take that to the next level in college."

Thanks to Carl Adamec, who picked up on the fact that U-17 assistant coach Gail Hook is the head coach of the Monarch High in Louisville, Colo. which beat Ekmark's St. Mary's squad during the 2010-11 season, we were able to get a little bit of a scouting report on Ekmark.

"She is one of those players that you look and at the end of the game you look and she has 20 points, five steals, five assists," Hook said. "I think she just finds a way to quietly get her stats and she is always a major contributor to their wins. She just finds a way to do what she needs to to help her team win.

She is kind of a hard matchp kid because she can spot up and shoot the 3, she can beat you off the dribble, she is a good dribble-drive penetrator, she kind of creates some hard matchups that makes her unique."

Ekmark's family background caught my eye as well. Not only did her father and mother both attend Marquette but Curtis was on the Golden Eagles' basketball team while Meg played tennis.  Her grandfather, three aunts and great uncle also played tennis for Marquette while her cousin was a member of the women's basketball program at Marquette.

My dad is from Lake Havasu, Arizona and he got a basketball scholarship to play basketball at Marquette, my mom played at Marquette and they just decided to move back after college," Courtney Ekmark said. "They went to law school in Malibu. I don't know how they got here but it is nice.

"All my cousins are there in Wisconsin. I have had crazy summers the past couple of summers, I went there a couple summers ago and I might try to visit some time if I have time. My cousin is actually playing in the state championship, his fourth one so I want to try to go out there and see him play."

One last thing which I found rather ironic is that the first thing Curtis Ekmark said when I answered the phone yesterday is "you're from New Haven." I said that I worked there. Then he told me he was headed to New Haven. As it turns out his son, who is going into his freshman year of high school, is arriving in New Haven today to attend a camp at Yale and Curtis said he was en route to New Haven on Friday. He was looking for dining suggestions so I told him that New Haven's pizza is hard to beat. Although I told him about Sally's and Pepe's on Wooster Street, I suggested to him that he head over the Modern Apizza on State Street,  my personal favorite.

Catching up on some recruiting thoughts

Yesterday, just as I was about to put together an entry talking about Brianna Turner, Kendall Cooper, Jannah Tucker and some other tidbits I have gotten in my time in central Florida my phone rang and it was Curtis Ekmark returning my call. With most of my focus on putting together a story and blog on Courtney Ekmark's commitment, I have been a little delayed in talking about some potential recruits.

I'll start with Turner, who may be the best player in the Class of 2014 and she is the only member of her class to survive the U-17 team trials.

Turner, a 6-3 forward from Pearland, Tex., made an unofficial visit to UConn in the middle of March so of course I asked her about how the trip came about and her impressions of UConn.

"I went to New York for spring break and took a train to Connecticut," Turner said. "We took a train to Hartford and then we drove to where UConn is. I toured the campus and it is nice. I got to meet the players and coaches. They were really nice and I liked what they had (to say)."

Unlike Courtney Ekmark, another top Class of 2014 recruit who committed to UConn earlier this week, Turner is planning to take her time.

"I want to take as many visits as I can," Turner said. "Probably next year when I am a junior, I'll narrow it down to 10 schools."

Turner said she "didn't have a preference" in terms of where her ultimate school of choice is located and when I asked her what she would be looking for in selecting a college, Turner said "I want a coach to take me out of my comfort zone and give me something I have never had before."

Now switching gears from the U-17s to the U-18s, I spoke with Kendall Cooper and Jannah Tucker, the only two members of the U-18 squad yet to pick a college.

In her USA Basketball bio Cooper lists UCLA, Duke, Tennessee, Virginia, Louisville, Kentucky and Arizona State as her top schools but added "is still open and considering other schools as well."

Cooper, a 6-3 post from Carson, Calif., said something rather interesting to me when I asked her about having more teams from the East on her list than those in Pac-12 territory.

"I want to go more East Coast because it is more rough and tough basketball, the East Coast thing is what I want," Cooper said.

Of course my next question concerned whether UConn has expressed interest and Cooper said they have.

Let's be honest, there are varying levels of interest in the recruiting process. I have never heard her name associated with UConn and have no information that the UConn staff has any plans to see her play or even invite her to campus. However, I will say that I have been extremely impressed with Cooper. Obviously the UConn coaches know a heck a lot more about recruiting than I profess to but the prospects of a talent like Cooper expressing a desire to play on the East Coast and UConn's list of 2013 recruiting targets rather small, I think they'd be crazy not to take a run at Cooper.

I stayed away from talking recruiting when I spoke to Linnae Harper and Erica McCall, a pair of 2013 stars high on UConn's recruiting wish list since I addressed it with them when I spoke to them during the U-17 team trials. However, I was having a hard time hearing Tucker when I was on the phone with her last week so I revisted the recruiting topic with her.

Tucker said that she's heard from them but wouldn't commit to saying that she was planning to visit UConn. She did say that she wanted to make a list of colleges she wants to visit by late June or early July so she could set up visits.

The sense I am getting is that Tucker seems to be drawing the least amount of interest from UConn among the four Class of 2013 players on the Huskies radar (Harper, McCall and Saniya Chong are the others). I'm just thinking out liud her but I'd have to think it is more likely a case of them figuring they won't pull the Randallstown, Md. prospect out of ACC country. In my opinion she looks like a typical UConn kid, athletic, versatile, team orientated, articulate and very likeable.

Chong is the only one of the four not here in Orlando/Kissimmee but I did ask USA Basketball Women's National Team Director Carol Callan about Chong's performance at the U-18 trials when I spoke with her yesterday.

"Saniya I think clearly she knows how to get up and down the floor and knows how to score," Callan said. "When you throw her into this setting you are looking at somebody who is also going to have to distribute in the half court offense and those kinds of things. I think she is clearly going to be a talented player. Clearly she is going to do great things from the scoring stand point. When you look at body  thickness, she is going to develop as she gets older and she was a neat kid to have around because she was very eager and very active on the floor. Her possibilities and where do you play her? Is she a 2 or is she a 1 because she can clearly score."

Finally, I asked U-17 head coach Jill Rankin Schneider about what impresses her about McCall and Harper.

"I just think there is nobody who works harder than Erica McCall, she has tremendous work habits and
athleticism and to me she is so versatile. She can go inside and outside, her perimeter game has improved
over last year maybe the 10-12 foot jump shot facing thebasket has really improved."

"Linnae Harper is one of the best rebounding guards I have ever seen and physically her stature is so
impressive. She is so strong on the boards that she is not that little presence at the point guard spot.
Last year she did a great job in that role for us and I have already seen her emerge in this role this

"Linnae is a very positive kid and I love her. She has a grest outlook and wants to get better. She is all about improving herself and she has done everything we have asked her."

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Former UConn recruiting target talks about decision to commit to UNC

In all the years I have been covering the UConn women's basketball program I have never witness such an intense backlash following a commitment as I did when Diamond DeShields committed to North Carolina in early May.

Some of it is UConn's fault because obviously there is almost a sense of entitlement among some followers of the Huskies that they are supposed to land every top recruit they pursue. Let's be honest, there are times when it seems that is exactly what happens.

However, UConn recruited DeShields very hard and at various times in the process there were vibes that DeShields would land in UConn. But DeShields passed on the chance to commit to UConn and fellow women's basketball A-lister Tennessee and decided she wanted to be a Tar Heel.

So after DeShields and the rest of the U.S. U-17 squad scrimmaged the U-18 squad and the Brazilian junior national team Wednesday evening at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex, Carl Adamec of the Manchester Journal Inquirer and I spoke with DeShields.

"I had gone to sleep the night before not even thinking about committing to North Carolina," DeShields said. "I woke up that morning, had a tournament, went and played my game and didn't even think about it. Something in my head just snapped and I said 'I want to do it today.' It wasn't anything planned even though it was on Cinco de Mayo but Carolina had been in my heart for the longest. Usually when I am talking to different schools I will talk to Carolina and say 'I really like them.' Then I will talk to a Tennessee and 'I really like them now.' But with Carolina I talked to them when I was on campus and I loved it.

"I started talking to other coaches and my mind didn't change at all and it is like something, it is like God is speaking to me. I am really happy with my decision and I know I made the right one. I believe I did. You know the big names that were recruiting me wasn't expecting me to go to one of those
schools but I really wanted to make sure that I made this decision for me and everybody is like 'North
Carolina had a horrible season last year.' They did, they had a horrible season but that is not going to
change my mind because when I get there we are going to win, it is going to be good and it is going to be
a positive. I have confidence in myself and the other three recruits that are coming in with me that we
are going to make a turnaround for the North Carolina Tar Heels."

On the same day that DeShields announced her decision to commit to UNC, fellow Class of 2013 recruits Jessica Mavunga, Jessica Washington (also a member of the U-17 squad) and U-18 team member Alisha Gray also declared their intentions to play at Carolina. DeShields said she did not recruit them to join her with the Tar Heels but did gauge the interest of her fellow top recruits. Once she realized they liked the Tar Heels as much as she did a plan was hatched to make one major splash.

"It was pretty much 'you go, I'll go,'" DeShields said. "That is how it happened, the same day within the next couple of hours. We had all established North Carolina as the school that we liked and if we all went there we could do something special and be something special. We all had the same feeling about North Carolina before we had even spoke about it. We felt like it was meant to be.

"We got in contact, I had no idea but at (the) Boo Williams (tournament) Jessica Washington was on campus and I was going to be on campus and we ran into each other, Stephanie Mavunga was at Boo Williams as well and everything just happened, it was like God just put it together."

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Stewart delivers in the clutch

Don't even try telling Breanna Stewart that it was little more than a glorified practice. Whenever they are keeping score and there are two teams on the court the UConn incoming freshman wants nothing more than for her team to come out on top.

However, in a scrimmage between the U.S. Under-18 and U-17 national teams it was the younger squad which had the upper hand and led for the first 3 1/2 quarters.

Then Stewart displayed the form that has made her the winner of every national high school player of the year award.

Baskets by Erica McCall, Rebecca Greenwell (a 3-pointer) and Mercedes Russell pushed a two-point U-17 lead to a nine-point cushion midway through the fourth quarter. Then Stewart went to work as she started a 10-0 run by the U-18s with a jumper and capped the run with back to back 3-pointers. She would add a couple of assists, take a charge, grab a couple of rebounds as the U-18s ended the game on a 21-5 run to cap a 73-66 win on Wednesday night.

"I set it up by putting myself in foul trouble a little bit but in the second half I wanted to step it up and lead the team," Stewart said. "We started to make a run and took control."

Stewart led all scorers in the scrimmage with 18 points and also had nine rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks. Thirteen of her points came in the second half including eight in the fourth quarter.

Here's a fact from the scrimmage that should warm the hearts of UConn fans - of the four U-18 players who scored in double figures in the game three will be freshmen at UConn this season. Morgan Tuck had 12 points, four rebounds and three steals while Moriah Jefferson ended up with 12 points as well. The other double-digit scorer for the U-18s was UConn recruiting target Jannah Tucker as she finished with 10 points.

Former UConn recruiting target Diamond DeShields, who committed to North Carolina, led the U-17s with 14 points, Kaela Davis had 11 points while Russell had six points and nine rebounds.

After the two US teams scrimmaged at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Field House, they met up with Brazil.

The U-18s played the first half and outscored Brazil 21-19 behind nine points from Maryland commit Lexie Brown. The U-17s played Brazil in the third and fourth quarter and outscored the Brazilians (coached by former WNBA star Janeth Arcain) 38-23 behind 10 points from Kaela Davis.

Among those in attendance were former UConn star Rebecca Lobo who was doing some homework since she will be broadcasting the scrimmages between Brazil and the U.S. on Thursday. At 4 p.m. the U.S. U-17 squad will play Brazil followed by the U-18s meeting Brazil. Both games will be shown live on ESPN3.

Although the U.S. teams are here through Friday, I will be heading home tomorrow night.

I have plenty of tape left to transcribe and videos to edit but look for plenty more from my three days in Orlando and Kissimmee. My story on Jefferson was supposed to run in tomorrow's edition of the Register but was pushed back to make room for the story on Courtney Ekmark committing to UConn. The plan is to do an extended piece on Stewart figures to run on Sunday. I had an informative interview with U.S. women's national team director Carol Callan today about Stewart so look for some of those quotes this weekend. I also talked to her about UConn recruiting target Saniya Chong. Among other items to look for in this blog will be Diamond DeShields talking about her decision to pass on UConn among others to commit to North Carolina, more on UConn recruiting targets Erica McCall, Linnae Harper and Jannah Tucker although the focus will not be on the recruiting but what makes them special players.

I have some recruiting stuff on Brianna Turner and Kendall Cooper. I have some interesting stuff from an interview with Ekmark during last week's trials which one of these days I will get around to posting.

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Courtney Ekmark talks about committing to UConn

When you are coming off an undefeated season culminating with your team being voted as the nation's top high school girls' basketball team it isn't hard to figure out what attracted Courtney Ekmark to UConn.

Ekmark, a 6-foot sophomore guard from Phoenix, has been rumored as being leaning heavily towards committing to UConn. She made it official by placing a call to UConn coach Geno Aurimema on Monday night.

On Wednesday night a giddy Ekmark talked about her decision.

"They have a  tradition of winning and that is why I like them," Ekmark said. "I choose UConn because I really liked the coaching staff and the competitiveness. Also I  look forward to playing with the best players in the country and the fan support is also amazing."

Ekmark visited UConn in late February and was able to meet the coaching staff and current players. She got to talk to UConn's three incoming freshmen (Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck) last week as they were all out in Colorado Springs trying out for U.S. junior national teams.

"It is going to be really fun playing with three players like them," Ekmark said, "I know they are competitive and it is going to be great.

"I am really excited, it was great to  I am blessed to have this great opportunity."


Curtis Ekmark talks about his daughter's commitment to UConn

I just got off the phone with Curtis Ekmark, who is not only the father but also the high school and AAU coach of UConn commit Courtney Ekmark.

Curtis Ekmark is an accomplished coach in his own right as he guided his St. Mary's out of Phoenix to the No. 1 ranking in the national high school polls and earned some national high school coach of the year honors. He said that the long holiday weekend enabled Courtney to talk to him and his wife about her decision and Courtney called UConn coach Geno Auriemma Monday night to commit.

"She was fortunate to be a little ahead of most kids in the process because we have had so many kids form St. Mary's go through the process she was pretty familiar with the process and different schools and coaching staffs," Curtis Ekmark said. "She was able to accelerate it more than most kids probably.

"She kind of got pushed to the back of the line because I've got six juniors that I am trying to get squared away so I have been spending a lot of time meeting with them and meeting with their families getting their recruiting situated. I finally got around to sitting down with Courtney and we had a good long talk. We wanted to make it a good life lesson for her in terms of how to make an important decision so we wanted to make sure established her priorities and then gather all the facts to analyze the decision."

When I spoke to Courtney, a 6-foot sophomore guard who is also the No. 1 ranked student in her class at St. Mary's with a 4.0 GPA, during the U-17 team trials she said she would like to commit "sooner rather than later." She was in the stands at the XL Center when UConn played Notre Dame in the 2011-12 regular-season finale and spoke about what she was most impressed with about the way UConn runs its program.

"They are cool because they just recruit the best players and if you come, you come and if you don't, you don't come but it would just be a challenge to go there. I feel like I would like the challenge. Some other people would too. It is definitely similar to our, I see many similarities between my high school and them."

Curtis Ekmark also talked about what drew his daughter to UConn.

"I think that is what attracts those type of kids to UConn, they want to be pushed and they want to be the best and I think that was attractive to her," Curtis Ekmark said. "Obviously on a much more scaled down level she thought it was similar yo the program we have in high school. We have eight Division I kids and the practices are very competitive, you get to practice with a lot of good kids and you get to win a lot of games. I think she looked to take that to the next level in college."

Although Courtney did not make the U-17 squad, the reports I saw stated that she had a strong showing particularly shooting the ball.

After the morning session I spoke to U.S. U-17 head coach Jill Rankin Schneider to get her impressions on Ekmark.

"She is a really nice shooter," Schneider said. "I think she was in our trials last year too and really a sweet perimeter shooter and has developed her game in terms of ballhandling."

I posed the same question to Curtis Ekmark.

"I feel a little funny because she is my daughter," Ekmark said. "I don't want to be the crazy parent but the nice thing a bout Courtney is she always comes up big in big games. There's no drama and when you are a coach's kid, that is kind of a given. She has a high basketball IQ, she is very skilled and you always know she is going to compete every day both in practice and in games and she has a knack of coming up big when we really need her."

I asked Curtis if he'd be up for agreeing to play in the HoopHall Classic in Springfield, Mass., something other top UConn commits have taken part in.

"We'd love to do that, we haven't talked to anybody about that," Ekmark said.


Report: Courtney Ekmark commits to UConn

According to a tweet from Bret McCormick, Courtney Ekmark commits to UConn.

Ekmark is a rising junior who plays for national champion St. Mary's in Phoenix and Ekmark is a Class of 2014 recruit who committed before the Huskies got a commitment from anybody in the Class of 2013.

Matchups set for Paradise Jam; Okafor to JMU

It was announced today that UConn will face Wake Forest, Marist and Purdue at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The eight-team field has been coming together rather slowly and there is still an eighth team yet to be announced. UConn will be in the bracket with Wake Forest, Marist and Purdue and will play each team in the Nov. 22-24 event. DePaul, South Carolina, Hampton and a team to be named will be in the other bracket. The champions in each bracket will be determined by results in round robin play and the teams will not face the teams in the other bracket.

Former Hopkins star Lauren "Lady" Okafor will be heading to James Madison.

Okafor's mom confirmed the landing spot for Okafor, who played the last two seasons at Providence but decided to transfer.

She will have to sit out next season and will have two years of eligibility.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Some observations from U-18 and U-17 practices

I was able to check out the U.S. U-17 and U-18 squads at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex today and here are some random thoughts.

Watching UConn incoming freshmen Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck interact, you would think they grew up in the same neighborhood. The camaraderie between the two of them is hard to miss.

Moriah Jefferson, heading to UConn as well, is emerging as a vocal presence as a point guard. She has been rather noticeable on defense, especially in the first practice of the day. She hurt her wrist midway through the night session and that seemed to impact her play a bit. I spoke to Jefferson after the second session and she downplayed the injury. After taking a break to get her wrist and hand taped, Jefferson returned to play.

Kendall Cooper, an uncommitted 6-foot-3 post from Carson, Calif. really, really impressed me. This was the first time I saw her play and both during the morning and evening practices she was a force. She, along with UConn recruiting target Jannah Tucker, are the only players on the U-18 squad yet to commit.

I am extremely impressed with the teaching ability of U-18 and Miami head coach Katie Meier. Her lecture on the defense she was trying to teach her team was one of the highlights of the day. Some coaches win because they are good recruiters and there are some who are outstanding technicians. I have been to my share of USA Basketball junior national training camps and Meier is one of the more impressive teachers of basketball I have seen in these settings

LSU coach Nikki Caldwell, an assistant on the U-18 team, was at SEC meetings and is expected to arrive on Wednesday.

I spent most of my time watching the U-18s today. I will spend more time taking in the U-17 practice tomorrow morning and in the evening the U-17s will scrimmage the U-18s and I am definitely looking forward to that.

What little I saw of the U-17s, I understand why UConn recruiting target Linnae Harper is generating so much interest from the powerhouse programs. She is ultra quick, aggressive and knows how to get to the rim. I saw Kaela Davis score with a sweet drive to the hoop on one possession and followed it up with a 3-pointer.

I spoke with Brianna Turner, the only member of the Class of 2014 to make either team and will have more about her in a later blog but she said she doesn't plan on making a list of her top 10 schools until likely after her junior season is complete.

Also, somehow I got it into my head that the U.S. Olympic team will name alternates. I spoke with USA Basketball women's national team director Carol Callan today and she said that is not the case. The plan is to bring the 12 members of the Olympic team to the mid July training camp in Washington, D.C. and that the 20 players in contention for the 12 spots (which did not include Baylor's Brittney Griner who took her name out of consideration for a spot on the team) will remain on the U.S. roster. As long as no players are sidelined between now and the start of the Olympics, the 12-player squad will be the only ones heading to London with the U.S. Olympic team.

Competitive nature serves Morgan Tuck well

UConn incoming freshmen Morgan Tuck and Breanna Stewart have a little fun
before Tuesday's second U-18 practice session
As Morgan Tuck was being recruited by UConn she was fully aware that fellow forward Breanna Stewart was likely to land at UConn as well.

Much as was the case when power forwards Swin Cash, Asjha Jones and Tamika Williams all committed to play for the Huskies, the ability to be pushed every day in practice by one of the most highly-touted high school players in recent memory excited Tuck.

Even before Stewart said she was going to UConn, Tuck pledged the Huskies. Having squared off with her future UConn teammate during practice sessions on various USA Basketball squads has only reinforced Tuck's belief that the competition between the two of them will be a positive in her development.

I'm down in the Orlando area for the next couple of days to catch up with the three UConn incoming freshmen as well as those players on the U-18 and U-17 teams on UConn recruiting radar. Naturally I asked Tuck about how the presence of Stewart, the consensus national high school player of the year, impacted her thought process when UConn was recruiting her.

"Breanna is a great player and she is a great person," Tuck said after Tuesday morning's practice at the Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, Fla. "We love hanging out with each other and I think when you go somewhere and there are other great players, it makes you play better. Her being here, I know we will be competing, on the court you are competing and going after each other but off the court you still have that friendship. When I choose to go to UConn, it wasn't about who was there but I definitely knew that the best players in the country go there and that is where I want to be to play against the best players.

"I feel like whenever we play, we always guard each other all the time. We push each other and knows how each other plays so you have to think of something new, I think we are a great matchup for each other
She has a hook shot and you can't block it because she is really long and I think she is good at elevating over people because she is so long and athletic."

There will be more on Tuck in a story I am writing for Wednesday's edition of the New Haven Register.

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Former Cheshire Academy star shines in friendly

Former Cheshire Academy star Johannah Leedham led Great Britain with 15 points and added six rebounds in an 81-59 loss to Croatia.

Leedham, a third-round pick of the Connecticut Sun in the 2010 WNBA draft, and Great Britain has a guaranteed spot in the Olympics as the host country with Leedham expecting to be one of her nation's top offensive threats.

Great Britain and Croatia are scheduled to play again on Tuesday.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Breanna Stewart named Parade's national player of the year

Just when it looked like UConn incoming freshman Breanna Stewart had picked up all the hardware and accolades as the nation's top high school girls' basketball player, the 6-foot-4 forward from North Syracuse, N.Y. added the honor of being Parade Magazine's national player of the year.

Stewart led her Cicero-North Syracuse (N.Y.) squad to the New York AA state and federation titles as she averaged 26.4 points, 13.9 rebounds, 3 assists, 2.8 steals and 4.2 blocks per game. Stewart finished her career with 2,367 points, 1,389 rebounds, 337 assists, 325 steals and 634 blocked shots.

Fellow UConn signees Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck are also members of the all-american team which will appear in Sunday's edition of Parade Magazine.

Maya Moore among players in limbo due to Ros Casares' situation

According to reports on and the newspaper, EuroLeague champion Ros Casares in on the verge of filing for bankruptcy and is released most of its top stars.

It remains to be seen how the events over in Valencia, Spain impact former UConn star Maya Moore who was a key member of Ros Casares' championship squad,

In the report by lovewomensbasketball it was stated that it "very likely means that talks of re-signing Maya Moore won’t be materialize."

There were rumors last month of Moore heading to Turkey to play for Galatasaray (and ironically take the spot of former UConn star Diana Taurasi) but I'm not sure where that stands at the current time.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

South Carolina added to Paradise Jam field

Thanks to the alert eyes of Bob Joyce, the radio voice of UConn women's basketball, who tweeted this info I can pass on that South Carolina becomes the seventh team officially confirmed to be playing in the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands from Nov. 22-24.

UConn, DePaul, Hampton, Marist, Purdue and Wake Forest had previously been confirmed as taking part in the tournament.

When the final team is named, I would expect tournament organizers to announce the two groups. UConn and DePaul obviously won't be in the same group since both are in the Big East. Each team will play the other three teams in their group with the winner being determined based on the record in round robin play.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Olympic schedule announced

While the U.S. women don't know who they are playing in its first game in the Olympics, it was announced today that it would be playing a qualifier in the fourth game on July 28, the first day of competition.

The first day will kick off with China playing a qualfier at 9 a.m. (London time) followed by Russia against a qualifier, Angola will play a qualifier and then the U.S. is up at 4:45 p.m. London time. The first day will wrap up with former Cheshire Academy star Johannah Leedham leading host Cheshire against Australia.

Here's a link to the schedule on the official Olympics' home page

Monday, May 21, 2012

U-18 coach talks about UConn's three incoming freshmen

Moriah Jefferson is one of three UConn incoming freshmen to make the
U.S. Under-18 national team.

I just got off the phone with Miami head coach Katie Meier, who is also the head coach of the U.S. team which will play in the FIBA Americas U18 Championships in August.

UConn's incoming freshman Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck were among the 12 players selected to the team so I asked Meier for her impressions on the three future Huskies.

"I thought Moriah Jefferson absolutely just killed herself during the trials. She did everything she could,
she dove on the floor, she pushed tempo, she talked to teammates, she settled people down, she did a
really nice job. I think she got feedback from her previous trials and took them to heart. I thought she
responded very well, she handled herself in a very mature way."

"Breanna Stewart was a great teammate during these trials. I don't think she felt pressure in terms of
making this team, she just made sure that people felt good about what they were doing and settled people
in. During the last few sessions when it was time to shine she was unbelievable. She was a very efficient
kid and has a great basketball IQ."

"I think Morgan Tuck, the same thing, I think she kind of waited her turn a little bit in the first couple
of sessions when people were excited and nervous, throwing the ball all over the gym. I thought Morgan
was just calm and when it came time at last night's session and this morning's session, you could see her
experience, her basketball savvy helped her a lot because every team that Morgan played on looked really
good because of the team work."

This is the fourth straight year that Stewart and Tuck were selected to U.S. junior national teams although a knee injury kept Tuck from competing with the U-16 squad in 2009. Meier said that previous experience wasn't hard to miss during the trials.

"You could even see that experience in a trials format," Meier said. "You could see those last sessions when they were just scrimmaging you could see those two kids just work, pick their spots within the offense and you could tell that they had obvious international experience."

Naturally I asked Meier, who shared 2010-11 national coach of the year honors with UConn's Geno Auriemma and Tara VanDerveer of Stanford, how the trio would impact the Huskies in the upcoming season.

"There's a reason, I am sure, that Geno was (raving) about them," Meier said. "They come in as three of the best kids in the country and you know exactly what that program is that they are off to. In the meantime they'll be on the U-18 team in the summer. I know UConn fans will be proud of them."

Below are quotes from Jefferson, Stewart, Tuck and Tucker courtesy of USA Basketball.

Moriah Jefferson (Texas Home Educators Sports Assocciation / Glenn Heights, Texas)
What was it like as you were waiting to hear your name called?
Honestly after being through it so many times, I kind of just blacked out. I didn’t even know they called my name until somebody hit my leg and I was like, ‘Thank God.’ I think making it is a big honor, so I’m happy.

After trying out for previous USA Basketball teams without making the final roster, how rewarding was it to be named to the 2012 USA U18 FIBA Americas Championship Team?It’s amazing because you don’t make it time after time after time, and you keep coming back. To finally make it, you have this big reward. I’m lost for words actually right now.

How excited are you to travel and spend the summer with this team?I’m extremely excited. We get to represent our country now, so it’s not about us, it’s about the team and about the USA.

What does it mean to you to be able to represent your country?It’s an honor. You see all these people that came to try out, and many more would have loved to be here, so just to get a chance to play on the team is amazing.

Breanna Stewart (Cicero-North Syracuse H.S. / North Syracuse, N.Y.)
Were you nervous before the team was announced?
I was a little nervous, but I was confident as well. I thought trials went well, and I definitely finished on a strong note. I’ve been through trials before, so I’m kind of used to the suspense.

What does it mean to wear a USA jersey with a fourth USA Basketball team?It definitely is special. It will always be special because you are representing your country. I am getting more comfortable with international basketball and the whole process, though, because I’ve been here so many times. I love it.

Playing for a USA Basketball team requires time and commitment, what keeps you coming back?You have to just keep working hard at getting better. Colorado Springs has the altitude, so you want to be in the best shape possible. And you’re not guaranteed a spot, you have to show the committee that you deserve a spot on the team.

Morgan Tuck (Bolingbrook H.S. / Bolingbrook, Ill.)
Were you nervous this morning before they announced the team?
I definitely was nervous. I know I’ve been here before, but still there are all these great players here competing. I was definitely nervous.

Did you feel like you had played well at trials?I think I did pretty well. There are always things that I wish I had done better, but overall it was a pretty good showing.

How does it feel to make a third USA Basketball team?I feel great. I love being able to represent the USA and to go out and compete against different countries and get to know the players that are on the team.

Jannah Tucker (New Town H.S. Randallstown, Md.)
Were you nervous this morning before they announced the team?
I was nervous a little but, but I kind of knew that last night’s session was more important than this morning’s session, just because that was my first session playing with the U18s and also, there was only like 30 minutes between the last session and the team announcement, so I figured they already had some sort of concept of what the team was going to be, so I knew that I had to play hard this session, but especially last night’s session.

What did it feel like when you heard your name?It was like a weight off of my shoulders, like I could just exhale. Especially since I didn’t hear my name for the U17 team, it was very relieving to hear it this time.

What does it mean to you to represent your country for a second time after playing on the 2011 USA Basketball Women’s U16 team?It’s really an honor to play for your country and compete for a gold medal.

UConn's three incoming freshmen make U.S. U-18 squad

UConn incoming freshman Moriah Jefferson defends against Class of 2013 UConn recruiting target
Saniya Chong during the U.S. U-18 trials. Jefferson joins fellow future Huskies Breanna Stewart
and Morgan Tuck on the U-18 team which will play a world championship qualifying tourney.
UConn incoming freshmen Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck were among 12 players named to the U.S. U-18 team which will compete in the FIBA U18 Americas Championships.

It is the fourth straight year that Stewart and Tuck were named to U.S. junior national teams although a knee injury kept Tuck out of playing for the U-16 squad in 2009.

Stewart, a 6-foot-4 forward, was on the U-16 team in 2009, played for the U-17s the following year and in 2011 she was a member of the U-19 and Pan Am teams.

Stewart, the winner of every national high school player of the year, averaged 26.4 points, 13.9 rebounds, 3 assists, 2.8 steals and 4.2 blocks while leading her Cicero-North Syracuse team to the New York Class AA state and federation titles as a senior.
It will be the third straight year Tuck is a member of a U.S. junior national team for the third year in a row as she played for the U-17 squad in 2010 and U-19 team in 2011. As a senior at Bolingbrook High Tuck averaged 27.7 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.7 steals per game.
It will be the first U.S. junior national team for Jefferson, who was a finalist for the U-19 team last year in played in an exhibition game against Brazil. As with the senior at Texas Home Educators Sports Association Riders Jefferson averaged 17.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 5.1 steals per game in leading the Riders to their fifth straight National Christian Home School Championship.

UConn Class of 2013 recruiting target Saniya Chong did not make the team but another player UConn is recruiting (Jannah Tucker) did make it. Tucker's situation was interesting because she tried out for the U-17 squad but did not make that team. She was one of seven players who were invited to stick around for the final couple of sessions for the U-18 team and Tucker ended up making the team.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Lawson looking to aid her former coach

Not that Kara Lawson, one of the best 3-point shooters in the WNBA, needs a reason to fire away during Connecticut Sun games but for good measure, she now has a little more motivation.

Lawson has pledged $50 to the Pat Summitt Foundation for every 3-pointer she makes this season and the Sun will match her pledge.

"Coach has been a big mentor for me since I was 18 years old," Lawson said before Sunday's game against the New York Liberty. "Everybody in the women's basketball community has been affected by her being diagnosed.

"It is a performance incentive, kind of a win/win situation when you get an opportunity to hopefully play as well as you can and do something that is my job to do and that is to shoot 3's and raise money for her foundation which they are still trying to build. It is for a good cause (Alzheimer's research). I am really thankful to the Sun organization to match dollar for dollar everything that I donate. I think that says everything about the character of the organization and the outpouring of support from people here. I have heard of lot from the people in Connecticut since Coach has been diagnosed."

Lawson could only chuckle when asked what Summitt's reaction was when Lawson told her of her decision.

"I haven't told her yet," Lawson said. "It's a good idea, I guess. I should probably call her. The cat's out of the bag now."

Lawson said she talked to Summitt, who recently stepped down as Tennessee's coach as she continue to battle against early-onset dementia.

"She is always normal, the same and wanted to know when we are going to come down and visit, wants to talk about basketball, the WNBA season and what is going on down there." Lawson said of Summitt. "It is normal conversation you would have with a friend if you call your friend that likes sports. We might talk about the NBA playoffs."


UConn recruiting targets Harper, McCall make U-17 team

The United States team which will be competing in the FIBA U-17 World Championships was just announced and UConn Class of 2013 recruiting targets Linnae Harper and Erica McCall are part of the 12-member squad. Also making the cut is Brianna Turner, a Class of 2014 forward, who is on UConn's recruiting radar.

The rest of the team is (college commitment in parenthesis): Lindsay Allen (Notre Dame), Oderah Chidom, Kaela Davis, Diamond DeShields (North Carolina), Rebecca Greenwell, Kai James, Taya Reimer (Notre Dame), Mercedes Russell and Jessica Washington (North Carolina).

UConn recruiting targets Jannah Tucker and Courtney Ekmark are among the players who didn't make the team although Tucker and LaJahna Drummer, who lists UConn among her seven favorites schools in her USA Basketball bio, have been invited to stay and vie for spots on the U-18 team which will be announced on Monday.

The U-17 team will reconvene on May 28 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. for a training camp  at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and will return to Colorado Springs for more training from Aug. 1-8 before leaving for Europe. The first game for the United States in the U-17 World Championships will be on Aug. 17 against South Korea.

Here are quotes from Harper, McCall and Turner courtesy of USA Basketball.

Linnae Harper (Whitney Young H.S./Chicago, Ill.)
You played on two USA Basketball teams last summer, did that give you confidence or were you still very nervous this morning?
Oh yeah. My stomach just dropped when she called my name. Even though I made it last year, it was really tough. It was challenging, and I had no idea who was going to make the team because this weekend was very challenging. Everyone played their hardest. So, I was so nervous. To hear my name again is just an honor.
Do you think your past international experiences with USA Basketball will help you and the team this summer?Yes, I think it will help. Also, it gives me another chance to represent my country and play with a few girls from last year. It’s really amazing. It will be a great summer.
Do you think the competition at trials was tougher than last year?Yes, the competition was amazing. Every drill and every session was hard and important. We all played our best.
What do you think you can contribute to this team to help the USA win a gold medal at the FIBA U17 World Championship?My toughness and being really physical on the court; trying to lead the team and help them in any way possible I can to help the USA get the gold.

Erica McCall (Ridgeview H.S./Bakersfield, Calif.)
What does it feel like to make your second USA Basketball roster?
It just feels great to have this experience again. I was really nervous; everybody played great and it was going to be a hard decision. Just being here again is a great opportunity.
How excited are you to travel with this team?I’m extremely excited. We have a really good team and just to spend this time with these girls, my whole summer is going to be great.
How do you feel trials went for you?I was nervous, especially I think it was the first scrimmage, I did really bad, so I was afraid that was going to mess me up. But I’m here and I’m happy to be here.

Brianna Turner (Manvel H.S./Pearland, Texas)
How does it feel to hear your name called and make the team?
Unbelievable, like I hope I don’t wake up soon because I’m dreaming.
How do you feel you played at trials?I thought in the beginning I didn’t play too solidly, but as it went on I think I improved a lot.
What does it mean to represent your country and travel with this team?It’s amazing. I’ve never been out of the country before, so that’s just amazing. Then I get to represent the USA. How many kids get to say they represent their own country?
You were here last year and didn’t make the roster; did you come back motivated after that?I tried to improve on anything I thought I could improve on, and I did.

Mali's Aston Dabo, taken by the Connecticut Sun with the ninth pick in April's WNBA draft, will be playing in the EuroLeague next year.

The 6-8 Dabo signed with Arras which rallied from an 18-point deficit to upset Bourges Basket in the French Cup final. The victory earns Arras a spot in the rough and tumble EuroLeague next season although's/ report stated that it is unknown whether Arras would accept the EuroLeague spot.

Video of Breanna Stewart

USA Basketball posted a 4-minute video interview with UConn incoming freshman Breanna Stewart which I thought some of you might want to check out. As a side note, part of the interview had to do with how Stewart got her 6-10 nickname. Stewart said she couldn't recall where it originated but at one of the training camps I went to, I recall UConn rising sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis taking credit for coming up with the moniker because Stewart had a wingspan of 6-10. As the video will reveal, Stewart's wingspan is now 7-1.

As for USA Basketball, the U-17 team is expected to be announced in the morning (probably around 10:30 Eastern time). The U-18 team should be announced Monday morning.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Scheduling visits is next step for Saniya Chong

UConn Class of 2013 recruiting target Saniya Chong recently cut the list of schools she is considering down to six but before she narrows the list any further she is planning to take visits to the schools.

In a phone interview following the first session at the U.S. Under-18 national training camp Chong said that UConn, Miami, Maryland, North Carolina, Louisville and Ohio State are the schools she is considering but that she hasn't scheduled any visits yet.

The high-scoring guard out of Ossining, N.Y. has made it to UConn a couple of times and among the group of players trying out for the U-18 squad are UConn incoming freshmen Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck.

"It was a big opportunity seeing them in person and seeing them on TV is obviously something different," Chong said. "For me to see the games and actually see the girls it was a good thing."

Speaking of establishing familiarity with a school or coaches, Miami coach Katie Meier is the head coach of the U-18 team so she will have a chance to work with Chong in the next couple of days before the team is announcing on Monday.

Chong, who missed the age cutoff to try out for the U-17 team, was ecstatic when she found out she was invited to try out for the U-18 squad.

"I was in school and (Ossining) Coach (Dan) Ricci had told me to come to his office, he had something to tell me," Chong said. "It was unbelievable, I never knew that this day would happen so it was a very great opportunity for me."

Chong hasn't finalized the parameters for what she is looking for in her college of choice.

"I'm not really sure yet," Chong said. "I haven't decided the distance or how far I want to go, it is about me just visiting the schools and narrowing it down."

Chong is the fifth recruit on UConn's radar I have spoken to over the last two days and ironically the one seemingly the closest to making the decision is the youngest of the lot.

Courtney Ekmark, who recently completed a perfect sophomore season at St. Mary's in Phoenix, Ariz., told me last night that she'd like to commit before the start of her junior season. To say that Ekmark is high on UConn's Class of 2014 recruiting wish list would be an understatement of immense proportions. Sources have indicated that UConn coach Geno Auriemma is extremely high on the 6-foot wing.

Ekmark was in Hartford when UConn played Notre Dame in the 2011-12 regular season finale.

"I had a lot of fun at UConn," Ekmark said. "It was amazing the atmosphere there, meeting the team and it was a lot of fun."

Like so many others in Colorado Springs this weekend for the junior national team tryouts, Ekmark's main focus at the current time is trying to play her way onto the 12-player U-17 roster. It doesn't figure to be long after she returns home that she steps up the process of picking her college.

"I'd rather commit earlier than later, probably before my junior year, that is what I would like to do," Ekmark said. "I haven't really put together a list or anything. I know it's been a crazy past couple of months, I need to sit down with my parents and sort of figure it all out."

While Ekmark hasn't come up with an official list, she did say she was looking at "just a couple" of schools with UConn most definitely on the list.

The Huskies' winning tradition as well as Auriemma's demanding style is appealing to Ekmark who just led her high school team to the No. 1 ranking in the national high school polls.

"They are cool because they just recruit the best players and if you come, you come and if you don't, you
don't come but it would just be a challenge to go there," Ekmark said. "I feel like I would like the challenge."

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Familiar faces form nucleus for Connecticut Sun

While there are some WNBA teams who have altered their rosters in the hopes of making a run at a playoff berth and ultimately a WNBA championship, the Connecticut Sun opted to go into the 2012 season with nearly the same squad which ended the 2011 season.

The only roster moves made were having veteran Mistie (Bass) Mims and rookie Chay Shegog replace Jessica Breland and Jessica Moore.

Considering that Connecticut finished in a tie with Indiana for the best record in the Eastern Conference in 2011 and had fourth-quarter leads in both the games it lost to Atlanta in the first round of the 2011 playoffs, it's easy to understand why the Sun believes the status quo will work just fine.

Sun head coach Mike Thibault, who doubles as the franchise's player personnel director, has focused on developing the younger players on the team over making wholesale changes. Getting more consistent offensive production out of the small forward position is one area Thibault is harping on.

"I think the two most difficult things to get in this league are consistent point guard and post play and
we already have that," Thibault said. "We have two Olympic post players (Tina Charles and Asjha Jones)and we have two point guards (Kara Lawson and Renee Montgomery), one of whom has been in the Olympics and one that is part of the pool group for USA Basketball. We obviously need a little more
balance in our scoring from our wing players, we need Danielle (McCray), Kalana (Greene), Tan (White) and those players to be better than they were last year. I think our biggest weakness was losing leads in the fourth quarter on the road last year. We lost four or five road games that we felt we could have won. If you win some of those road games, obviously your record is better but it also prepares you better for the playoffs to go win in a hostile environment."

The Sun will open the 2012 at 4 p.m. today on the road against the New York Liberty. The teams will meet again on Sunday at 5 p.m. in Connecticut's home opener.

With two spots yet to be announced in the Paradise Jam and seeing a pattern of tournament officials getting both men's and women's programs to play in the event in the same year, I reached out to the people at Quinnipiac to see if the Bobcats were in contention to play in the women's event in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Sports information director Ken Sweeten said that Quinnipiac would only be playing in the men's field in the November event.

UConn and Wake Forest are entered in both the men's and women's fields. DePaul, Hampton, Marist and Purdue are the other women's teams confirmed to be taking part in the Nov. 22-24 event. Once the final two teams are announced, tournament organizers will put together the two groups of four teams with each team playing the other three teams in their group.

Friday, May 18, 2012

UConn recruiting targets taking their time

UConn recruiting targets Courtney Ekmark (No. 34) and Erica McCall (No. 41)  apply
defensive pressure during the U.S. -17 national team trials at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.

I know that there are fans out there getting a tad bit antsy because three Class of 2013 players who were heavily recruited by UConn have committed elsewhere in the last couple of weeks.

However, Linnae Harper, Erica McCall and Jannah Tucker are still relatively early in the recruiting process so don't expect them to be committing any time in the immediate future.

McCall, a 6-foot-3 forward/center from Bakersfield, Calif., is probably the furthest along of the three since she made a visit to the UConn campus. It doesn't hurt that her father is the head women's basketball coach at CSU Bakersfield and her sister is Phoenix Mercury forward DeWanna Bonner.

Bonner made her sister's day by giving her the phone number of former UConn great Diana Taurasi (who is Bonner's teammate with the Mercury) with instructions to call her if she has any questions concerning what UConn is all about.

"I have her number in my phone and I am excited about that just to have her name on my phone," McCall said on Friday after finishing up the second session at the U.S. U-17 training camp. "I hope I get to talk
to her and get a feel for UConn."

McCall said "right now I am open."

Harper and Tucker said pretty much the same thing. Tucker said she'd like to take some unofficial visits in June and could start narrowing her list of schools beginning in July.

Another Class of 2013 UConn recruiting target is also out in the Colorado Springs but Saniya Chong is attempting to make the U-18 team and those tryouts don't begin until tomorrow.

Right now those are the four prospects I know UConn is still involved with. The list of prospective recruits has been narrowed with the decisions of Diamond DeShields (North Carolina), Taya Reimer (Notre Dame) and Karlie Samuelson (Stanford) to commit elsewhere.

I would think UConn would be happy to get a combination of any of the two players mentioned above and will focus on landing a larger class the following year. The Huskies are involved in the recruitment of top Class of 2014 players Courtney Ekmark and Brianna Turner. Sierra Calhoun is another talented member of that class and her father has said he'd like her to go to the same school as his son Omar Calhoun who will be a freshman on the UConn men's team. Another possible name to look at it LaJahna Drummer who listed UConn among her top schools in her USA Basketball bio.

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Samuelson's college choice came down to family

Karlie Samuelson loved everything about what UConn had to offer in the recruiting process but when it came down to making her college decision, the love of her family was the deciding factor.

Samuelson, a junior guard from Huntington Beach, Calif., saw the pain her beloved grandmother went through in the last year losing both her husband and her son. Her grandmother told Karlie how much it would mean to her if she played alongside her older sister Bonnie at Stanford.

After some time of soul searching on Wednesday Samuelson made her decision to commit to Stanford and her grandmother was one of the first people she told.

"I wanted to commit and make my decision," Samuelson said after the first practice session at the U.S. Under-17 national team trials in Colorado Springs, Colo. "I thought about it yesterday and for my grandma and my family Stanford just seemed like the better choice. I called her and she was really happy so I am happy.

"It was Stanford and UConn. My family has been going through a lot. My grandma lost her husband and her son in about a year so I thought it was the best. She wanted me to play with my sister at Stanford and it is a great school and family is important to me right now.

"It was a really hard decision because UConn and Stanford have a really good schools and it just came down to family."

Samuelson,who averaged 18.4 points in 16 games as a junior at Edison High before being sidelined by mononucleosis, still vividly recalls watching UConn practice when she visited campus when her sister Bonnie took a visit to campus when she went through the recruiting process.

"Meeting Geno probably and meeting the team it was pretty cool," Samuelson said. "It was fun watching them practice. I went with my sister on her official visit."

Just like she did at Edison High, she will be able to play alongside Bonnie for two years at Stanford.

"It will be just like high school when we played together," Samuelson said. "It will be really fun but it wasn't just because my sister but it was location too. It was such a hard decision because UConn is such a good school."

UConn, Tennessee alums dominate WNBA rosters

I just took a look at the 12 opening-day rosters for WNBA teams and it should not come as a surprise that UConn and Tennessee lead the way with the most alums.

There are 11 former Huskies currently on WNBA rosters while Tennessee grads account for 10 roster spots. Duke and Rutgers are next with seven each followed by Stanford with six. These are unofficial numbers. When I see a list of the official rosters (likely tomorrow) I will double check those figures.

I found it interesting that San Antonio is the only team without either a Connecticut or Tennessee product on its roster.

As for the cuts there are a few things that caught my eye. LaSondra Barrett was the only 2012 first-round pick who was cut. I could understand a veteran team like Minnesota or Connecticut cutting loose a first rounder but a team like Washington coming off a six-win season certainly should have had a spot for the 10th player taken in the draft. Making matters worse, I count six players taken after Barrett making WNBA rosters including No. 11 pick Sasha Goodlett (Indiana), second-round picks Tiffany Hayes (Atlanta), Riquana Williams (Tulsa) and Chay Shegog (Connecticut) and third rounders April Sykes (Los Angeles) and Lynetta Kizer (Tulsa) making the cut.

Another thing I noticed is that Sydney Colson was among the cuts by the New York Liberty. Why is that relevant? Well, the rights to Colson were what the Connecticut Sun gave up last year to acquire former UConn star Kalana Greene.

The WNBA season begins tomorrow when Los Angeles meets Seattle.

Former Hopkins star Lauren "Lady" Okafor is planning to transfer out of Providence.

The 6-foot-3 Okafor started 24 games last season when she led her team in blocked shots and was second in rebounder.

Her mother, in an email to the Register, said Okafor may end up in the ACC or Colonial Athletic Association and her final destination figures to be known in the next couple of weeks.

Okafor will have to sit out next season and will two years of eligibility remaining.

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Samuelson heading to Stanford

According to a tweet by her older sister, UConn recruiting target Karlie Samuelson has committed to Stanford.

Bonnie Samuelson, who like her younger sister was pursued by the Huskies before opting to remain in California and enroll at Stanford, tweeted that "Karlie just committed to Stanford !!!!!!!!. I'm super stoked and can't wait to play with my sister again!!! #sisteract"

Samuelson becomes the third member of the Class of 2013 who is being recruited by UConn to opt to pledge elsewhere. While UConn's track record of convincing West Coast and Southwestern players to pick the Huskies over Stanford isn't very good and Samuelson had the added bonus of playing alongside her sister, still this one surprises me even more than Diamond DeShields choosing North Carolina and Taya Reimer selecting Notre Dame. Everything I have heard about Samuelson was that she loved UConn and if I were asked to pick one player from the Class of 2013 to land at UConn I would have gone with Samuelson.

One thing that does not surprise me is that UConn appears destined to sign a very small class. History has a way of repeating itself. When the Huskies signed five top players including Olympians Sue Bird, Swin Cash and Asjha Jones, the following year Connecticut signed just one player. When Tiffany Hayes, Caroline Doty and Elena Delle Donne highlighted a glorious recruiting class more recently, the next year Kelly Faris was the only player to commit to UConn.

Now the Huskies' list of prospects in the next recruiting class is getting smaller by the day. Will the Huskies be able to convince another California prospect (Bakersfield's Erica McCall) to pick UConn over Stanford? Will Saniya Chong be the next hot shot from New York to come to UConn? Will Linnae Harper and Jannah Tucker go from being long shots to become part of the next UConn class of recruits? Will other soon to be high school seniors catch the eye of the UConn coaches?

The good news is that this isn't the first time Geno Auriemma and his staff has been down this road. When they missed out on players after the signing of "TAASK" in the late 1990s, they landed the dynamic Diana Taurasi the following year. The year after Faris committed the Huskies were able to secure commitments from Bria Hartley and Stefanie Dolson who have become key players on a pair of Final Four teams. The fact is that the players know the deal and it is extremely hard to follow up a class like the Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck with another top notch group. A year from now something tells me that the Huskies will be having a lot more positive news on the recruiting front than they have been having in the last month or so.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Hayes, Swanier make Atlanta's opening day roster

The Atlanta Dream announced its opening day roster earlier today and former UConn guards Tiffany Hayes and Ketia Swanier made the cut. There's nothing posted yet on the WNBA website but the link above is from an Atlanta television station with quotes from Atlanta Dream head coach/general manager Marynell Meadors.

Hayes was drafted in the second round by Atlanta in last month's WNBA draft while Swanier was signed as a free agent in the offseason.

The Dream cut veteran guard Coco Miller and put forward/center Erika de Souza on the suspended list since she is currently away from the team training with Brazil's Olympic team. The decision to release Miller was a surprising one. She is coming off a season when she started five games and her 7.3 points per game were her highest since the 2003 season when she played with Washington. Miller also had more assists than turnovers in each of her three seasons with the Dream.

By my count there will be 11 former UConn players when the WNBA opening-day rosters are announced tomorrow. Here's the team by team breakdown of ex Huskies.

Atlanta: Tiffany Hayes, Ketia Swanier
Chicago: Swin Cash
Connecticut: Tina Charles, Kalana Greene, Asjha Jones, Renee Montgomery
Minnesota: Maya Moore
Phoenix: Charde Houston, Diana Taurasi
Seattle: Sue Bird

Spencer released by Connecticut Sun

The Connecticut Sun released veteran forward Sidney Spencer on Wednesday meaning that unless the Sun picks up somebody off waivers that second-round pick Chay Shegog has made the team.

Spencer was signed by the Sun in the offseason to add some size and shooting ability at the forward position but obviously Shegog, a former North Carolina star, was impressive enough during the preseason to make her the only rookie on the 2012  Sun team. Shegog also provides some insurance in case Tina Charles' groin injury, which has reduced her to primarily being a spectator, limits the All-Star center.

Teams have until Friday to get down to the 11-player maximum. The Sun's 11-play squad consists of Charles, Asjha Jones, Kalana Greene, Renee Montgomery, Danielle McCray, Allison Hightower, Mistie Mims, Kara Lawson, Kelsey Griffin, Tan White and Shegog.


ESPN released its 12-game schedule for the upcoming regular season.
Sun, May 20  Phoenix Mercury at Minnesota Lynx, 12:30 p.m. ABC
Wed, June 13 Los Angeles Sparks at Connecticut Sun, 8 p.m. ESPN2 / ESPN3
Sat, June 23 Chicago Sky at Minnesota Lynx, 12:30 p.m.  ESPN / ESPN3
                     Los Angeles Sparks at Phoenix Mercury,  9 p.m. ESPN / ESPN3
Tue, June 26 Seattle Storm at Washington Mystics,  7 p.m. ESPN2 / ESPN3
Sat, July 7 Seattle Storm at Los Angeles Sparks 10 p.m. ESPN2 / ESPN3
Thu, July 12 Los Angeles Sparks at Indiana Fever, 7 p.m. ESPN2 / ESPN3
Tue, Aug 21 Minnesota Lynx at Seattle Storm, 10 p.m. ESPN2 / ESPN3
Sat, Aug 25 Minnesota Lynx at Atlanta Dream, 7 p.m. ESPN2 / ESPN3
Wed, Sep 12 Seattle Storm at Indiana Fever,  7 p.m. ESPN2 / ESPN3
Tue, Sep18 New York Liberty at San Antonio Silver Stars, 8 p.m. ESPN2 / ESPN3
Sun, Sept 23Seattle Storm at Phoenix Mercury, 3 p.m. ESPN2 / ESPN3

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Unkindest cuts of all

There are no lack of things that the WNBA does which makes me scratch my head in disbelief. Certainly at the top of the list is a refusal to go back to the 13-players rosters.

I look at some of the names of players being cut (Vicki Baugh, Dawn Evans, Brittany Rayburn immediately come to mind) and believe that if they were able to be on a roster and be developed that they could play in the league. It wasn't long ago that teams, if they had the salary cap, could carry up to 13 players with only 11 able to be active for games. When you factor in the fact that injured players can't be placed on the suspended lists, teams are put in rather precarious situations. There's no way the Phoenix Mercury is going to put an injured Penny Taylor on waivers so the Mercury will be prevented from having an 11-player roster this season. Somebody needs to explain to me how this is a good thing for Phoenix or the league.

Let's be honest, there are teams relying on sponsorships just to survive so there are bigger issues facing the WNBA but to me the development of players would make for a better product and that should be one of the league's primary goals. Sadly, that doesn't seem to be the case.

It's completely unrealistic to think that the WNBA could rely on something resembling the D-League which helps to develop young NBA prospects. However, watching teams take fliers on foreign players or players not healthy enough to continue their collegiate careers rather than drafting top college prospects made a mockery of the entire process. You can't blame the teams. If you're the Minnesota Lynx and have the bulk of a championship team returning, what's the purpose of taking a player late in the first round or early in the second round only to have to cut them loose a month later? Or take the situation of the Connecticut Sun who signed veterans Mistie (Bass) Mims and Sidney Spencer to strengthen its bench. That leaves a promising prospect like Evans and second-round pick Chay Shegog (who is still one of 12 players on the Sun's roster) fighting an uphill battle. Teams don't want egg on their face as a result of cutting loose first-round picks but with so many rosters spots locked in, there's not much that the decision makers of the league's best teams can do with the current 11-player roster.

Monday, May 14, 2012

SNY expected to offer live streaming of UConn games

As luck would have it, I was on vacation last week when UConn announced that SNY won the rights to be the regional broadcasting partner of UConn women's basketball games.

Now that I am back to work, I reached out to SNY and spoke with SNY President Steve Raab for about a half hour this morning on a variety of issues. Since most of the feedback I have received from readers concerned the possibility of a live streaming option for people who do not get SNY, that was one of the subjects I brought up.

"We fully expect to offer a live streaming package across the country," Raab said. "I think one of the things for us, we are in a joint venture with MLB Advance Media which is also and there I would argue that there is nobody in this world that has more live games streaming experience than MLB Advanced Media. They do thousands of Major League Baseball games but also March Madness, all the games, the Glenn Beck Show. They bring a level of technology, a level of opportunity that I think (what) SNY streaming offering will bring that is second to none."

Another issue is whether there would be any scheduling conflicts with men's college basketball games which could lead to SNY tape delaying any of the UConn women's basketball games which obviously would not be well received in this state.

"What we are obligated to do and will do is proactively, the scheduling doesn't get done days in advance, it gets done months in advance," Raab said. "The Big East, UConn, SNY we all know what those men's schedules (look like) and what the UConn women's schedules. I am not going to say that is is easy to schedule around but when we sit down and do the scheduling we can avoid those conflicts up front so the answer is that is allows us to not run into the conflicts and make those decisions. The commitment is to air
women's games made available to us. That is our goal."

Obviously there was plenty of reaction from the CPTV side of things. It's easy to understand their frustration seeing their partnership end after 18 ground-breaking years of televising UConn women's basketball.

I found some of the comments made by Jerry Franklin, president and CEO of the Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network, to be a little over the top. When Franklin spoke with the Register's Joe Amarante last week, his response to a Geno Auriemma statement about the positive recruiting impact coming from the partnership with CPTV was an absolute joke.

"I didn't know that Geno needed help recruiting. I thought he was doing a pretty good job."

Now I am sure the comment was made somewhat in a tongue in cheek fashion but next time Franklin ought to think a little more before he speaks. Of course Auriemma has a right to be excited about going from a viewership of about 1 million to one that Raab said is in the 14 million range. Last time I checked UConn is expected to act in their own best interests and if SNY comes through with the live streaming and cover every game not contracted to other media outlets, this is an incredibly positive move by UConn. Growing up in New Hampshire, I remember when WSBK-38 was the home for Boston Bruins broadcasts. Now the Bruins games are on NESN and I couldn't imagine a better situation for me as a Bruins fan even though I absolutely loved the Channel 38's coverage during my years growing up.

Raab said that he was not overly concerned about the rumors circulating during the process. In recent weeks there was some whispers that the parent company of Fox 61 was making a serious push to secure the rights.

"We never really knew honestly until we got a phone call that we had been selected as the partner," Raab said. "We still don't know if it came down to two of us or the merits of all three were being debated. Right up until the end we always sensed that is was reasonably close but we also believed we were in the best position to deliver the best for the program and the fans.

"We knew when the contract was coming up. I wouldn't say that we were openly focused on it the last few years because we were really excited about football and men's basketball and the effort it took to jump in and wrap our arms around not just the games, the pregames, the postgames, even the spring football game. There is so much programming that we wanted to add on the men's side and understood the full gravity of the University of Connecticut in the state of Connecticut.

"Really as it evolved, the timing came out later than we thought it would but once the opportunity was there and once we had digested football and men's basketball but really felt like we brought something new to the party, it became a natural decision for us to 'let's go for it and see if we can bring UConn athletics to another

The process took a little longer than anybody expected but SNY was still hopeful its bid would prevail.

"There were some anxious moments," Raab said. "This is what we do 24/7, 365 all we are focused on is sports and our footprint, sports that matter in New York, Connecticu, New Jersey, Northeast Pennsylvania, we produce and air thousands of hours of live games. It is what we do. It is not the first time we have been through it.SNY has been around six plus years, the managers of this company we have all been in this business for 20 plus years. We ar so used to it. . Whatever rumors were going on, it didn't change
our story that we were going to  be able to increase the opportunity from a million homes to 14 million homes; it didn't change our position that we were going to bring 350 hours of dedicated programming to this women's program which is probably six or seven times that had been out there, It didn't change the live game production expertise that we bring and it didn't chance that we really believed that we were going to bring the best TV package for a women's college basketball team in this country. That includes Stanford, that includes Notre Dame, that includes all these schools that have brought some parity to women's college basketball but there is no doubt which program still stands at the top. We believe we are bringing the best package in the country to a women's college basketball program."

Raab said there is probably a couple of months before the announcing team is named and that process has already started with executive producer Curt Gowdy Jr. the point man in that process. You can read more about the subject in a story I filed for tomorrow's edition of the Register.

Former UConn guard Lorin Dixon was waived by the Tulsa Shock on Monday.

Dixon appeared in two exhibition games with the Shock and in her last outing she had two points and one assist in three minutes in Friday's 86-60 win over Seattle.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Maya Moore, Swin Cash shine in U.S. win

Former UConn stars Maya Moore and Swin Cash had 15 and 10 points respectively to lead the United States to a 100-62 win over China in an exhibition game at the Key Arena in Seattle on Saturday night.

Six players scored in double figures led by Tamika Catchings' 19 points as the U.S. Olympic team played together for the first time since the 12-member team was announced. A groin injury kept former UConn star Tina Charles out of the game but still Connecticut alums combined for 38 points, eight assists and five steals in the game.

“I thought it was a great start for us,” Cash said. “Everyone came out with a lot of focus on what we wanted to get done and that was to try and build some chemistry. I thought we achieved that. We understand we have a ways to go, but this is a great first step.”

The U.S. will scrimmage Japan later today before the players head back to their WNBA teams to prepare for the start of the season. The team will get back to together in July for a training camp in Washington, D.C. before heading overseas for some final tuneups before the start of the Olympics.

You can check out the USA Basketball site for some thoughts from UConn and U.S. head coach Geno Auriemma as well as former Huskies Sue Bird (two points, three assists), Diana Taurasi (nine points) and Cash.

With the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. hosting game three of the NHL's Eastern Conference fnal between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils on May 19, the WNBA game between the Connecticut Sun and New York Liberty has been shifted to Madison Square Garden. The game is still set for a 4 p.m. tip.

This is the second consecutive year that renovations at MSG have forced Liberty home games to be played in Newark

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Saturday, May 12, 2012

More on the CPTV/SNY situation

Joe Amarante, who has been covering TV and radio comings and goings for quite some time, reached out to the big shots at CPTV and SNY and his story on the situation ran in today's edition of the Register.

Well before I had any idea that the news of the UConn women's basketball's regional TV contract I had put in for a vacation week so other than a brief story the day that the news came out, I haven't weighed in on this story so thanks to Joe for his strong work on this piece.

I know some of you take issue when UConn is referred to as the Lady Huskies so if you haven't already clicked the link be warned that the words "Lady Huskies" is in the headlines.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Connecticut Sun, CPTV announce partnership

The Connecticut Sun and CPTV announced that a majority of the WNBA's team's games will be shown on the CPTV Sports station beginning with tonight's preseason game against defending WNBA champion Minnesota. Bear in mind that CPTV Sports is different from CPTV but as time goes on, CPTV Sports is being added to cable/satellite customers in Connecticut.

Here is the press release announcing the move

CPTV Sports Announces Broadcast Deal with WNBA’s Connecticut Sun

HARTFORD Conn. (May 10, 2012) – CPTV Sports, the state’s only 24-hour local sports channel, has announced a new deal with the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun to broadcast more televised Sun games than at any time in the franchise’s history.

Beginning with tonight’s preseason game against the Minnesota Lynx, up to 23 broadcasts of home and away Sun games are currently planned with more potential additions to the schedule. Veteran Sun broadcaster Bob Heussler will handle play-by-play duties while former UConn greats Rebecca Lobo, Jen Rizzotti and Kara Wolters will rotate as color commentators. In a creative arrangement that will allow more Sun games to be aired, CPTV Sports will also take advantage of opportunities to utilize the opponent’s broadcast when Connecticut is playing on the road.

Jerry Franklin, President & CEO of Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network, the parent company of CPTV Sports, commented on the new agreement. “Based on our long tradition of excellence in sports and basketball coverage, CPTV Sports is thrilled to be partnering with the Connecticut Sun to give the team more expanded television coverage than ever before.”

“We are very excited for this new partnership with CPTV Sports and the opportunity to broadcast many more home and away games to our fans around the state than ever before,” Connecticut Sun Vice President and General Manager Chris Sienko said. “This is a wonderful chance to give our loyal fans a chance to watch more of our games on the road while also showing those who have not yet attended a Sun home game what they are missing.”

CPTV Sports Announces New Broadcast Deal with Connecticut Sun/Page 2

The first independently owned WNBA franchise, the Connecticut Sun have been one of the most successful teams in the league, advancing to the playoffs seven times in nine years with two trips to the WNBA Finals. Led by league stars Tina Charles, Renee Montgomery, Asjha Jones and Kara Lawson, the Sun posted a 21-13 record that was tied for best in the Eastern Conference. With virtually the entire lineup back from last year, the Sun will be aiming for their first WNBA Championship in 2012.

“With the return of our core players along with the addition of some talented free agents, we feel this team can compete with anyone,” Sienko said. “We are eager to get the season underway.”

A not-for-profit channel owned and managed by Connecticut Public Television (CPTV), CPTV Sports is the new, expanded version of its previous incarnation, the Connecticut Sports Network (CTSN). Launched in November 2011, CPTV Sports is Connecticut’s only 24-hour local sports network broadcasting Connecticut high school, college and professional sports competitions from more than 40 schools and organizations, including the University of Connecticut, University of Hartford, Central Connecticut State University, Quinnipiac University and the state university system. CPTV Sports also brings viewers coverage of unique sporting events like auto racing, roller derby and ultimate frisbee.

CPTV Sports is available on Comcast cable channels 185, 187 and 744; Cox Communications cable channel 805; Cablevision channel 139; Charter Northeaster channel 223; Charter
Western channel 224 and Thames Valley channel 87.

The Sun will open their 10th regular season on Saturday, May 19 at New York, and will return home to host the Liberty the next day at Mohegan Sun Arena at 5 p.m. 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

Thursday, 10 May v. Minnesota, preseason 7pm                                
Sunday, 20 May v. New York, 5pm                                       
Friday, 25 May v. San Antonio, 7pm                                      
Friday, 1 June v. Minnesota, 7pm                                           
Sunday, 3 June v. Washington, 3pm                                       
Sunday, 10 June v. Atlanta, 5pm                                                        
Tuesday, 19 June v. Indiana, 7pm                                          
Thursday, 21 June @ Indiana, 7pm                                        
Friday, 29 June @ Washington, 7pm                                      
Sunday, 1 July v. Seattle, 5pm                                                
Saturday, 7 July @ Minnesota, 8pm                                       
Tuesday, 10 July @ Washington, 11:30am                             
Friday, 13 July @ Chicago, 8:30pm                                       
Saturday, 18 August v. New York, 7pm                                             
Sunday, 26 August v. Chicago, 5pm                           
Tuesday, 28 August @ Chicago, 7pm                                     
Tuesday, 4 September @ Washington, 7pm                           
Friday, 7 September v. Phoenix, 7pm                                     
Sunday, 9 September v. Chicago, 5pm                                               
Wednesday, 12 September @ Phoenix, 10pm                        
Friday, 14 September @ Los Angeles, 11pm                          
Sunday, 16 September @ Seattle, 9pm                                               
Sunday, 23 September v. Atlanta, 5pm