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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Perfect ending for UConn commit Napheesa Collier

Unlike her fellow UConn incoming freshmen, Napheesa Collier was able to experience the utter joy of walking off the court for the final time as a state champion.

However, the journey to a third straight Missouri 4A title wasn't an easy one.

Incarnate Word Academy lost a total of one game during her sophomore and junior seasons. That loss was courtesy of Blackman High out of Murfreesboro, Tenn. featuring UConn Class of 2016 commit Crystal Dangerfield.

Fast forward to the start of Collier's senior season and things got off to a rocky start. Incarnate Word lost the No. 2, 3 and 4 scorers of a 31-1 team.

The season began with a 56-55 loss to Fayetteville (Ark.) in a tournament played in Ft. Smith, Ark. Two days later came a humbling 20-point loss to North Little Rock.

Collier, the team's only senior, knew that things had to change. She raised the level of her own play while contributing to the increased production of a young supporting case as IWA finished the season with 28 wins in a row.

The last team standing between Collier's Incarnate Word squad and a 3-peat was Mary Institute and Saint Louis Country Day School, a team that only lost by eight points in the regular-season meeting between the schools.

Collier would end up outscoring MICDS by herself in the 60-27 victory.

"We had our best practice of the year (before the state final) and we just brought it so hard," Collier said. "It feels great.

"Coming out and losing my 20, it really refocused us so show that we had to work hard, it definitely helped us."

These days Collier's focus is more on the future and not her glorious past.

She will be playing in the inaugural girls' game at the Jordan Brand Classic on Friday at 3:30 at Barclays Center.

"It is the first game so we are the founding girls here so it is going to be awesome," Collier said.

Collier will play for the East squad and will go up against a West team featuring both Boykin and Samuelson. The trio teamed up this summer to lead the U.S. to the gold medal in the 3x3 competition at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games. They could be teammates again this summer on the U.S. team playing in the FIBA U19 World Championships. In early June they will all be on the UConn campus taking summer classes and getting introduced to life as a UConn women's basketball player.

"We are going to bring a lot of energy," Collier said. "Coming in as freshmen we are going to have to prove ourselves, D (Boykin) is an inside force and (Samuelson) can shoot the ball really well.

"You have to be able to handle pressure really well, it is a winning program, tough coach, tough players so I think you are going to have to handle pressure."

If Collier needs any advice on how to deal with the pressure, she can look to fellow Jefferson City, Missouri native Maya Moore who happened to be in attendance at the festivities leading up to Friday's game.

"It was awesome to see her again and catch up," Collier said.

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