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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Here's UConn's conference schedule

The forever changing look of UConn's conference schedule continues.

Last year there were no games against Notre Dame and now it is Louisville and Rutgers who have left for greener pastures so here is the breakdown which was released by the American Athletic Conference today.

UConn will face Cincinnati, East Carolina, Memphis, South Florida, Southern Methodist, Temple, Tulane and Tulsa both at home and on the road, will host Houston and play Central Florida only on the road. The dates will be announced at a later date.

UConn will have to replace graduated All-Americans Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley but do return leading scorer and national player of the year Breanna Stewart, former All-American Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and starting point guard Moriah Jefferson of a team which joined the 2011-12 Baylor squad as the only women's basketball team to post a 40-0 record.

3x3 rosters officially announced

UConn commits De'Janae Boykin and Napheesa Collier will join UConn recruiting target Arike Ogunbowale as well as Natalie Chou (who is replacing the injured Katie Lou Samuelson) for a hand-picked team that is favored to win the U.S. women's 3x3 U-18 national title.

That quartet is one of five teams vying for the right to represent the the Youth Olympic Games in China from Aug.

The brother of UConn incoming freshman Courtney Ekmark is on one of the 12 men's teams competing in the event which runs from Friday-Sunday at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

UConn incoming freshman stars in all-star game

UConn incoming freshman Sadie Edwards had 20 points to lead her Suburban All-Stars team to 72-69 victory over the City All-Stars in the second annual Girls All City Classic at the Haverford (Pa.) School.

Edwards was named the MVP for the Suburban team.

Philly all star game @Sadie14Edwards ( UConn)scores 20, wins MVP and leads her team to victory 72-69

Next up for the Meriden native is for her to enroll at UConn for the summer session and start taking part in pick-up games.


Thoughts on the three UConn commits

Now that I've had a couple of days to unwind after spending a few days in Colorado Springs, I am finally getting around to giving my thoughts on what I have seen from the three UConn commits.

Let's start with Katie Lou Samuelson, the No. 1 rated player in the Class of 2015. When I saw her play at the HoopHall Classic in Springfield back in January, I thought every shot she was taking was going in. I came away with the same feeling. She has a picturesque shot with an incredibly quick release and at 6-3, I can't see her getting a perimeter shot blocked. She has been working hard on diversifying her game and that was evident during the three days of practices I was able to see. She went inside early and often. She not only scored in the lane but grabbed tough rebounds in traffic. Many of the people there like to use Elena Delle Donne as a comparable player. I saw Delle Donne during U.S. junior national team trials at a similar point in her career and Samuelson's ability to score inside and outside is comparable to Delle Donne's skill set but at the same age Delle Donne was physically stronger than Samuelson.

De'Janae Boykin was not happy with how she played offensively during the trials but what struck me was how she was one of the rare players to set screens and draw charges which I am sure helped her make the U-17 team. I see some of the intangibles I saw when Kelly Faris made the junior national teams due to her scrappy team-first approach. The first day I was there Boykin was hitting with ease from the 3-point line and she showed the ability to get inside and an an outstanding rebounder. Much like Morgan Tuck is the perfect foil to Breanna Stewart, I think Boykin will complement Samuelson very well during their time in Storrs.

I didn't see anywhere near as much of the U-18 practices as I did the U-17 ones so it was harder to give a total scouting report on Napheesa Collier but the first thing I was struck by is how offensive rebounds just seem to find her. As I tweeted during by time there, Collier plays hard on every possession. She is a multi-faceted player who can play on the perimeter or in the paint. Much like Boykin, she does the little things like setting screens, diving for loose balls that make any team better. She did not make as many 3-pointers as a high school player as either Boykin or Samuelson, she did drain a couple of 3-pointers during the trials. She is at her best in the open court and should thrive in the system utilized by UConn Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma.

We'll have to see if they get another other players in the class but even if they don't, I was extremely impressed with what I saw from the three of them.

There were plenty of people affiliated with recruiting sites at the trials observing and a few of them have tied to the Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia metro areas. I received multiple positive reports on Natalie Butler, who is coming to UConn as a transfer after an outstanding freshman season at Georgetown.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

No place like home for A'ja Wilson

While I was out in Colorado Springs, there were plenty of familiar names and faces of players who were once on UConn's recruiting radar but opted to head elsewhere. At first glance I counted six former UConn recruiting targets taking part in the U-18 tryouts. Three of them (Recee Caldwell, Brianna Turner and A'ja Wilson) made the U-18 squad.

The way things work in recruiting is that once a player picks another school that tends to be the last update you provide on them. Occasionally during the season or especially in the postseason I may catch up with somebody facing UConn who was once on the Huskies' recruiting radar.

However, since Wilson generated more attention and speculation than perhaps any other non-UConn signee in recent memory from the UConn faithful, I spoke to her for a couple of minutes on my final day in Colorado.

Here's what she thought about the progress of the U-18 camp.

"I am having a lot of fun out here, it is great to be back," Wilson said. "Being out here is such a great feeling and even though the oxygen is different it is great, there are a lot of girls out there and we are very competitive so I just love every minute of it.

"It (being a member of the U-19 World Championship team last summer) has really helped me out a lot. I have to give it to Morgan Tuck and Breanna Stewart, those two kind of stuck out to me last year. Last year I was the youngest sitting back and watching everything. Now me and Bri (Turner) are the veterans so we are taking what we learned form them and hope it pays off in the end."

Wilson had a signing day event at her high school which was streamed live. When the Columbia, South Carolina native announced that she was signing with South Carolina, the folks sitting behind her in the gym at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School went crazy.

"It meant a lot," Wilson said. "The support system that Heathwood gives is just ridiculous, the community and state itself is ridiculous. Really being there and hearing my family and friends go crazy and just supporting me has been a great feeling.

"It's been a great reaction. The coaches there are great, the coaches have been respectful and I appreciate it, people saying thank you. I love giving back to my state, they have given so much to me so I want to give back to them."

What about the experience of being pursued by UConn?

"I loved every part of the recruitment," Wilson said. "Coach Auriemma, Coach Ralph they are great and very respectful and I love them for that."

Kansas State transfer fiasco solved

Transfers have certainly made plenty of news during the spring and summer.

As if there wasn't enough buzz surrounding national freshman of the year Diamond DeShields' decision to leave North Carolina for a destination yet to be announced, the decision at Kansas State not to allow fellow gifted freshman Leticia Romero to transfer created as much hoopla and discussion among non women's basketball media types as any transfer story I can recall.

ESPN's Jay Bilas was among those letting loose via social media on Kansas State's stance to refuse to release her meaning she would have to pay for her own school for a year if she decided to transfer.

Well, earlier today Kansas State finally relented and released Romero.

Kansas State announces it has granted release of Leticia Romero under school's new policy. She can't transfer to a Big 12 school.

UConn commit makes U-18 team

She had to wait a couple extra days than fellow UConn commits De'Janae Boykin and Katie Lou Samuelson to start showing what she was capable of at the junior national trials and Napheesa Collier didn't find out she was a member of the U.S. U-18 squad until about 10 hours after Boykin and Samuelson were informed that they made the U-17 team. Still, it was worth the wait.

Collier, a 6-foot-1 rising senior forward at Incarnate Word Academy in St. Louis, is following in a long long of UConn commits to get valuable time playing in tournament as a member of Team USA. Among those is somebody she shares more than just a college of preference.

Collier began to hit the basketball courts in Jefferson City, Missouri which is the same city when Maya Moore, UConn's all time leading scorer lived as a youngster before moving with her mom to Georgia.

"I was friends with her cousin Jordan and sometimes she used to come back to our games so I used to meet her with my family's friends, my aunts," Collier said.

"It was really cool because she came to our basketball game so I got pictures with her and she used to go the YMCA in Jeff City so sometimes I would go and see her playing. It is awesome and we are going to the same school now so it is cool."

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Catching up with USA Basketball's Carol Callan

There wasn't a person at the U.S Olympic Training Center from Friday until Monday with a more hectic schedule than USA Basketball Women's National Team Director Carol Callan.

Knowing that I had requested to talk to her, as I do every time I head out to one of the U.S. junior national team events, she attempted to come into the area where I was working on multiple occasions only to be whisked away on more pressing matters.

After the U-17 national team was announced on Monday morning I was finally able to spend somewhere between 5-10 minutes catching up with her.

The first item was following up what Geno Auriemma said to me in New York the day that he received the Winged Foot Award and that was the U.S. women's national team could meet Canada and incoming freshman Kia Nurse in a game before the FIBA World Championships. While she wasn't ready to say that was definitely going to happen,  she did say that after the U.S. national team holds a training camp in Annapolis, Maryland that there would be another group of training sessions somewhere on the East Coast.

"We want to stay on the East Coast," Callan said. "There was going to be one thing that wasn't really our deal that was a reason to be up there which is no longer going to happen but we should know something in the next couple of weeks."

Reading between the lines, perhaps the Canada/U.S. thing could happen during that time as there is a gap in Canada's schedule from September 12 when the final training camp wraps in Edmonton and September 27 when the FIBA World Championships kick off in Turkey.

Remaining on the subject were some other questions regarding the national team.

A year ago USA Basketball had active college players including UConn's Stefanie Dolson, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Breanna Stewart take part in training camp. They were all added to the national team player pool along with Odyssey Sims, Kayla McBride and Alyssa Thomas. With Mosqueda-Lewis and Stewart the only ones still in college, I asked her if they were considering inviting any other active college players between now and when the training camp kicks off in September. I am sure there are other worthy candidates but the name of Notre Dame's Jewell Loyd was the one to pop into my head so I used her as a possible candidate so that is why she mentioned her name specifically in the quote below.

"I think for September it is probably too soon to bring college kids," Callan said. "I think one or two athletes could be added from the WNBA but for 2016, it gives us a little more time to continue to look. Jewell Loyd is obviously a great player and if we were to think 'hey we need a little help there I am sure we would add anybody."

So how much does Callan think that the college players gained by going head to head with Olympic gold medalists?

"I think there are some things you need to do physically," Callan said. "It gives them a level of confidence that maybe they can handle it so I think it is invaluable. We had middle school kids in here for our U-17 tryouts. It is the same thing on a completely different level."

It should be noted that picks No. 2-4 in the most recent WNBA draft were players who took part in the U.S. national team camp. No. 1 overall pick Chiney Ogwumike was reported to have had a scheduling conflict and sixth overall pick Bria Hartley was injured and unable to attend after being invited.

The final item on the national team was the selection of Geno Auriemma's staff for the upcoming World Championships. Normally it is two college coaches and two WNBA coaches on the staff. Considering how strongly Auriemma feels about having DePaul's Doug Bruno on his staff that results in the other two assistants being WNBA head coaches and normally female WNBA head coaches. However this staff features just one WNBA head coach in Minnesota's Cheryl Reeve as the other assistant coach is South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley. Her inclusion over any WNBA head coach makes total sense as it would come to the shock of absolutely nobody to see Staley on the sidelines as the U.S. head coach in the 2020 Olympics.

"When you look at their resumes individually and collectively, it is a great staff," Callan said. "Dawn talks to players about her experiences in USA Basketball, you want to have that for all of those players even though they are already at that level. Cheryl Reeve has been great at Minnesota and Doug, his contributions to women's basketball over time and his support to Geno, it is such a good feel to the staff."

Callan admitted that with the upcoming 3x3 U-18 tournament in Colorado Springs and championships the U-17 and U-18 teams will be going after, she has plenty of think about before the national team camp or World Championships but she is still excited about the prospects.

"I have a few things before I get down there but we have been working on it, we have been planning," Callan said. "It is like you have been planning all year to get to that point so I am very fired up and ready to go. I think it is going to be great. I think the talent pool we have to work from is exceptional. It is going to be hard to pick 12 and that is what this is all about."

Callan was bouncing back and forth between the U-17 practices at Sports Center 2 and U-18 tryouts at Sports Center 1 and with nearly 200 athletes vying for 24 spots, she got to see a lot of talent on display.

"The younger group that we just finished, it was the most that we ever had to the point that we maxed out (in number of competitors)," Callan said.  The talent level, it is amazing to me that it become as difficult as it is and when you throw in those numbers it is a task. At the end of the day what defines it is that there are some kids who played on our U-16 team that didn't get selected (for the U-17 team), clearly we have a larger pool of athletes and we were very talented. We could have gone many different directions with our teams so that to me shows that this works.

"This older group, they are only a year older than some of the (U-17s) and they just look more mature and to a person they are all great kids, it is not like you are going to deal with effort and attitude, they are just great kids. You'd almost like to not turn kids away when you select 12 but that also makes it that much more special."

With three Connecticut high school players among those taking part in the U-17 trials including Avon's Abby Laszewski, who survived the first two cuts, and Meriden's Kiah Gillespie, who lasted until the final cut, I asked Callan what she thought of the performances of Laszewski, Gillespie and Desiree Elmore.

"I think if you live in Connecticut you probably dream of playing at UConn but you are almost sucked right into that feeling so you want to get better, better and better because you know what you would need to do to get to UConn," Callan said. "I think there is enough competition out there with good players that they have to continue to improve and I think you see that, not only the competition but the attention that is paid to women's basketball in Connecticut and I am sure it brings them right along."

This year's U-17 trials marked the first time players could apply to be a part of the process. Laszewski and Elmore were part of the more than 100 kids who were invited to the trials after submitting an application. While the 12-member U-17 team did not include any of those players who needed to apply to be included in the process, it was a valuable experience for them and it didn't hurt that representatives from pretty much every organization which ranks high school players were in attendance either. This format began at the U-16 level Callan said she wants to do whatever it takes to best identify and develop the top prospects in those age groups.

"It makes us think that maybe we need to take this regionally," Callan said. "I think we are going to work to that end."

I asked her if she meant having some regional tryouts and then inviting the best of the best to one training camp to select the final roster of 12.

"I don't know if 'you come to that and if you are this, you get to come' but just to try to see who is out there and maybe we still do the open application process with the national team trials too. If we keep doing this, we are going to have a pretty good idea of who the kids out there who are pretty good. It is going to give a lot of kids a chance to get to know us ad maybe get the benefit of what we can do with them."

So where did this idea come from?

"I have been around forever and we used to have an Olympic Festival by the USOC and four teams played each other just to have the Olympic experience," Callan said. "We used to have regional tryouts with 250 kids so the format we have is a little bit based on that, we added the skills thing and it is a progression kind of thing. We used to open trials only then we did a combination of open and invites then we went to only invite and now at this youngest level we realize that there are a lot of kids out there that maybe kids don't know about. There is very little different between 35 and 36 so it is based on experience and we tweak it as we go down."

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Meriden continues to produce girls' basketball phenoms

Kiah Gillespie's spirited bid to become the first Connecticut native to make a women's national team in 15 years ended this morning when she was not one of the 12 players named to the U-17 national team.

However, the way the Capital Prep rising senior held her own against the nation's very best bodes well for her future and it gives Meriden yet another major college prospect to call its own.

Damika Martinez was the eighth-leading scorer in women's Division I basketball last season, averaging 24.9 points a game as a junior at Iona. Sadie Edwards is part of the four-member incoming freshman class for two-time defending national champion UConn and now Gillespie was among the final 46 players competing for spots on the U-17 squad.

"People don't think Meriden has good basketball players but we have some, we have my brother and he is going to New Haven and we have some good players out here. We are being slept on but sometimes you do better when you are slept on."

Gillespie is aware of the two Meriden phenoms who preceded her.

"We used to play Mercy all the time and used to play against Sadie," Gillespie said. "I haven't spoke to her in a while and Martinez, I used to see her a lot. she was kind of like Sadie, playing with all the boys and I was thinking 'wow, I have to get like that some day.'"


Samuelson, Boykin teammates again

There was a certain amount of excitement when De'Janae Boykin and Katie Lou Samuelson discussed their future together as UConn commits. Before they arrive at UConn they will be accustomed to playing together.

After being teammates on the U-16 team last summer, they were among the 12 players selected to play on the U.S. team playing in the FIBA U17 World Championships.

"We got to play together last summer, this summer and we get to go to school together and it is fun," Samuelson said.

Boykin admitted that she didn't play as well as she would have liked to during the trials but was relieved when she heard that she was named to the team.

"It is great that everybody sees your hard work even if you do have bad games or bad days so they can still that you have potential," Boykin said. 

Three UConn recruiting targets were also named to the team - Asia Durr, Arike Ogunbowale and Lauren Cox.

"I was shocked to hear my name," Durr said. I didn't think I played that well. I played well some games but others I didn't think I played my best. Tears came to my eyes as soon as I heard my name called."

Samuelson sprained her left ankle in a Sunday night scrimmage and she was wearing a protective boot on Monday. She was supposed to join Boykin, fellow UConn commit Napheesa Collier and Ogunbowale on a team competing in the upcoming 3x3 U18 national tournament but had to pull out of that.

"I'm pretty bummed but it is more important to get this fixed right now than try to force it and play," Samuelson.

Here's Samuelson's description on how the injury happened.

"I stepped on my teammate's foot as I was closing out for the ball and I went down," Samuelson said. (She's had) little tweaks but this is the first time I ever sprained it. It hurt when it first happened. I didn't think it was bad but I tried to get up and I couldn't walk, it is pretty swollen. I am going to listen to what they said, just go home and see how it is. I think I am going to get an MRI and (hope) everything turns out well. Hopefully I will be able to come back in a couple of weeks and start training camp (which runs from June 12-15)."


Ankle injury to keep UConn commit out of 3x3 tournament

After being named to the U-17 national team, UConn commit Katie Lou Samuelson was wearing a UConn sweatshirt but also a walking boot on her injured ankle.

The injury, suffered in a Sunday night scrimmage at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, didn't keep her from making the U.S. team competing in the FIBA U-17 World Championships but it did knock her out of the upcoming U.S. U18 3x3 national tournament. Natalie Chou is expected to replace her on the team favored to win the title.

While Samuelson is disappointed that she won't be able to be on the same 3x3 team with fellow UConn commits De'Janae Boykin and Napheesa Collier and UConn recruiting target Arike Ogunbowale, she knows getting healthy is tops on her priority list.

So how did the injury occur?

"I stepped on my teammate's foot as I was closing out for the ball and I went down," Samuelson said. "Little tweaks but this is the first time I ever sprained it. It hurt when it first happened. I didn't think it was bad but I tried to get up and I couldn't walk, it is pretty swollen. I am going to listen to what they said, just go home and see how it is. I think I am going to get an MRI and everything turns out well."

UConn commits Boykin, Samuelson make U-17 team

UConn commits De'Janae Boykin and Katie Lou Samuelson were selected to the 12-member United States squad which will compete in the FIBA U-17 World Championships.

UConn recruiting targets Lauren Cox (2016), Asia Durr (2015) and Arike Ogunbowale also were selected to the squad while Class of 2016 recruiting target Sabrina Ionescu would be added to the team in the event that Samuelson's ankle, which she injured in a scrimmage on Sunday, doesn't heal in time to allow her to play in the event.

The FIBA World Championships begin on June 28 with the U.S. opening up against China. There will also be preliminary games against France on June 29 and Mali on July 1.

An interesting story line to the selections is that only half of the members of last year's U-16 team made the cut as Durr, Samuelson, Cox, Ogunbowale and Boykin were the top five scorers on the team which won the FIBA Americas U16 Championship by an average of of 63.8 points in the five games. The other returnee is 6-foot-9 Nancy Mulkey.

The new additions are rising seniors Kristine Anigwe, Kennedy Burke and Te'a Cooper and Class of 2016 prospects Natalie Chou, Joyner Holmes and Anna Wilson.

Meriden native and Capital Prep rising senior Kiah Gillespie, the 2014 Gatorade Connecticut Player of the Year, was among 34 players cut on Monday morning.

UConn recruiting target Crystal Dangerfield did not make the team but she joined the player pool for the U-18 team. The 12-member roster for that time will be announced tonight.

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Staley excited about USA Basketball gigs

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley views any association with USA Basketball as "probably the ultimate experience of my life."

So when USA Basketball came calling twice to have Staley coach national teams this summer, she didn't hesitate.

"I have been in USA Basketball for over half of my life so anytime I get the opportunity to come in this culture, you don't have to ask twice," said Staley, who is the head coach of the U-18 women's team and an assistant coach on Geno Auriemma's national team staff. "I look forward to it and hopefully I can continue to be among the coaches in this culture because it is tremendous.

"It is exciting. I love basketball, I love the opportunity to shape young people's lives through basketball. Their experiences with USA Basketball, I hope I can be a dream merchant for them and allow them to dream big and one day hopefully represent our country at '18s, '19s, World Championships and ultimately at the Olympics."

Staley, a three-time Olympian as a player, didn't have all the junior national programs to play in when she was growing up and she appreciates more than most people how good this current generation has it.

"I think anytime you get exposure to this top level player it is only going to make them better so for them it is a tremendous opportunity," Staley said. "USA Basketball is always trying to find ways to better our game and this trials is one way to do it."

It won't be long before Staley will be heading to Maryland for the national team training camp in preparation for the FIBA World Championships where she will work aside Auriemma and fellow assistant coaches Doug Bruno of DePaul and Cheryl Reeve of the WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx..

"I think it is going to be fun," Staley said. "I think the staff that is put together is a hard-working staff that is going to get the most out of the team and the bottom line is we are trying to win gold medals, it is gold or failure."

And about Auriemma?

"He is a winner, you can take anything away from Geno because all he does is win."

It is something Staley will see first hand when she takes her South Carolina team up to Connecticut to face Auriemma's two-time defending national champions. Originally the belief was the game would be played a few days before Christmas but Staley said she has been hearing it could be played in February.

"I think our players need to experience playing against a national-championship (team)," Staley said. "If we want to achieve a milestone like that, you have to play against the best teams in the country and obviously UConn is that and hopefully will give them a great game. That is what they keep saying. I think the game is going to be good for women's basketball so it doesn't matter whether it is February, November, the fact we have them on the schedule.

"We got people in Columbia earmarking to come and see the game, our Gamecock fans up in the Northeast they are talking about needing tickets and hopefully it will be a good experience for us. We are not going up there to lose, we are going there to win the basketball game."

Returning the nucleus from a team which earned a No. 1 seed in the 2014 NCAA tournament and U-18 camper A'ja Wilson leading a strong incoming freshman class, it's very possible that South Carolina could head into the season ranked only behind UConn in the national polls.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Couple other UConn recruiting targets worth mentioning

At times during my time at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs it seems like it might be quicker to name the players not on UConn's recruiting radar than the ones who are. Certainly when the U-17 national team is announced tomorrow morning (likely around 10 a.m. back in Connecticut), there should be plenty of players being pursued by the Huskies on the list.

In addition to commits De'Janae Boykin and Katie Lou Samuelson, UConn recruiting targets Erin Boley, Lauren Cox, Asia Durr, Sabrina Ionescu, Tori McCoy and Arike Ogunbowale all spoke to me about the recruiting process. Today I added a couple names to the list in Crystal Dangerfield and Jaelyn Brown.

Dangerfield had a pretty busy day as she took part in both sessions with the U-17 squad before moving over and practicing with the U-18s in the session which just ended. The 5-foot-6 Dangerfield idolizes UConn's Moriah Jefferson which is worthy of mention as is the fact that she lives in Tennessee. Is that even allowed to have a Tennessee kid commit to UConn if Dangerfield were to consider doing that.

As she played along with my line of questioning all I could do was think back to the back and forth between the Bill Murray character and the one playing the mayor of New York in the 1984 Ghostbusters movies as Dr. Peter Venkman and his fellow ghostbusters tried to explain what could be happening in the city down the road. Here's a snippet of that conversation courtesy of the Internet Movie Database site.

Dr. Peter Venkman: This city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.
Mayor: What do you mean, "biblical"?
Dr Ray Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath of God type stuff.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Exactly.
Dr Ray Stantz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!
Dr. Egon Spengler: Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes...
Winston Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave!
Dr. Peter Venkman: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!
Mayor: All right, all right! I get the point!

Seriously though, Dangerfield certainly sounds interested in UConn and what I'm hearing is that the feeling is mutual.

"They are (interested)," said Dangerfield, a rising junior guard at Blackman High in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. "My high school coach is telling me that they want me to call and I talked to Geno, we had a conversation. Three minutes into it my hands were sweating, I was star struck. It was a fun sit down, it was my first time sitting down to talk to a college coach so that was fun. It was just him and the type of superstar he is just saying that to me."

What about the prospects of a Tennessee kid committing to UConn?

"I think I would be the first," Dangerfield said with a laugh. "After the phone call my parents talked to me and said I would be the first and I would probably be hounded about it.

"I watch 1000 videos of it (the classic UConn/Tennessee games), I love it and it is fun. I get things like 'don't go to UConn go to Tennessee, don't go to Tennessee, go to UConn.' It is just what it is."

Since Dangerfield even started her junior year of high school yet, she has plenty of time to figure out this recruiting thing. She does know that she would like to be committed to a school by May 11 of next year, her 17th birthday.

Dangerfield's interest in UConn has been reported before but thanks to a message from Brown's AAU coach today just a few minutes before the final interview session of the day with the U-17 squad, I was able to add Brown's name to the list of UConn recruiting targets. Here's what Elbert Kinnebrew of the powerhouse Cal Sparks AAU program had to say.

Hey Jim, my Girl Jaelyn Brown at USA17 will be a legit UCONN recruit. Geno Likes her and she Likes UCONN. Will Visit in the Fall.

Brown, like Dangerfield, is a 2016 prospect. She is a 6-foot forward out of Murrietta, California.

"I talked to him a few times," Brown said. "I am excited. I want to visit the campus and see how they are doing, see how the facility is.

"I was very surprised (when she heard that UConn was interested). They are No. 1 in the country so I am honored. I watched all the games, I watch the NCAA all the time, their style of play is amazing they run up and down the floor all the time, even the bigs, you see them passing the ball out to the bigs all the time and they are scoring."

As for her recruiting timeline, "I am going to wait until the end of my junior year to see my options."

Video look at UConn commits at U-17 trials

At first glance it looked like the video count since I arrived in Colorado is approaching 25 and quickly climbing so it will be hard to include all of those videos in the same blog but I thought I would put together a package with video action and interview clips of commits De'Janae Boykin, Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson.

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Special time for UConn commits

It's been an interesting couple of days in Colorado Springs.
Much of my focus was spent catching up with the three UConn commits and per my request, the always accomadating Caroline Williams of USA Basketball had De'Janae Boykin and Katie Lou Samuelson make the short walk from Sports Center 2 after the U-17 morning practice so they could pose with fellow future Husky Napheesa Collier after the U-18 practice.

I have also been following the progress of the three Connecticut kids who came to the trials. Capital Prep's Kiah Gillespie is among the final 46 players vying for 12 spots on the U.S. team playing in the FIBA U-17 World Championships. Then there are the UConn recruiting targets with Erin Boley, Lauren Cox, Crystal Dangerfield, Asia Durr, Sabrina Ionescu, Tori McCoy and Arike Ogunbowale still in contention to make the U-17. A story on Durr and Ogunbowale ran in Saturday's paper and there will be more in the paper on Tuesday.

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Camara taking her time in recruiting

UConn already got one recruit from the 2013-14 Blair Academy team as Meriden native Sadie Edwards is one of four incoming freshmen for the Huskies.

Recently UConn has started to show an interest in Blair Academy rising senior Batouly Camara.

Camara, who is here in Colorado Springs trying out for the U-18 national team, admitted that she has a long way to go in figuring out her college of preference.

"It (UConn's interest) was a progression, being with USA (Basketball) and being able to talk to them, word gets around," Camara said. "I feel honored to be even considered by UConn and Geno (Auriemma).

"I probably should rush but I haven't narrowed my list yet. I am going to start taking officials in the fall and that is where I am right now."

When I went to watch Blair Academy play on Jan. 18 (the day before UConn played at Rutgers) Edwards didn't play but Camara was one of the most impressive players for Blair Academy. She displayed the ability to score both inside and out.

"That is something I will do whatever I can, if my teammates need me to shoot that game or be down low and bang inside, I will do that," Camara said.

Camara had nothing but good things to say about Edwards.

"She did great things down there and whatever she puts her mind to, the sky is the limit," Camara said. "She brings our practice to a different level, she always comes to the gym and has that high intensity."

While I have been highlighting how well Connecticut high school stars Kiah Gillespie (who is among the final 46 players at the U-17 trials) and Abby Laszewski (who was among the final 70 players at the U-17 camp). But in Colorado Springs there's plenty to celebrate as two kids from the city are among the final 46.

Kylee Shook was one of 39 invitees (only 37 showed up) while Oliana Squires is one of nine applicants to make it through the first three cuts.

Considering all the stories that could be told about players coming in from all areas of the country, I thought it was an interesting angle to see what it is like for a Colorado Springs kid to come to the trials.

"I am just 10 minutes away so I think it is special to be here in Colorado Springs," Shook said.

When she came to the U-16 trials in 2013, it was not her first trip to the U.S. Olympic Training Center.

"I came here once just looking around touring (the facilities) and now I am back again," Shook said. "It is amazing seeing all the sports and the athletes, it is amazing especially with it being in my hometown.
It is nice because my dad just has to drive to come see me and it is good for him to support me and it would be great to play for my country."

Shook, a 6-foot-4 rising junior at Mesa Ridge High, and Oliana Squires, a 5-foot-9 rising junior at Sand Creek High, will be here until the final list of 12 is announced tomorrow morning.

 "I came in knowing what to expect but there is still competition here and there are more girls here, athletic girls, bigger, tougher," Shook said.

There was no lack of talented athletes on the grounds at the U.S. Olympic Training Center but it was the appearance of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson which created the most buzz.

Wilson, who led Seattle to the Super Bowl title, was here to watch his sister Anna (a Stanford commit) take part in the U-17 trials.

The folks at USA Basketball shot a video of Wilson which garnered more than 300,000 hits since it was posted on instagram.

After the morning practice session Anna Wilson spoke to Carl Adamec of the Manchester Journal Inquirer and I about her brother's visit as well as being able to watch the Super Bowl in person.

"Probably me (when asked who was more nervous at the Super Bowl)," Wilson said. "When it first started I don't think they would win by so much. I had faith that they were going to win but not by that much. Russ is never nervous.

"He is definitely my role model, both of my brothers are my role models but from athlete to athlete he is one of my biggest role models."

Capital Prep's Gillespie makes third cut at U-17 trials

The process of picking a 12-member roster to compete in the FIBA U-17 World Championships continued as USA Basketball cut the roster from 70 to 46 players.

It was a case of mixed results for the two Connecticut players who survived the first two rounds of cuts. Capital Prep's Kiah Gillespie made the cut and is taking part in this morning's session but Avon's Abby Laszewski did not make it to the final 46 players.

As expected, the roster of 46 features both UConn commits at the U-17 trials (De'Janae Boykin and Katie Lou Samuelson). Erin Boley, Lauren Cox, Crystal Dangerfield, Asia Durr, Sabrina Ionescu, Tori McCoy and Arike Ogunbowale are among the UConn recruiting targets who made the cut.

This is expected to be the final cut until the list of 12 players heading to the Czech Republic in July for the World Championships is announced tomorrow morning. The U-18 team playing in the FIBA Americas U18 Championship in August in Colorado Springs will be announced tomorrow night (most likely when I am on the plane going home so it may be a while before I post about it).

UConn commit Collier talented and driven

Throughout the recruiting process I kept hearing that Napheesa Collier was not only one of the most physically gifted players in the Class of 2015 but also one of the hardest workers.

Yesterday was the first chance I got to see her up close and personal as the U.S. U-18 trials kicked off. Even in room full of talented prospects Collier's tendency to go full speed on every drill was easy to spot.

So when I spoke to her following the practice, that was one of the things I asked her about.

"What's the point of being out there if you are not going to try?" Collier said. "I try to give to give it all at all times."

The first drill I saw Collier resembled an Energizer Bunny during a 3 on 3 set as she seemingly ran to every spot on the court before sprinting to the corner and knocking down a 3-pointer. But perhaps the most impressive moment for her came when she was on the opposite side of the court when a ball bounced past the 3-point line. She bolted across the court and beat to opposing players, both probably 10 feet closer to her, to snare the loose ball.

Collier isn't only about maximum effort, though. She is a tremendously versatile player who can play both inside or out. In fact during her junior season at nationally-ranked Incarnate Word Academy in St. Louis, she played both on the wing and in the post.

"In the beginning of the year I played on the perimeter but one of our post players got hurt and I had to move down so I had to play the 3/4 (positions)," Collier said. "It helped me get stronger and I am taller, I will be the tallest player on the team next year so it will help me for next year too."

The 6-foot-1 Collier was the first player from the Class of 2015 to commit to UConn. It happened during an official visit to campus last month.

"When I started touring the facilities and meeting with academic advisors, hearing Coach (Geno Auriemma's) concepts for each player I just knew it was the place for me," Collier said.

"It is like a weight off my shoulder when I was able to commit. I don't have to worry about that stuff, I can focus on improving myself."

De'Janae Boykin and Katie Lou Samuelson were also on the same official visit. Boykin's commitment came next before Samuelson, the top-rated player by the All-Star Girls Report and ESPN HoopGurlz, followed suit giving UConn three pieces in what could become one of the best recruiting classes ever signed by UConn.

"That is awesome," Collier said. "I was so happy when they committed because I loved them when we met and I am looking forward to playing with them.

"Katie Lou, I played against her in 3 on 3 (national tournament in 2013) and I heard of Katie Lou and De'Janae before but I have never met them. We were together the whole time, we watched movies the whole team and we were together the whole time so you kind of have to get to know the people you are with.

"I am so excited, it is going to be an awesome four years. I think we all bring something unique to the team so I think we are going to be playing really well together."

Since the official visit didn't come during the season Collier wasn't able to see the team practice but that did not deter her from knowing UConn's style of play would be perfect for her.

"UConn is really well known anyways so I watched them on TV," Collier said. "It would have been awesome to go to a game but I think I have a feel of how they play, what their style is."

Collier's work will not be done when the U-18 trials wrap up tomorrow as she is on a star-studded team including Boykin, Samuelson and UConn recruiting target Arike Ogunbowale (easily one of my favorite players to watch at the U-17 trials) on a team playing in the U.S. U-18 3x3 national tournament here in Colorado Springs. It should give the three future UConn teammates even more of a chance to get to know each other.

"We met this year but we are not going to be there for a full year so I think keeping in contact is going to be really important so we can go in knowing each other," Collier said. "Katie is literally across the country and I am really far so it will be nice to know somebody when you get there. it is an extra bonus that we get to know each other earlier because we are going to be playing with each other, I am really excited."

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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Two Connecticut players still in contention for U-17 team

There were two cuts today as USA Basketball continues the process of cutting down the roster from its original number of 144.

While many of the names including UConn commits De'Janae Boykin and Katie Lou Samuelson as well as recruiting targets Erin Boley, Lauren Cox, Asia Durr, Sabrina Ionescu and Arike Ogunbowale making the cut were hardly surprising, it was a nice feather in the cap of Connecticut girls' basketball that two of the final 70 are Nutmeg State products.

Capital Prep Kiah Gillespie and Avon's Abby Laszewski survived both cuts and are in contention for the team. The next round of cuts will be posted before the first session on Sunday morning.

Look for more about the experience of competing against the nation's top players for Gillespie, Laszewski and Capital Prep's Desiree Elmore, who was cut earlier today, in Monday's New Haven Register.

AAU coach: Brianna Banks "in a good position"

Kim Davis-Powell of the powerhouse Essence AAU program is in Colorado Springs to watch four of her current players vie for spots on the U.S. junior national teams. But she is also providing advice and support to one of her former players.

Davis-Powell admitted that she was more than a little shocked when the mother of Brianna Banks told her that the rising senior was planning to transfer from UConn but since it was announced that Banks was leaving the program, Davis-Powell's phone has been blowing up and her email account has received plenty of incoming mail from coaches eager to have Banks play her senior season for them.

"Some schools who have shocked me have come out of the woodwork for a one-year player so I am excited for her and the possibilities," Davis-Powell said.

After a disappointing freshman season when Banks was nervous about her place on the team and played like it, she moved forward and was playing a key role during her sophomore season before she suffered a season-ending knee injury.

She had an up and down junior season. She played well early in the season when Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis was out of the lineup but during the NCAA tournament barely played at all. There was a telling moment late in the first half of the game against Brigham Young when seniors Bria Hartley and Stefanie Dolson both had two fouls. Rather than give Banks, UConn's most experienced reserve guard, a chance to play out those final couple of minutes he kept either Dolson or Hartley on the court opening up the possibility that one of them could have picked up a third foul.

"It was a matter of after the injury she just didn't feel comfortable with herself as a player," Davis-Powell said. "She loves the program, loves Coach (Geno Auriemma), has learned a lot from Coach but she didn't feel comfortable with herself and just felt like she needed another environment to try to get comfortable."

So where is that going to be?

"Not really sure," Davis-Powell said. "I know a lot of people are saying she wants to get close to home, she may not end up close to home. Her mom has talked to her about 'what are you looking for, what are your goals and try to get somewhere where you can get what you are looking for and it may not be close to home. Schools from pretty much everywhere have called so I told her and her mom 'you are in a good position, keep working on your game and make a good decision.'"

Banks has proven that she is talented enough to play for any team in the country but it is the mental part of the game that was the issue at UConn at times.

"I think her confidence didn't come back because her sophomore year she did really well, I was so excited for her," Davis-Powell said. "Part of her wanted it to bounce right back and when it didn't, she is so hard on herself she went into a hole and couldn't climb out.

"I think a year off would help her with the mental part. She is a cerebral kid even though she is stone faced, she is taking it all in and hopefully she can get past all of those injuries and get back to where she wants to be."

Davis-Powell said a decision of the school Banks will land at will come "pretty soon, sooner rather than later."

Relationship with brother special for UConn commit

De'Janae Boykin was loving life while playing for Riverdale Baptist, one of the top girls' basketball program on the Eastern seaboard.

Yet, with one request from one of the people she is closest to was all it took for the UConn commit to transfer to Flowers High.

Boykin's younger brother Joshua was born legally blind and with Joshua feeling a certain sense of trepidation as he embarked on his first year of high school, he asked De'Janae if she could join him at Flowers High.

"My brother is legally blind and he went into his freshman year of high school, he was kind of scared going to high school and he asked me if I could go to school with him," Boykin said. "It was a school down the street and I said 'yes, I'll go to school with you.' It is great to know I am here for him, he is there and I can help him out whenever he needs something.

"We are very independent, we have always been cool and we always fight like brothers and sisters do all the time. It is special because I always see him and if something happens, I have his back the whole way."

No real surprises in first U-17 cuts

All the players who I came out to Colorado Springs to talk to for stories and blogs survived the first cuts at the U-17 trials with one exception.

UConn commits De'Janae Boykin and Katie Lou Samuelson lead the list of players vying for the 12 spots along with UConn recruiting targets Asia Durr, Lauren Cox, Arike Ogunbowale, Erin Boley and Sabrina Ionescu.

As for Connecticut kids, two of the three made the cut as Capital Prep's Kiah Gillespie and Avon's Abby Laszewski came back for the afternoon session but Capital Prep's Desiree Elmore did not make the cut.

Impressions from U-17 second group

With so many players at the U-17 trials, they have been split into two groups and practiced separately today.

Having already given my thoughts about the first group, now it is time for the second unit.

UConn commit Katie Lou Samuelson looked very much like the highly-touted prospect she is, raining down 3-pointers, grabbing rebounds and handing out some nice assists. There was a stretch when Samuelson was being guarded by fellow UConn commit and close friend De'Janae Boykin. 

As for some of the other players, Capital Prep star Kiah Gillespie was out at the front of the break on a couple of occasions and continues to play well here. I thought Colorado Springs' own Kylee Shook was extremely impressive and even though there's no Connecticut angle with her, I did chat with her for a few minutes since she lives only about 10 minutes away.

If I had to pick one player who impressed me the most, it would be Joyner Holmes, a 6-foot-3 Class of 2016 prospect out of Cedar Hill, Texas. She was a terror on the rebounding end and as aggressive offensively as any front court player I have seen.

The U-18s had their first practice and it was basically a series of 3 on 3 competitions. Right off the bat former UConn recruiting target and Duke signee Sierra Calhoun was all over the place. North Carolina commit Steph Watt had a stretch when she hit the deck and got up only to prompty drain a 3-pointer.

Former UConn target Brianna Turner was very active driving the ball to the basket as well as inside defensively.

As for UConn commit Napheesa Collier, she is a high energy player who played mostly on the perimeter. She looked good hitting a couple of perimeter jumpers and aggressively chases down every loose ball. 

Impressions from Saturday's first U-17 practice

The first cut in the U-17 national team trials are expected to be announced around 12:30 p.m. (2:30 in Connecticut). There's no exact total of players being sent home but hearing it could be less than half as more cuts will be coming.

I was scrambling around yesterday trying to do as many interviews as I could since I didn't know how long some of these players were going to be around so I didn't get to see as much basketball as I would liked.

This morning I was able to check out more of the 5 on 5 stuff. There was a pretty good pairing with UConn recruiting targets Erin Boley and Arike Ogunbowale teaming up with 6-foot-9 Nancy Mulkey (who was also drawn some attention from UConn), Lauren Ross and Burke Kennedy. It was a pretty dynamic unit. Boley showed off her ability to hit from the perimeter while Ogunbowale continues to aggressively drive into the lane to either set up her teammates or create her own shot.

The two Connecticut players in session 1 (Avon's Abby Laszewski and Capital Prep's Desiree Elmore) more than held their own. Laszewski fought in the low blocks while Elmore, despite a sore ankle requiring treatment, was able to get to the rim seemingly whenever she wanted.

I really liked what I saw from San Antonio's Amber Ramirez, Stephanie Jones out of Havre de Grace, Maryland had some athletic finishes in transition. Natalie Chou from Plano, Texas and Alex Romano from Albuquerque, New Mexico were other players who caught my eye enough to make some notations.

UConn commit more than just a shooter

The first vision of I had of UConn commit Katie Lou Samuelson during the U-17 practices yesterday did not include her draining a 3-pointer with ridiculous ease but going inside and fighting off a pair of opposing players for a rugged rebound in practice.

Every scouting report of the 6-foot-3 Samuelson begins with a description of her seemingly unlimited range but Samuelson wants to be so much more than just a brilliant shooter.

"I definitely don't want to be labeled as just a shooter," Samuelson said. "I hoping in college I won't be just a shooter, I will be able to expand my game a little more but it all depends what role Coach Auriemma wants me to play and I am willing to to do whatever he needs me to do."

As for the shot, Samuelson's form is pretty much perfect and the release is about as quick as they come. It all looks so natural but there was quite a bit of hard work that went into developing her shot.

Russ Davis, her AAU coach, said that Samuelson used to beg her father to take her out to a court to get more shots in well before she became a high school prodigy or USA Basketball regular.

"Always being the youngest I had to do more to be as good as my sisters," Samuelson said. "It was always 'oh, they are always going to be better than me. Dad, let's go do something so they can't be better than me.' Playing against them made me better and that is how I have always been very competitive."

"I think it is mostly because my dad shot with all of us," Samuelson said. "He made sure our shot was in place before we did anything because he always said there is no point of practicing a shot 100 times if you are practicing it the wrong way, it is like beating a dead horse so he probably gets the most credit for my shot."

Ogunbowale to narrow list sooner rather than later

Arike Ogunbowale will be staying in Colorado Springs for several extra days as she will team up with UConn commits De'Janae Boykin, Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson on a star-studded team playing in the U.S. U-18 3x3 national tournament.

The effervescent Ogunbowale watched with delight as her friends pledged to be a part of the nine-time national champion UConn program.

"We're all friends so they are not going to talk colleges, they are not going to pressure me," Ogunbowale said. "We talk about it sometimes, joke about it they are all cool I guess we will see. I am so glad they found where they fit most. I was talking to Katie and she said it just felt right. I am glad with them being friends with me that they found where they want to be for four years and I hope they will enjoy it.

"I think they were be really good. Those are great additions to Geno's squad. You never know what is going to happen but I think they will be really good."

Ogunbowale currently has 11 schools on the list of schools she is considering and UConn is very much in the mix. The 5-foot-9 guard from Milwaukee said she will be announcing her five finalists sooner rather than later.

"I think 'maybe I should hurry up,'" Ogunbowale said with a laugh when reflecting on the three UConn commits. "I am still going to take my time but really soon after USA trials I am going to come out with a list of five and I will probably end up taking all of my visits and take my time because I have to be there for four years.

"It first has to be a great academic school because once basketball ends I want to have a good solid job to support myself but if I do go to the WNBA after that, I just want to have a good coach I can relate to."

Since I cover UConn, naturally I asked Ogunbowale for her thoughts about the UConn program.

"Geno s a great coach and he recruits a lot of great players," Ogunbowale said. "They are really good girls outside of basketball which is great, he gets people to the WNBA and he lets them grow as a woman. He is a great all around coach and super intense which I like a lot."

Speaking of intense competitors, Ogunbowale reminds me a little of Linnae Harper, who drew some interest from UConn although the Huskies were never really in the mix for her before she committed to Kentucky with the way she attacks the basket and can pull down rebounds in traffic over taller players. That aggressiveness actually began on the soccer field. As difficult as it was for her, Ogunbowale decided her future was as a basketball so she stopped playing soccer,

"It was so hard," Ogunbowale said. "Before when I was younger I used to pick soccer tournaments over basketball which is crazy now that I think of it but I just love soccer so much I just love it so much but this is my sport now. I still play for fun."

Friday, May 23, 2014

UConn recruiting target another Georgia peach

Most of Asia Durr's basketball memories involve the molding of her own game - with one significant exception.

Before Maya Moore went onto become UConn's all-time leading scorer, she was a dynamic national high school player of the year at Collins Hill High in Suwanee, Georgia. Among those who saw Moore lighting it up was a wide-eyed Durr.

"Maya Moore, I went to see her play I think when she was a senior against Kelley Cain's team and she went off," Durr said after the second of three sessions at the U-17 trials on Friday. "She is such a great player and a great person. I would say her working on both sides of the floor, offensive, defense, she is hustling out there for every loose ball, knocking down shots, passing her teammates the ball. She is a great person, she is not arrogant or cocky."

Those words could be used to describe Durr as well.

"I just try to compete against the best, go out and play my game and do what I have been taught and most importantly just have some fun," Durr said.

While UConn commit Katie Lou Samuelson is the No. 1 ranked player in the Class of 2015 by ESPN HoopGurlz and All-Star Girls Report, there are those who think Durr could be the best player in the class.

However, don't look for a commitment from Durr any day soon. She is currently considering 13 schools and UConn is very much in the mix.

"I am not there yet, the process is taking a while but it is such a hard choice because you have so many great programs out there and it is so hard," Durr said about the recruiting process. "I will probably wait until the fall to do all of that."

Durr had a chance to take her official visit to UConn at the same time as De'Janae Boykin, Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson did but she had an AAU tournament to play.

"I know, I should have gone but my schedule is so hard but I think I am going to schedule it (a visit to UConn) soon," Durr said.

Durr began her athletic endeavors running track and playing basketball. She was told she first dribbled a basketball in the family driveway when she was 3.

"My mom always tells me I was in the driveway just bouncing the ball, behind my back, crossover moves," Durr said. "I used to go against my older brother all the time, I have bruises on my arm, I was bleeding, he made me tough."

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Natalie Butler's transfer to UConn is official

The comings and goings continue for the defending national champions.

 A day after UConn announced that rising senior guard Brianna Banks would be transferring it was announced that reigning Big East Freshman of the Year Natalie Butler is official.

Butler is a 6-foot-5 rising sophomore from Fairfax Station, Va. and daughter of former Navy men's basketball star Vernon Butler. She averaged 13.9 points, 13.3 rebounds (ranking fifth nationally and first among freshmen) and 1.8 blocked shots per game as a freshman at Georgetown. Butler had 24 double-doubles and had three 20 rebound games. She will have to sit out the 2014-15 season due to NCAA transfer rules and will have three seasons of eligibility remaining.

She is the first Division I transfer for UConn since Jessica McCormack came in from Washington but she never played in a regular-season game for the Huskies. Christine Rigby and Brittany Hunter are other players who have transferred to UConn from another Division I program.

"We don't do this," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "In 30 years I have been here, many three or four (Division I transfers) unless it is a game changer and she is a going to be a game changer for us no question about it.

"I asked her 'how many 6-5 kids did you play against this year?' She said 'none, I don't think.' I said 'we didn't play against many in our league. I looked in the ACC and there aren't many in that league. I checked in the Big Ten in that league and I said you 'you are kind of unique.' I think she has a chance to have a huge impact on our team."

Butler was one of the few bright spots in a difficult year at Georgetown. Keith Brown was suspended indefinitely for what the university termed unprofessional behavior and he resigned eight days later. Former WNBA head and assistant coach Jim Lewis came in and served as the interim head coach as the Hoyas finished with an 11-21 record. Georgetown hired former assistant coach Natasha Adair as the head coach. With all that uncertainty, Butler was among those who decided to move on. She reached out to UConn which was not involved in her recruiting coming out of high school but was interested when given a second chance.

"She was one of those kids and she said it herself, I didn't play much and then all of a sudden she was kind of a late bloomer," Auriemma said. "She averaged a double double coming out of high school and playing 30 something minutes and you are 6-5, have really good skills and all of a sudden you end up at UConn.

"I remember I called Doug Bruno and said 'Doug, this kid is interested in transferring, give me a rundown.' He said 'look she is not Stefanie Dolson.' I said 'well when Stefanie Dolson was her age, Stefanie Dolson wasn't Stefanie Dolson.' I think she can develop into somebody just like that, do a lot of those things that Stefanie did, she is a hard worker, her mom and dad are incredibly supportive of her, she wants to be great and I think that ultimately why she chose to play for us because she wants to be great, she almost got away with it.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Banks to transfer from UConn

UConn announced that rising senior guard Brianna Banks has decided to transfer.

“I decided to transfer because I feel like I need a fresh start somewhere closer to home,” Banks said.  “I really appreciate all that my teammates, coaches, and the university have done for me and I will miss everyone at UConn dearly.”

 Banks, a native of Newnan, Ga., saw time in 90 games during her three years at UConn. She averaged 4.4 points and 1.4 rebounds in 14.2 minutes per game as a junior but was used sparingly or not at all during the NCAA tournament.  She averaged 7.3 points and shot 34.6 percent from beyond the 3-point arc in the 2012-13 season but that sophomore campaign was cut short by a knee injury on February 2 and she was able to play in only 21 games.

"Brianna showed great heart during her time with us, whether it was on the floor or during the rehab process,” Auriemma said.  “I wish Brianna nothing but the best in the future.”

Latest UConn recruit "set to flourish"

Even while UConn was unsuccessfully recruiting her two older sisters, there was always plenty of hype surrounding Katie Lou Samuelson.

Before she played a game in high school she was being touted as the best of the sweet-shooting Samuelson sisters. With her commitment to UConn last night, the predictions of greatness have only increased.

Russ Davis, the highly-respected coach of the powerhouse Cal Swish program, has coached more than his share of Division I standouts and WNBA players and he said "she is the best player I have ever had, best all-around players. She has a chance to do some crazy stuff over there, I am looking forward to watching her grow."

Samuelson has an intriguing skill set as she is a 6-foot-3 wing with seemingly unlimited range on her jumper but she continues to work on expanding her game on both ends of the court.

"People always talk about her shooting because it is just ridiculous but she can get to the basket, she can rebound, she can block shots, she can post up," Davis said. "She has this summer, all next year and the following summer before she gets there. I told her last night, ‘the neat thing about this Lou is you haven’t even scratched the surface because your ceiling is so high.' He (UConn coach Geno Auriemma) does a great job with the player development stuff and you are only going to get better and better playing around with great players. With us she gets doubled and tripled team and that is not going to happen at UConn playing with so many great players so I think she is really going to flourish."

Samuelson was California's Gatorade State Player of the Year as a junior when she averaged 26.3 points per game and had 74 3-pointers at Mater Dei. She is following in the footsteps of another former Mater Dei phenom in committing to UConn early. Things have worked about pretty well for UConn rising senior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, a two-time team scoring champion, an All-American and key member on a pair of national championship teams.

"They are very different players," Mater Dei coach Kevin Kiernan said. "They are both very competitive people and I think they love the family atmosphere at UConn, that's important to them."

While it is not a shocker that Samuelson picked UConn but it was not necessarily expected to happen this early.

"She wanted to have respect for all five (finalists)," Kiernan said. "But UConn was her first (official) visit, she really loved it and she didn't want to waste their time."

Davis gives much of the credit to Auriemma, who is no stranger to the Samuelson family having recruited both Bonnie and Karlie.

"I thought for a long time it was a two-horse race between Notre Dame and Connecticut because she wanted to play for one of the best programs and right now those two are arguably the two best programs," Davis said. "She said last night she wanted to play for Coach (Auriemma). What people forget is that the Samuelsons have known them for seven or eight years now because they recruited all the Samuelsons so they really got the chance to know the family, know the kids and that relationship was built for a long time similar to Stanford for having those kids for so long so I think that relationship really helped them at the end.

"She can really play four positions if she needed to, she can even play the point guard for me. Coach does a really good job with those versatile players, he doesn’t even put (position) numbers on them, he looks at them as basketball players. I talked to Geno yesterday and he was really excited, he was really pumped. It was really cool to hear how excited he was."

Samuelson and Mater Dei played at the HoopHall Classic in January but Kiernan said there are no games scheduled around these parts during Samuelson's senior season.

The last Cal Swish player to come to UConn was Lauren Engeln, who played sparingly in two seasons before transferring to Boston College. After sitting out a season due to NCAA transfer regulations, Engeln started all 31 games and averaged 7.4 points per game for the Eagles.

"Lauren just wants to play," Davis said. "Lauren is a gym rat. It was tough for her (getting playing time at UConn) but she knew that going in. She got so much better when she was there and the good thing is she has all those great friends and there was never a bad word spoken between them. At the end of day, Lauren knew it was going to be hard for her to get minutes there and that kid just wants to play basketball so she wanted to go somewhere where she had the opportunity to get on the court more in games versus just in practice but those two years at UConn really helped her become a lot better basketball player, helped her with her work ethic so she was really appreciative of the two years she spent there."


Monday, May 19, 2014

Samuelson commits to UConn

The hits keep coming for UConn coach Geno Auriemma and his staff.

Already securing commitments from a pair of forwards ranked among the top recruits in the Class of 2015, UConn received a pledge from 6-3 wing Katie Lou Samuelson who is the No. 1 rated player in her class by ESPN HoopGurlz and the All-Star Girls Report.

Samuelson, perhaps the best shooter in her class, made 74 3-pointers as a junior at California powerhouse Mater Dei  High en route to averaging 26.3 points per game.

She joins De'Janae Boykin and Napheesa Collier as the high-profile commitments in the Class of 2015 and Big East Freshman of Year Natalie Butler, who is transferring in from Georgetown, will also be eligible when Samuelson is a freshman at UConn.

Both of her sisters were recruited by UConn before opting to commit to Stanford. At the Final Four they vowed to let Katie Lou make her own decision.

"She is her own kid," Karlie Samuelson said. "We talked to her. She makes her own decisions but it is exciting for her."

Here's what Bonnie, the oldest of the Samuelson sisters, had to say.

"I want her to be happy wherever she goes and whatever is the best fit for her. We have talked to her and she knows this is her decision and she is going to do what she wants to do.

"I think she is doing well, she is very mature for her age, She is the youngest so she was in the gym with us when we were 7 and she was 3 so she is fine, she knows what she is doing and she is enjoying it, I think. She got to see us play against Penn State, she got to hang out with us."

All three UConn commits will be in Colorado Springs later this week for U.S. junior national team trials. Samuelson and Boykin will try out for the U-17 team while Collier will take part in the U-18 trials. The trio will team with fellow UConn recruiting target Arike Ogunbowale on a team competing in the U.S. U18 3x3 national championships which will require them staying several extra days in Colorado.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Connecticut Sun finalize TV schedule

The Connecticut Sun released the schedule of 10 games appearing on My TV9 this season beginning with the May 29 game against Indiana. That brings the number of games being televised to 23 which Sun general manager Chris Sienko said is the most comprehensive in franchise history. Here's a list of the televised games

May 18 at Minnesota Lynx, 5 p.m.  CPTV Sports
May 21 at Chicago Sky, 12;30 p.m CPTV Sports
May 29 at Indiana, 7 p.m. My TV9
May 30 at Chicago Sky, 8:30 p.m. CPTV Sports
June 1 vs. Atlanta, 3 p.m. My TV9
June 7 vs. Indiana, 7 p.m. My TV9
June 12 vs. Phoenix, 7 p.m. My TV9
June 13 at New York Liberty, 7:30 p.m. CPTV Sports
June 27 at Washington, 7 p.m. My TV9
June 29 at New York, 3 p.m. My TV9
July 1 vs. San Antonio, 7 p.m. My TV9
July 5 at Tulsa Shock, 8 p.m. CPTV Sports
July 8 at Altanta Dream, 7 p.m. ESPN2
July 10 at Indiana Fever, noon CPTV Sports
July 13 vs. Los Angeles, 1 p.m. My TV9
July 15 at Seattle Storm, 3 p.m. CPTV Sports
July 17 at Phoenix Mercury, 10 p.m. CPTV Sports
July 27 vs. Minnesota, 3 p.m. My TV9
July 29 at Atlanta Dream, noon CPTV Sports
August 1 at San Antonio Stars, 8 p.m. CPTV Sports
August 3 at Los Angeles Sparks, 3:30 p.m. CPTV Sports
August 8 at New York Liberty, 7:30 p.m. CPTV Sports
August 15 vs. Washington, 7 p.m. My TV9

Sister expects big things from Chiney Ogwumike

Chiney Ogwumike, the No. 1 overall pick in April's WNBA Draft, will make her regular-season pro debut tonight for the Connecticut Sun.

Nobody knows Ogwumike better than her sister Nneka, herself a former No. 1 overall pick, so I spent a few minutes on the phone with the Los Angeles Sparks' third-year forward after Thursday's practice.

So what part of Chiney's game will translate the quickest to the pro game?

"I think her ability to finish for sure," Nneka Ogwumike said. "She is a really great finisher around the basket and she will definitely transition seamlessly in that regard."

I asked her how Chiney's positive demeanor will aid in the transition from college star to pro rookie.

"I talk to Chiney every day and there hasn't been a hint of discouragement or negativity from her or from the organization from what I understand based on her perspective," Nneka said. "Her positive attitude will help her team and it will help her off the court as well."

Chiney recalled her introduction to basketball when she was 10 and she was anything but an instant sensation.

"We were at one AAU practice and it was hard because we had never done it before and we weren't dressed for it or anything," Chiney said. "I went to the bathroom and hid, I didn't play that whole year but as Nneka played I learned and she taught me when she came home and make sure we were ready to go. She just showed me what she learned in practice, two-ball dribbling, how to shoot and how to rebound. Going to her games was really fun, I'd be her biggest cheerleader. When Nneka was practicing, I am here dribbling the ball on the side and doing what she is doing."

Here are Nneka's thoughts on those early days.

"It wasn't that easy but I think she had more of a head start even though I started earlier," Nneka said. "I was the most raw out of all of us when we began playing so she had the opportunity to watch for a year. I had the opportunity to work with her when we were at home (playing) outside on the pavement with the basket. I think having those games allowed her to experience the game first before diving in

"When we started playing together for sure. You can watch your sister play and say 'oh, she is good' but once I was playing with her I had no doubt she would progress exponentially and have a lot of success."

The sisters will find themselves likely guarding each other when Los Angeles and Connecticut play on July 13 at Mohegan Sun Arena and on August 3 in Los Angeles so what will that be like for them?

"I think we are just going to forget everything and just play," Nneka said.."Chiney and I, as complicated as it may seem when we are facing each other on the court, at the end of the day we are just going to release everything and let it all out on the court and be competitive like we truly are."

Thursday, May 15, 2014

UConn setting the pace in WNBA once again

It's been one of the wildest offseasons in WNBA history with prominent changing teams at a dizzying pace.

However, when the dust cleared and the 12 WNBA teams set their regular-season rosters, there was one constant as UConn once again leads all with 11 players on WNBA rosters.

Washington leads the way as Kalana Greene is joined by rookies Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley while Connecticut (Kelly Faris and Renee Montgomery) and Atlanta (Swin Cash and Tiffany Hayes) also have multiple former Huskies on the roster.

Tennessee is second with eight players followed by Duke with seven players while Maryland and Stanford have six players each on rosters.

Busy summer for incoming UConn freshman

Yesterday Geno Auriemma mentioned that incoming freshman Kia Nurse won't be spending much time on campus this summer due to her duties with the Canadian national team.

Right on cue Canada released details of its summer schedule for the senior national team.

Training camp opens on June 9 in Edmonton and there will be a three-game series against Brazil from June 26-28. Another training camp is set to start on Aug. 4 with the third and final training camp scheduled for Sept. 7-12 before the team leaves to compete in the FIBA World Championship for Women


ESPN announces its WNBA regular-season schedule

ESPN announced that it will be televising 19 WNBA regular-season games as well as the July 19 All-Star Game in Phoenix.

The only game featuring the Connecticut Sun on ESPN's schedule is a July 8 game at Atlanta. By my math, 14 of the 19 regular-season games on the schedule will include at least one former UConn player.

Sat, May 17 8 p.m. Chicago Sky at New York Liberty ESPN2
Mon, May 26 3:30 p.m. Minnesota Lynx at Chicago Sky ESPN2
Tue, June 3 7 p.m. Los Angeles Sparks at Atlanta Dream ESPN2
Sun, June 15 1 p.m. Phoenix Mercury at Minnesota Lynx ESPN2
Sun, June 22 1 p.m. Tulsa Shock at Chicago Sky ESPN2
Tue, July 1 8 p.m. Indiana Fever at Atlanta Dream ESPN2
Tue. July 1 10 p.m. Chicago Sky at Los Angeles Sparks ESPN2
Sun, July 6 2 p.m. Minnesota Lynx at New York Liberty ESPN2
Sun. July 6 4 p.m. Phoenix Mercury at Los Angeles Sparks ESPN2
Tue, July 8 7 p.m. Connecticut Sun at Atlanta Dream ESPN2
Tue. July 8 9 p.m. Los Angeles Sparks at Minnesota Lynx ESPN2
Sun, July 13 3 p.m. Seattle Storm at Minnesota Lynx ESPN2
Tue, July 15 8 p.m. Los Angeles Sparks at Indiana Fever ESPN2
Tue. July 15 10 p.m. Washington Mystics at Phoenix Mercury ESPN2
Sat, July 19 3:30 p.m. WNBA All-Star game (Phoenix) ESPN
Tue, July 22 8 p.m. Indiana Fever at Chicago Sky ESPN2
Tue. July 22 10 p.m. Phoenix Mercury at Seattle Storm ESPN2
Tue, July 29 8 p.m. Chicago Sky at San Antonio Silver Stars ESPN2
Tue. July 29 10 p.m. Los Angeles Sparks at Phoenix Mercury ESPN2
Thu, Aug 7 8 p.m. Chicago Sky at Minnesota Lynx ESPN2

Also, Connecticut Sun rookie Chiney Ogwumike and former UConn stars Sue Bird, Tina Charles and Diana Taurasi will be among nine players writing blogs for ESPN during the season.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

CPTV Sports to air 12 Connecticut Sun games

CPTV Sports announced the Connecticut Sun games it will be televising during the 2014 season beginning with Sunday's game at defending champion Minnesota.

Sunday, May 18 at 5 p.m. – Connecticut Sun at Minnesota Lynx    
Wednesday, May 21 at 12:30 p.m. – Connecticut Sun at Chicago Sky
Friday, May 30 at 8:30 p.m. – Connecticut Sun at Chicago Sky
Friday, June 13 at 7:30 p.m. – Connecticut Sun at New York Liberty
Saturday, July 5 at 8 p.m. – Connecticut Sun at Tulsa Shock
Thursday, July 10 at 12 p.m. – Connecticut Sun at Indiana Fever
Tuesday, July 15 at 3 p.m. – Connecticut Sun at Seattle Storm
Thursday, July 17 at 10 p.m. – Connecticut Sun at Phoenix Mercury
Tuesday, July 29 at 12 p.m. – Connecticut Sun at Atlanta Dream
Friday, August 1 at 8 p.m. – Connecticut Sun at San Antonio Stars
Sunday, August 3 at 3:30 p.m. – Connecticut Sun at Los Angeles Sparks
Friday, August 8 at 7:30 p.m. – Connecticut Sun at New York Liberty

CPTV Sports is available on Comcast cable channel 966 (with Comcast Danbury, Bethel and Ridgefield on channel 256); Cox Communications cable channel 805; Cablevision channel 139; Charter channel 223; Thames Valley channel 87 and MetroCast Channel 418. The channel is also available digitally over the air at channels 24.3 (Hartford), 49.3 (Bridgeport), 53.3 (Norwich) and 65.3 (New Haven). CPTV Sports will be available on AT&T U-Verse fall 2014.

UConn's Auriemma likes makeup of national team staff

As far as women's senior national team head coach Geno Auriemma, it would be hard to top the staff he was given to work with for the upcoming world championships.

As expected, DePaul's Doug Bruno is back after serving as Auriemma's right-hand man during the last Olympic cycle. Former Olympic gold medalist Dawn Staley, who has been touted as a potential national team head coach for years, was named to the staff along with Cheryl Reeve, who has coached the Minnesota Lynx to a pair of WNBA titles.

"We have just enough of all the things you would like to have, you have some experience, you have some new people," Auriemma said on Wednesday at the New York Athletic Club where he was to receive the prestigious Winged Foot Award. "Dawn played for, I don't know how long in the Olympics, Doug was (coaching) in the World Championships and Olympics, Cheyl has been in the (WNBA) finals in the last three years so we have a little it of everything, Chris (Dailey) is going to come over with us to do all the scouting and organize that stuff.

"It is an exciting time. Now that I know what the expectation level is, it makes it a little bit easier to plan for it. First time through all of this stuff I am not sure what is going to happen."

Assistant coaches Marisa Moseley and Shea Ralph offered assistance to the national team during preparations for the 2012 Olympics but they will stay behind in Connecticut to take care of the day to day operations of the UConn program while Auriemma and Dailey are away. But a familiar face could be helping out.

"We are going to try to get Jennifer (Rizzotti) to do it," Auriemma said. "That is one great ting about USA Basketball, it you get involved with it early, every thinks I want to work with USA Basketball but I want to be an assistant to the Olympics, I want that to be my first job or I want to be the coach of the 18 and under (team) in the World Championships but you start out doing the little stuff like Jennifer, that is what they did so USA Basketball is really good at rewarding those people.

"We kind of have an interesting scenario with the coaches and the players. We want the players who have won so we can bring an experienced team over there but we want the players who lay the groundwork for the next Olympics and the same  thing with the coaches, we want experienced coaches who have done that but we want younger coaches who down the road can take over."

Auriemma is excited to see UConn incoming freshman Kia Nurse playing for the Canadian national team at the World Championships. Auriemma said he's been hearing about the possibility of an exhibition game between the U.S. and Canada in September although he does not know the date or site.

Nurse's national team responsibilities will limit the amount of time she will be able to spend on the UConn campus this summer.

"Kia is only going to come up for a couple of days to get some paperwork done because she is going to spend the whole summer with the Canadian national team and I think we are scrimmaging them somewhere," Auriemma said. "I think we have a scrimmage lined up between their national team and our national team at some point in September, I am not sure exactly when an then I will get to see her in Istanbul the whole time we are there so I am excited for it and I know she is excited. I know it is a hell of a thing for a 17 year old to be on her national team, it doesn't happen very often.

Auriemma is anxious for Nurse and fellow incoming freshmen Sadie Edwards, Courtney Ekmark and Gabby Williams to arrive on campus for summer session.

"A couple coming in the May session, it is going to be a short one, the rest off them will be there in June, a five-week session, one week in July and all the high school kids will be coming up as soon as their high school graduations are over," Auriemma said.. "All four of them are set."

For those wondering about Auriemma's reaction to former Georgetown star Natalie Butler transferring in, NCAA rules prohibit him commenting until she signs financial aid paperwork.

Speaking of the NCAA, the Academic Progress Report numbers were released today and UConn posted a perfect 1000 score during the 2012-13 season and had a multi-year APR score of 989.