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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Stokes anxious for her junior season to start


After finishing up with my interviews with UConn football coach Paul Pasqualoni and a handful of members of the Huskies' football team, I was able to catch up with junior forward/center Kiah Stokes.

The last I had heard from Stokes was that she was playing in a summer league while back home in Iowa so she talked about that experience and her summer in general.

"I worked out with my dad and my brother and they helped push me," Stokes said. "Towards the end of it I went to league in West Liberty. I got to play a game a week but I had to leave for the last three weeks. It was a lot of fun working out and getting back into the flow of things.

"It helps a lot. It is one thing to work on your skills and it is another thing to play five on five, going against other people and it helps a lot, I think.

"I took a couple of weeks off just to let my body rest and once the end of May came around, I got back at it again and started working out hard to get ready for this season because we are trying to repeat. I feel UConn, us as a team, we always have a target on our backs but you know it is even bigger because every team wants to take us down. I know Louisville in the regular season, they are going to be gunning for us so we have to keep working to make ourselves better."

Stokes has had her ups and downs during her first two seasons at UConn with a couple of injuries, some nice games and other times when he drew the ire of the UConn coaches for her poor practice habits.

Now an upperclassman, Stokes said she has an improved work ethic. Stokes knows that with nine scholarship players, there isn't much room for error and she needs to put herself in position to be a regular contributor both in practice and during games.

"I've been working hard because I am a junior and I have to push our underclassmen to work just as hard so that helps a lot," Stokes said. "It (the nine scholarship players) is a good and bad thing, it means you really need everyone. Coach is only going to play five people (at once) which makes it hard on the rest of the team. We've been there before. My freshman year he took me, Stef (Dolson), Heather (Buck) all the posts out of the game at Marquette and said 'if you aren't going to do it, we will get five who can, five guards.' It was five guards who played that game. He is all business but with nine people we understand we all have to be involved.

"I worked all summer for it and now it is time. We're doing the individual (workouts) with the coaches, it helps a lot and just getting back into the rhythm with the team it is a lot different this summer. I am a junior and I finally understand how it works finally, it is a good thing and we are all excited to get ready for the season."

Auriemma has been pushing Stokes hard. When she was a freshman he called the freshman the X factor in the Husies' bid for a national title. Stokes averaged 9.5 points and 8 rebounds in the first two NCAA tournament games but averaged 2 points and 4.3 rebounds in the final three NCAA tournament games. The story was the same during her sophomore season.

"I remember Coach (Geno Auriemma) said last year that if I don't trust you, I am not going to play you and I really trying to earn his trust this year," Stokes said. "I think I have done a pretty good job so far but you can always do better and that is what I am trying to do. I remember last year Coach said to Stef (Dolson) and Bria (Hartley) 'you guys have one year and then you are seniors so you have get it figured out.' It is the same thing for Kaleena (Mosqueda-Lewis), me and Bri (Banks) this year, we have one year to get it down pat before we are seniors and we have to actually lead this team."

Stokes had a pretty interesting summer off the court. First, her father Greg came out to local papers in Iowa that his daughter had no intention of transferring. The transfer rumors baffled Stokes considering how much she enjoys being at Connecticut.

"I personally don't think about it too much," Stokes said. "I know there were a few people who asked me about it and I said 'no, I love it up here and I don't want to quit.' I am not a quitter and having him go through all of that was great because I was getting tired of it. At home people were 'so are you going to stay at UConn?' I said 'yes, I am staying at UConn. There is no reason for me to come back (home). We won so of course I want to stay and earn that again. It was frustrating a little bit but I think they understand, if they know me they know I wasn't going to leave. We got one of those down so I have to try to be my best and win another one."

Stokes was also involved in Bunny Ear gate as she and Stefanie Dolson held up two fingers on either side of President Barack Obama's head during a photo at the end of the Huskies' trip to the White House on July 31.

It was Dolson that received most of the negative backlash following the incident.

"I got a little but not as much (as Dolson) which I am not that mad about," Stokes said. "I guess it wasn't that good of a thing, He (President Obama) told us to do it otherwise we never would have done it but I don't think people understand that. I was really shocked (at the negative reaction). He is our President, I understand that, but I didn't think people would get so mad about it especially when he told us to do it. Looking back, I think it is pretty funny but I would never do it again even if he says it because of the bad reaction we got. It is a learning experience. It was fun at the time, 20 years from now I will tell my kids 'yeah, I have the President bunny ears.' "

Stokes provided some updates on how freshman Saniya Chong is adapting to life at UConn and also on classmate Brianna Banks, who is working her way back from the torn ACL she suffered in a Feb. 2 game at St. John's.

"She (Chong) is so quick," Stokes said. "I thought Moriah was quick but she is just as fast, maybe a little faster. She is good, she still has her freshman ways a little bit but she is fitting in with us and how we do things here. She is aggressive, she is quick and she drives to the basket a lot which is good because we always need somebody to get to the basket. She has a little bit to go but she is getting there."

As for Banks, who I have seen taking shots at Gampel without a knee brace or any signs of her previous knee injury, Stokes said she is coming along pretty quickly.

"I think she is making really good progress," Stokes said. "She hasn't started playing with us yet, she is taking it slow with the no contact stuff but she will be back with us in no time."


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