Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Nneka Ogwumike dishes on UConn's Auriemma, Olympic aspirations

I caught up with Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike before Thursday's preseason game against the Connecticut Sun for a story on Ogwumike and her sister Chiney. Towards the end of the interview I was able to get Nneka's take on playing for UConn Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma and the U.S. national team.

"He is very honest and very direct and I appreciate that," said Ogwumike, who averaged 7.5 points and 4.8 rebounds to help the U.S. win the 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women. "A lot of times you might be with coaches who might not want to connect on a personal level but he is personable but also relates to your concerns as a player and that is one thing I really appreciate.

"I was able to play with people I usually play against. It helps me realize that I keep getting invited to these camps and there is a reason I am here. Geno put in perfectly when we were in Maryland last year that 'there is always a reason why you are here but there may not be a reason why we cut you.' It is one thing I have made very important in the process and I hope that there are very small things that I can do to help that team get another (Olympic) gold medal."

So what would it mean to Ogwumike if she were able to win an Olympic gold medal next year?

"That is at the top of my list in my career, I can't even think of anything else I would rather do aside from winning a WNBA championship. I would probably retire right there, just kidding."

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Final game in Spain a tough one for Nurse, Canada

UConn rising sophomore Kia Nurse had a tough shooting game when Canada wrapped up its schedule of three games in three days in Logrono, Spain with a 68-57 loss to the host country.

Nurse was 1 of 11 from the field and finished with three points, five rebounds and five assists. Kim Gaucher and Miranda Ayim led Canada with 13 points while Astou Ndou had 17 points and nine rebounds to lead Spain.

Friday, May 29, 2015

UConn's Nurse steals show for Canada

UConn rising sophomore guard Kia Nurse only attempted one official shot as Canada faced Great Britain in an international friendly in Spain but she drew nine fouls and was 14 of 15 from the foul line as she had a game-high 16 points in Canada's 73-45 victory.

Nurse also had two rebounds, two assists and one steal as Canada improved to 2-0 in its six-game European tour. Canada will wrap up its three-game swing in Spain with a game against the host country before moving to France for three additional games.

UConn incoming freshmen Collier, Samuelson named Parade All-Americans

UConn incoming freshmen Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson were among 30 high school seniors named to the Parade Magazine girls' high school All-American team.

Capital Prep star and Maryland signee Kiah Gillespie, a Meriden resident, was also named to the team. Louisville commit and former UConn recruiting target Asia Durr was named the player of the year.

Collier, a 6-foot-1 forward, averaged 26.7 points, 13 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 4.1 steals and 4.1 blocked shots to lead Incarnate Word Academy to 28 straight wins en route to winning its third straight Missouri Class 4 title.

Samuelson, a 6-foot-3 wing, averaged 29.2 points per game and had 117 3-pointers as a senior as she won practically every national player of the year award.

Gillespie, a 6-foot-1 forward, averaged 31.2 points, 16.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.7 steals and 2.5 blocked shots to lead Capital Prep to the CIAC Class L title.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Nurse, Canada beat Poland

Canada began its stretch of playing six international friendlies in nine days in Europe and it started with today's 53-49 win over Poland.

UConn rising sophomore Kia Nurse had five points and one assist in 19 minutes in the victory. The game was the first of three played in Logrono, Spain as Canada will play Germany tomorrow and Spain on Saturday before heading to France for games against Poland on June 3, Italy on June 4 and France on June 5.

Miranda Ayim led Canada with 11 points.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

UConn grad Kiah Stokes hitting the mark

Bill Laimbeer doesn't usually struggle to get his message across so when he met with Kiah Stokes for the first time during the New York Liberty's training camp, he made it clear that the days of Stokes deferring to her teammates were about to come to an end.

Stokes displayed the ability to rebound and block shots and was a willing screener in her four years at UConn. What she didn't do much of was look for her own offense. Knowing that playing 4 on 5 at the WNBA level simply doesn't work, Laimbeer made it clear to Stokes that she needed to look for her own shot.

"We are forcing the situation on her because she is one of our better shooters so we want her to be aggressive offensively especially in the preseason," Laimbeer said. "She has to learn that she can do it and we are counting on her to do it. Every time she doesn't shoot, we remind her 'hey, that is a good shot for you.' She has to learn to expect the ball and be ready to shoot. She understands what we are asking of her. She is a very smart player, you don't have to tell her twice. Recognition of where she is going to be open and prepare herself to shoot, that is a work in progress."

Stokes attempted 14 shots in the Liberty's first preseason game which is more shots than she attempted in any game during her college career.

"Some of the shots weren't particularly good so I have to work on that but Coach Laimbeer told me he wants me to be more of a scorer," Stokes said before Wednesday's preseason game against Atlanta. "He said it to my face which is something I haven't necessarily heard that many times at UConn but it is something I have to get used to doing. He has a lot of confidence in me which is great.

"He said you have to get the mentality of trying to score more, you can't be just a screener and rebounder so it is going to take some time. Two weeks separated from UConn so it is going to be somewhat of a struggle at first but I think once I get the mindset, it is going to come."

Stokes has the advantage of being coached by Laimbeer and Herb Williams, a pair of former NBA post players who combined to average more than 10 points per game 19 times in 31 NBA seasons.

"They have a lot of faith in me, there will times I pass up a shot at practice and there will be times I have Herb and Coach Laimbeer say 'shoot the ball, look to shoot,'" Stokes said. "They are constantly reminding me to be more of a scorer. I didn't have to at UConn but now they are saying we want you to be one of the main scorers which is exciting and nerve wracking.

"I think he (Williams) was surprised because we had a shootaround in practice and I was working out with Herb and he said 'I didn't know you could shoot.' I think that kind of opened his eyes."

With 3-point range on her jump and a low-post game, why didn't score average more than 5 points per game in any of her four seasons at UConn?

"At UConn I didn't need to score, you had Stewie, Kaleena, Morgan, Moriah and everybody could shoot the ball really well so I didn't have to," Stokes said. "Of course Coach Auriemma would have loved me to be more offensive minded so I kind of got my role where I didn't have to, let's make sure I block shots and rebounds and that was kind of my mindset. He said 'no, now we want you to be that kind of player."

Here is the story on Stokes which ran in yesterday's paper


Monday, May 25, 2015

Team-first Espinoza-Hunter ready to go for gold

So what exactly does Geno Auriemma and his coaching staff look for on the recruiting trail?

Certainly first-rate shooters, ferocious rebounders and versatile athletes are at the top of the list but the process goes a little deeper than that. On an annual basis UConn has been known to shy away from certain top prospects because it is not the right fit. Maybe it is body language, a certain selfishness on the court or the sense that the priorities aren't in tune with what the Huskies are trying to accomplish on and off the court.

So what constitutes a UConn recruit? Well, I present Exhibit A courtesy of Class of 2017 UConn commit Andra Espinoza-Hunter.

When Carol Callan, USA Basketball's Women's National Team Director, read off the names of the players suiting up for the U.S. at the FIBA Americas U16 Championships, Espinoza-Hunter was thrilled when she heard her name called. However, when Blair Academy teammate Honesty Scott-Grayson was also named to the team nobody was happier than Espinoza-Hunter.

"It was amazing," Espinoza-Hunter said. "When she announced my name I was happy but when she announced Honesty's name, I almost starting tearing (up ) because Honesty has worked so hard. I know she wasn't as happy with how well she played when she was here but I knew if she just worked hard she could show the committee and everybody else here that she was a talented player."
Espinoza-Hunter is coming off an outstanding sophomore season at Blair Academy where the she led the Buccaneers to their fifth straight New Jersey Prep School Class A title and the Mid-Atlantic Prep League titles as she had 43 points in the two championship games despite being on a senior-laden team featuring three Division I recruits.

With the presence of Kentucky signee Batouly Camara, California incoming freshman Bre Cavanaugh as well as Cy Lippold and Lauren Vostal as headed to Dartmouth and Williams respectively, Espinoza-Hunter was able to wander along the perimeter draining 3-pointer after 3-pointer. The U-16 trials allowed Espinoza-Hunter to show other facets to her game.

"I believe I drove to the basket, I don't do that as often as I would like but I think I did that well, also my defense and my communication was strong just stepping up and helping my team," Espinoza-Hunter said.

She also tried to take on a leadership role which isn't always to easiest thing surrounded by some of the nation's most talented players.

"I would try to approach it as a leader especially for our age group, we are pretty young but I think there should be a leader on this team so I would try to step up," Espinoza-Hunter said.
She knows her role will expand as a junior with the loss of the four talented seniors. She will use her time with the U-16 team as well as her time with the Philadelphia Belles AAU program to help prepare her for the upcoming high school season.

"This summer I will continue to work,," Espinoza-Hunter said. "We lost some people and we do have some people coming up but I am one of the people who have been there the longest so I believe I need to continue to step up and get better as a player."

UConn commit Espinoza-Hunter makes U.S. U-16 team

Add Andra Espinoza-Hunter to the list of UConn commits who will be playing on U.S. national teams this summer.

Espinoza-Hunter, a 5-foot-11 rising junior from Ossining, N.Y., was one of 12 players named to the U.S. team playing for the U.S. in the FIBA Americas U16 Championships which is being held in Mexico from June 24-28.

Espinoza-Hunter led Blair Academy to the Mid-Atlantic Prep League and New Jersey Prep School Class A title as a sophomore as she had 43 points in the two championship games despite being on a senior-laden team featuring three Division I recruits.

Espinoza-Hunter, who also won a state title alongside UConn's Saniya Chong at Ossining High, is one of the few sophomores to commit to UConn.

Espinoza-Hunter survived four cuts as USA Basketball went from 149 players to the final 12-member roster. The team was announced by Carol Callan, USA Basketball's Women's National Team Director.

"It was amazing, my heart was pounding the whole time she was reading the list but as she said my name, all of that went away and I was so happy," Espinoza-Hunter said.

"I think the bond between the girls and myself is pretty strong, we have all broken out of our shells over the last couple of days and I am really going to enjoy playing with them."

She was joined on the team by her Blair Academy teammate Honesty Scott-Grayson. Other members of the team are Jayda Adams, Desiree Caldwell, Aquira DeCosta, Destiny Littleton, Lauryn Miller, Alexis Morris, Valencia Myers, Sedonia Prince, Bexley Wallace and Jade Williams. Adams and Miller are the only players who made the team after going through the application process as 10 of the 12 team members received direct invitations from USA Basketball.

UConn has six players currently committed over a span of three recruiting classes and four of them will be members of U.S. junior national teams this season as incoming freshmen Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson as well as Class of 2016 UConn pledge Crystal Dangerfield will play for the U.S. in the FIBA Women's U19 World Championship.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Special day for pair of former Huskies

It isn't often that the worlds of my two beats (UConn football and women's basketball) collide but today was such a day courtesy of Jimmy Bennett and Heather Buck getting married.

I saw some photos from my Facebook friends and while I wasn't at the ceremony, clearly it was a rather large UConn contingent at the festivities including bridesmaid Kelly Faris and groomsmen Tyler Bullock, Steve Greene and Bryan Paull.

I've covered my share of UConn athletes over the years and if I had to come up with a list of the most engaging and likeable players to deal both Heather and Jimmy would be very high on the list.

Faris gets a long look; Okafor makes pro debut

Former Hopkins star Lauren Okafor had four points and four rebounds
in eight second-half minutes in her first game with the Atlanta Dream
Yesterday's WNBA doubleheader in Louisville was billed as a homecoming for former Louisville stars Angel McCoughtry and Shoni Schimmel but it was also a chance for a pair of players with Connecticut tie to take a step towards making the opening night rosters for their respective teams.

Former UConn standout Kelly Faris, in a fight to make the Connecticut Sun, certainly got a chance to show what she could do as her 22 minutes matched Alex Bentley for the team-high total in a 76-68 win over Indiana. Faris finished with four points, four rebounds, one assist, two steals and a blocked shot. Faris received at least twice the amount of playing time of the other players vying for the final roster spot as Kayla Pedersen played 11 minutes, Didi Simmons and Inga Orekhova played seven minutes each and Alyssia Brewer did not get into the game. It can be risky reading too much into playing time in preseason games because in the exhibition games the Sun will be playing on Wednesday and Thursday could see a totally different allotment of minutes.

The second game featured a dominating win by Washington over the Atlanta Dream as former UConn stars Bria Hartley (14 points, four assists), Kalana Greene (10 points, five rebounds) and Stefanie Dolson (10 points, four rebounds) were the only Mystics scoring in double figures in the 79-55 victory. McCoughtry and Schimmel were a combined 4 for 25 in the game although Schimmel did assist on the first professional basket by former Hopkins star Lauren Okafor.

Okafor, a third-round pick in last month's WNBA Draft, had four points and four rebounds in eight minutes for the Dream. Okafor checked into the game with 5:06 left in the third quarter and within 21 seconds had grabbed a pair of rebounds.

The news wasn't as good for a couple of other state natives as Stamford's McKenna Frank and Ridgefield's Meaghan O'Hara were among the players cut as USA Basketball whittled down a roster of 149 players trying out for the U-16 team to 70. There should be more cuts today before the team playing in the FIBA Americas U16 Championship is announced tomorrow morning. UConn commit Andra Espinoza-Hunter is among the prospects still in Colorado Springs vying for a national team spot.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, May 23, 2015

UConn's Stokes records double-double in pro debut

Kiah Stokes played 146 games in her four-year career at UConn and had one game where she attempted at least 10 shots in a game. One game into her professional career and she has already matched that total.

Stokes attempted a game-high 14 shots, three more than she had in any game as a Husky, as she finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds in the New York Liberty's preseason loss to host Chicago. Stokes also had a steal and blocked shot while playing in a team-high 25 minutes in the 83-55 loss. Fellow former UConn forward Swin Cash had four points and one rebound while Tina Charles did not play/

Friday, May 22, 2015

U.S. U-16 coach dishes on UConn recruits

There might not be a high school coach who has had more of a first-hand look at the next wave of UConn players than Mt. Lebanon (Pa.) High School coach Dori Oldaker.

UConn Class of 2016 commit Kyla Irwin was a key member of the State College (Pa.) HS team that eliminated Oldaker's Mt. Lebanon team out of the 2014 PIAA Class AAAA tournament. The teams met again in December in the Altoona Tip-Off Tournament. With Oldaker named the head coach of the U.S. team playing in the FIBA Americas U16 Championships and the trials for the teams currently taking place, the folks at USA Basketball set up a phone interview with Oldaker for me this afternoon.

"A great kid, very talented," Oldaker said. "She can get up and down the floor and I think she will be a swing (forward at UConn). The thing I love about her is that she loves the game. What is nice about her is she can go inside/outside. She is going to be a hard matchup; at the high school level she is a very hard matchup."

Oldaker also coached the U.S. 3x3 team which won the gold medal at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games. That team featured UConn incoming freshmen Napheesa Collier, De'Janae Boykin and Katie Lou Samuelson as well as Notre Dame signee Arike Ogunbowale. That quartet went 13-0 with nine of the wins by at least 10 points.

"It was fun watching them in what they are doing at the high school level and it will be fun watching them on TV next year," Oldaker said. "They really compete, they are great kids, they have a great deal of respect and are true leaders, true teammates."

UConn Class of 2017 commit Andra Espinoza-Hunter is one of 158 players currently in Colorado Springs for the U-16 trials but Oldaker politely refrained from discussing any of the players currently competing for the 12 spots on the U-16 squad.

There was one more UConn connection I asked her about. One of Mt. Lebanon's conference rivals is Chartiers Valley. It just so happens that the Chartiers Valley coach is former UConn guard Ashley Battle who played on three national championship teams during her days as a Husky.

"I actually coached Ashley Battle in the Dapper Dan (classic) way back," Oldaker said. "For her to be a high school player, college player and now a high school coach is pretty phenomenal. She is another great person, another great role model to have in our business.

"She understands where players are coming from, she is a player's coach. I think she has done a really nice job at Chartiers Valley."

Labels: , , , ,

Lofty praise for former UConn star

The best basketball could be in former UConn star Tiffany Hayes'
 future in the opinion of veteran WNBA guard Jasmine Thomas
When Jasmine Thomas arrived in Atlanta she wasn't quite sure what to make of teammate Tiffany Hayes, the former UConn star coming off an up and down rookie season.

However, in the two seasons that they were teammates Thomas saw Hayes transform from a youngster with tons of potential to a reliable night in and night out contributor.

Not only did Hayes average a career-high 28.4 minutes per game but also had her best numbers for field-goal percentage and assists. Perhaps the most noticeable area improvement was in ball security as her turnovers per 36 minutes played went from 2.8 during the 2013 season to 1.5 last year.

"She is just relentless," sad Thomas, acquired by the Connecticut Sun on draft day. "She had gone through some injuries and I liked the way she plays. She gets beat up a lot but she is able to stay aggressive, she attacks and keeps the right mindset. I feel like she is a player who is going to continue to get better each year."

Keeping on the UConn side of things, I still remember who impressed Geno Auriemma was with Thomas back in 2010 when she was one of 10 players in the USA Basketball Women's Select team. It gave college players including current Connecticut Sun standouts Kelsey Griffin and Allison Hightower, former UConn and Connecticut Sun guard Kalana Greene and Los Angeles Sparks and U.S. national team forward Nneka Ogwumike a chance to work out under the watch of USA Basketball. They even got to work with the national team coaching staff led by UConn's Geno Auriemma.

I asked Thomas to reflect back on how valuable that experience was for her.

"Geno is a coach I admire and being able to play for him, get instruction from him ...," Thomas said. "Coach (Chris) Dailey was also here so she is somebody I looked up to when I was younger so it was a good experience for me that while I was still in college get a taste  of what it takes to be a pro."


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Former assistant coach Guth named Yale's new coach

Yale made it official by naming former assistant coach Allison Guth as its new women's basketball coach.

Guth returns to New Haven after spending three years as an assistant at Northwestern.

Here is the release from Yale

Allison Guth, a former Yale assistant coach who went on to help Northwestern earn its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 18 years, is the new Joel E. Smilow Class of 1954 head  coach of Yale women’s basketball.
Guth, the 10th coach in the 43-year history of the program, coached at Yale from 2010 to 2012 and then served as an assistant and recruiting coordinator for the Wildcats, who went 23-9 and 12-6 in the Big Ten.
She takes over an Eli team that went 13-15 last season and finished tied for third (7-7) in the Ivy League.
"I couldn't be more enthusiastic about my opportunity to lead Yale women's basketball.  Yale is an incredibly special institution in that it provides a world class experience academically, athletically and socially,” said Guth, who recruited Northwestern’s leading scorer last season, Nia Coffey. “I am proud to represent a University that stands for everything that is good and right in college athletics."
Guth, with 10-plus seasons of coaching experience, has a reputation as a strong recruiter. She secured one of the top recruiting classes in the country for the 2012-13 Wildcats, one that ranked No. 2 in the Big Ten and No. 22 in all of Division I.
Guth assisted legendary Northwestern head coach Joe McKeown, who has won over 600 games in his career, preparing herself for her first stint as a collegiate head coach.
The 2011-12 season was a special one for the Elis with Guth as an assistant. Yale went 16-12 (8-6 Ivy) and finished second, Yale’s best spot in the standings since 1988-89. The year before, the Bulldogs went 10-4 in the Ivy League and earned its first WNIT berth.
During her time at Yale, Guth coached first-team All-Ivy forward Megan Vasquez ’13 and Ivy League Rookie of the Year Sarah Halejian ’15, as well as four other All-Ivy players.
“Allison was a tremendous mentor to our student-athletes during her tenure as an assistant coach at Yale,” said Yale Director of Athletics Tom Beckett. “Her experiences at Northwestern and her familiarity with Yale make her the ideal individual to lead our women’s basketball program. I am thrilled to welcome her back to the Yale coaching family.”
Guth, an Arlington Heights, Ill., native spent two seasons at DePaul before coming to Yale, handling video exchange, scouting and all on-campus recruiting for the Blue Demons. DePaul reached the Big East and NCAA tournaments in both of her years in Chicago.
Prior to DePaul, Guth served as an assistant coach at Missouri, but she began her coaching career at Loyola-Chicago as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for the Ramblers from 2005 to 2007.
A 2004 graduate of the University of Illinois, Guth was a three-time letterwinner after earning a spot on the basketball team as a walk-on. She helped the Illini reach the 2003 NCAA Tournament and was an Academic All-Big Ten selection.
While at Illinois, Guth earned a Bachelor of Science degree in business, before getting her master’s in educational leadership from DePaul in 2010.
Guth replaces Chris Gobrecht, who recently accepted the women’s basketball head coaching job at Air Force.

What They Are Saying About Her:
Dr. Jim Phillips, Vice President for Athletics and Recreation at Northwestern University
“Yale University is welcoming a tremendous basketball coach and even better person in Allison Guth, the perfect choice to lead the Bulldogs. Her paramount priority is the development and well-being of the student-athletes she works with, helping them reach their maximum potential in the classroom, in the community and in competition. The Yale women’s basketball program is in terrific hands."
Joe McKeown, Head Coach of Women’s Basketball at Northwestern"We are really excited for Allison and also for Yale as they are getting both an outstanding coach and person! Her experience at Northwestern helped prepare her to reach her goal to become a head coach. I know that she loved her experience at Yale and is truly passionate about the school and the Ivy League."
Doug Bruno, Head Coach of Women’s Basketball at DePaul"Allison Guth was an absolute joy as a member of our DePaul women's basketball staff.  She was the 'total package.' Intelligent & hoop smart, hard-working, a great teammate & flat out fun!!! Allie's best quality was her care and compassion for people. Allison Guth is one of those people who can relate to people of all ages, races, and genders.  She is totally comfortable with paupers & kings. She is one of those people who can light up any room. Underneath her fun-loving persona is also one consummate competitor.  Allie loves to win.  Yale will love her & the rest of the Ivies need to get ready.

Europe is next stop for UConn's Nurse

UConn rising sophomore Kia Nurse is one of 13 players selected to play for Canada in an upcoming six-game European trip.

Considering that she was a starter on a team that finished fifth in the FIBA World Championship for Women and a cornerstone player of her country's national team program, this would have to be about as surprising as the news that Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson were selected to play for the U.S. in the Pan Am Games.

Two players who UConn played against last year (UCLA's Nirra Fields and Dayton's Saicha Grant-Allen) were also named to the team along with the Kim Gaucher, Miranda Ayim and Katherine Plouffe who were the only Canadian players to average more points than Nurse in the world championships.

The tour begins a week from today in Logrono, Spain against Poland followed by international friendlies against Great Britain on May 29 and Spain on May 30. The team then moves to France for games against Poland (June 3), Italy (June 4) and France (June 5). Nurse's schedule figures to include suiting up for Canada in the Pan Am Games from July 16-20 and the Olympic qualifying FIBA Americas Women's Championship from Aug. 9-16.

While Nurse's schedule is about to get busy, the same can't be said for her brother Darnell. After his Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds were eliminated from the OHL playoffs Nurse joined the Oklahoma City Barons in the AHL playoffs. Nurse, a first-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers in 2013, had four assists and had a plus/minus rating of plus 3 in four games but the Greyhounds lost to the Utica Comets 1-0 in the final game of the best of 7 Western Conference semifinal. If Oklahoma City had won that game and then beaten Grand Rapids, Nurse would have played at least a couple of games in New England as the Hartford Wolfpack meet the Manchester (N.H.) Monarchs in the Eastern Conference final.

Nurse was named to the OHL all-star team yesterday.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

UConn/FSU game officially announced

While it's been out there for a while, the Dec. 11 matchup between UConn and Florida State at Mohegan Sun Arena in the Hall of Fame Women's Holiday Showcase was officially announced..

"It's an honor to play in an event sponsored by the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame for the third-straight year," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said in a statement. "Florida State has a lot of talented players returning from a team that advanced to the regional final of the 2015 NCAA tournament and I'm already looking forward to this early-season test. Playing games in Mohegan Sun Arena is always a positive experience and I hope a lot of our fans in southeast Connecticut take advantage of this opportunity."

Florida State coach Sue Semrau addressed the matchup with UConn after receiving the Associated Press Coach of the Year award at the Final Four.

"It is great always to have this opportunity," Semrau said. "We played them back a few years ago and it is time again. If you want to be the best you have to play the best. It is a quality opponent that helps you get better."

UConn will be returning to Mohegan Sun Arena as it will be the host of the American Athletic Conference tournament for the second year in a row which was announced by the conference today.

The 2016 tournament will be played March 4-7, and all 11 American Athletic Conference schools will again participate.

Nike announced that it signed the top four picks in the WNBA Draft, Jewell Loyd, Amanda Zahui Bazoukou, former UConn star Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Connecticut Sun rookie forward/center Elizabeth Williams.

It might be quicker to name the former UConn stars not represented by Nike than the ones in the fold but Sue Bird, Tina Charles, Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi headline the list of women's athletes

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Former UConn star Kelly Faris fighting for pro future

A few days before Christmas came some news that shook Kelly Faris up a little bit.

The former UConn star had already planned to use the holiday break to head home and reconnect with her family when the Adelaide Lightning of Australia's WNBL informed Faris that she didn't need to book a return flight as they were cutting ties with her.

When a U.S. player heads overseas, they are expected to contribute in a major fashion since teams have a limited number of spots for American players. However, Faris contributed just 5.2 points while shooting 32.5 percent from the field to go with 3.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.6 blocks in just under 24 minutes per game in the first eight games of the season. Her playing time took a nose dive as she failed to reach double digits in minutes in three of the last five games before the break.

"It was a little different," Faris said. "I think there were some other issues going on because to be honest, they sent me home but sent me home with pay. I don't really know, I don't think I got the whole story but it ended up being a blessing in disguise. At first I wasn't too happy about it but when I thought about it, I get to go home, get some workouts I want to get in, I get to be with my family and I haven't really spent time with my family since high school."

You won't many people more competitive than Faris so it would be easy to assume when she hit the gym in her native Indiana after being cut that she was ready to work out like a wild woman. That wasn't the case, however.

"You have to be careful and not take it the wrong way, let it fuel you enough but not push you over the edge where I am trying too hard and I am trying to do too much," Faris said. "I have to be smart about it. At first I wasn't happy about it but when I took a step back and thought 'yes, I could have been doing better but there is something else going on.' It makes me want to work that much harder and be that much better."

Faris' goal was to put the work in so she doesn't get sent home again - this time by the Sun.

Faris knows it will not be easy making the 12-member opening-game roster with the Sun. In my opinion returning players Alex Bentley, Kelsey Bone, Kelsey Griffin, Allison Hightower, Chiney Ogwumike and Alyssa Thomas should be locks to make the team along with 2014 first-round pick Chelsea Gray, this year's top pick Elizabeth Williams. Camille Little, Shekinna Stricklen and Jasmine Thomas were acquired in the offseason for a reason so that would make 11 of the 12 spots already accounted for. That leaves Faris, Kayla Pedersen, Inga Orekhova, Alyssia Brewer and Ka-Deidre Simmons fighting for one spot. The good news, I guess, is that no players will be late arrivals from Europe so the staff has time to figure out who would be the ideal 12th player.

"I understand that and I know the position I am in," Faris said. "Not to overthink that but just understand that it will be a challenge but it is part of who I am and how I like it. If it was easy, I wouldn't really enjoy it. I have been working the whole time I have been home and now it is time to put all of that work together and hope that I can make a long-lasting, good impression on the staff so they will want to keep me on the team."

Faris did make it to UConn for a bit where she took the court in occasional practices. She got to see up close just how good of a team the Huskies were as they were en route to a third straight national title.

"Everybody on the outside thinks it is so easy, it is a breeze and you really don't appreciate and understand what goes on, (what happens) on the inside," Faris said. "It is so hard. I went out there right after the South Carolina game and they had been struggling in practice and Coach (Geno Auriemma) wasn't too happy. That is how it works, he gets you to a point, something clicks and everybody kind of changes their mindset and you are good to go. That is exactly what happened my senior year so it happens a little bit each year, some years more than others."

Faris was fortunate enough to be a member of national championship teams as a freshman and senior. Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck have a chance to play for a fourth title in a row.

"I kind of forgot about it," Faris said. "I am excited to see what happens. They can definitely do it, they have to keep the right mindset. The whole year people are going to try to make that the focus, they just to have to let that go. If that happens, great but kind of like at the beginning of the season when they lost to Stanford, it was the end of the world but it was probably the best thing to happen because it helped keep them grounded and keep them back on track."

As I reported last night there have been allegations of verbal abuse, racism and other accusations against Illinois women's basketball coach Matt Bollant by parents of three former players including Tuck's parents since her older sister Taylor Tuck just wrapped up her playing days at Illinois. I asked Faris how Auriemma is able to push players to the levels he does without being accused of verbal abuse.

"I think, from what I have been told, he has gotten a lot softer from what the older players they will tell stories but the level of respect he has gained for himself and his program, you have to know when you come into that program as a player that is a part of it,' Faris said. "If you don't know that and you don't expect it, you are in for a rude awakening. If you quickly understand it, you change or it is not for you and you go somewhere else. That is fine and he is OK with that but when you have the success that he had, there's no way you can sit there and say 'there's no way this works.'"

As for other items from media day, it has already been widely reported that Ogwumike won't be ready for the beginning of the season as she underwent surgery in the offseason but now comes word that Hightower also underwent knee surgery and like Ogwumike she isn't quite sure when she will be cleared to return to the court.

Hightower was in the midst of an outstanding season in Israel and Maccabi Ashdod as she was averaging 16.3 points per game and shooting 56 percent from 3-point range when she reinjured her left knee.

"They actually thought I had a retear (of her meniscus) which I had over the summer," said Hightower, who missed 33 games over the last two seasons with the Sun. "They didn't know until they went inside that it was the cartilage.

"There's no true timetable , I wish I had a timetable. It is all about how my knee responds and how it holds up during rehab. I hope to play this year.

"The last three years have been the first years I have ever dealt with injuries, it definitely has been tough for me because I want to go, go, go. Then you are getting on the right track and you have to come back. It is definitely the hardest one because it was the first year I have been injured overseas and I was actually playing really well and to have this injury is the worst one. " 


Monday, May 18, 2015

Messy situation at Illinois

No idea how this is going to end but parents of three former Illinois women's basketball players including one from the parents of UConn's Morgan Tuck (Tuck's older sister Taylor just wrapped up a four-year run at Illinois) make some extremely serious accusations.

The letter sent by David and Lydia Tuck allege that head coach Matt Bollant has systematically tried to create racial tension among the team and verbally abused and berated players

Similar letters were sent by the parents of two players who have transferred. You can read more about this story here

The Daily Illini was first to report the story and from what I have seen also did the most thorough job reporting the allegations. The story quotes Lydia Tuck saying Morgan's experiences at UConn are "night and day different" from what Taylor went through at Illinois.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Five current or future UConn players selected to U.S. teams

UConn All-Americans Moriah Jefferson and Breanna Stewart were among the 12 players selected to represent the U.S. at the Pan Am Games.

It is the third national team Jefferson will be a member of as she played on the U-18 squad in 2012 and team which won the FIBA U19 World Championship in 2013. This is the seventh summer in a row that Stewart will represent the U.S. in an international competition and the second time she will play in the Pan Am Games.

The last time Stewart was a member of the U.S. team playing in the Pan Am Games she made history by becoming the second high school player to play for the United States. Playing alongside a team featuring four players who would be drafted by WNBA teams Stewart led the team in scoring and rebounding while leading all players in the tournament in blocked shots and free-throw percentage.

UConn incoming freshmen Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson as well as Class of 2016 commit Crystal Dangerfield were among the players selected to the U.S. team playing in the FIBA U19 World Championships from July 18-26 in Chekhov, Russia.

UConn Class of 2016 recruiting target Lauren Cox was also selected to the team after three days of trials at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

Rising college sophomores Azura Stevens of Duke, Gabrielle Ortiz of Oklahoma, Shakayla Thomas of Florida State, Chatrice White of Illinois, Mariya Moore of Louisville and A'ja Wilson of South Carolina are joined by Samuelson, Collier, Cox, Dangerfield, Louisville incoming freshman Asia Durr and California commit Kristine Anigwe. Notre Dame freshmen to be Ali Patberg was selected as the alternate as Cox and Dangerfield, the two youngest players in the trials, are the only players with remaining high school eligibility to make any of the three U.S. teams that were named today.

UConn rising sophomore Gabby Williams and incoming freshman De'Janae Boykin are among the 21 players who did not make the cut.

Joining Jefferson and Stewart on the Pan Am Games team are Arizona State's Sophie Brunner, South Carolina's Alaina Coates, Villanova's Caroline Coyer, Kentucky's Linnae Harper, North Carolina's Stephanie Mavunga, South Carolina's Tiffany Mitchell, Washington's Kelsey Plum,  Notre Dame's Taya Reimer, Maryland's Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Texas A&M's Courtney Williams. The Pan Am Games will be held from July 16-20 in Toronto. UConn's Kia Nurse is expected to be a key member for host Canada while her brother Darnell, one of the top prospects for the NHL's Edmonton Oilers, will be one of the torchbearers.

The U.S. is in Group A while Canada is in Group B.

On day one of basketball at the Pan Am Games on July 16 Canada plays Venezuela while the U.S. meets Brazil. Canada also plays Argentina and Cuba in pool play while the U.S. meets the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico in the preliminary portion. The top two teams in each group advance to the semifinals on July 19 with the bronze and gold medal games set for July 20.

UCLA"s Jordin Canada, Baylor's Nina Davis, Tennessee's Diamond DeShields and Mercedes Russell, Duke's Rebecca Greenwell, DePaul's Chanise Jenkins, Maryland's Brionna Jones, Stanford's Erica McCall, Michigan State's Ariel Powers, California's Courtney Range, Oregon State's Sydney Wiese and South Florida's Courtney Williams were selected to play in the World University Games which will be played from July 3-12 in South Korea.

Former Hillhouse star Bria Holmes did not make either the Pan Am Games or World University Games teams. She would have been the first Connecticut native to represent the U.S. in the World University Games since Nykesha Sales in 1997 and first state native to play for the U.S. in the Pan Am Games since Mary Ann O'Connor in 1975.

Labels: , , , , ,

Saturday, May 16, 2015

After 2014 disappointment, UConn commit Dangerfield eager to make the cut

There was a sense of disappointment when Crystal Dangerfield returned home from the USA Basketball junior national team trials without earning a spot on either the U-17 or U-18 team.

The writing was on the wall when she was moved over from the U-17 group to the U-18s late during the trials and it seemed clear that she wasn't going to make either squad but still there was a sense of unfinished business when the UConn commit returned to Colorado Springs for the U-19 trials.

"Sometimes things don't always work out like you want them to but you still have to come back harder the next time," Dangerfield said.

So what is Dangerfield trying to show the coaches and selection committee at this year's trials?

"That I can run a team and knock down open shots."

The U-19 team will be named tomorrow and I don't envy the people on the selection committee with six of the top seven scorers from the team which won the 2014 FIBA U19 World Championship and two top scorers from the gold medal winning team at the FIBA Americas U18 Championships.

"The competition is great, the energy as a whole is great," Dangerfield said. "They want us to play a bit harder so coming back, I will try to do that."

One of the most intriguing aspects of Dangerfield's commitment to UConn is she will be the first Tennessee native to play for Geno Auriemma with the Huskies. When she committed I saw some rather hateful comments posted on social media expressing their outrage for Dangerfield choosing UConn. Dangerfield hasn't let those people get to her.

"I don't pay any attention to it," Dangerfield said. "It it just a part of the process and you can't (listen) to it, it is just people being people."

What has been difficult for Dangerfield is the realization that she will be playing for a new high school coach as incredibly successful Blackman High School coach Chad Hibdon took the job at Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, Georgia.

"It was hard," Dangerfield said. "He told me separately before he told the team because we had such a close relationship. We cried. I was happy for him because it was more of a spiritual thing for him and talking to him about it being about the spiritual side of things and it not being just a basketball school so I was happy for him but on the flip side of things I wanted him to be my coach for (all four) years but life goes on and the coach we have now (Jessica Jackson) was an assistant when I was a freshman."


Friday, May 15, 2015

Dangerfield bonding with future UConn teammates

Crystal Dangerfield came to Colorado Springs with two main goals in mind.

First and foremost was making the U-19 national team but while she was there the UConn commit also wanted to get to know the players she will be teaming up with in Storrs.

Time will tell whether Dangerfield earns a national team spot but she is well on her way to bonding with UConn rising sophomore Gabby Williams and incoming freshmen Napheesa Collier, De'Janae Boykin and Katie Lou Samuelson.

"After first session I was talking to Gabby and having a UConn 1 on 1 session just telling me what to expect, how to act," Dangerfield said. :That is another thing I came out here to do in addition to making the team is to build relationships with them on and off the court."

Dangerfield's game has been compared to UConn's Moriah Jefferson. While Jefferson will have graduated before Dangerfield suits up for the Huskies, she has had the chance to chat with her role model since Jefferson is also at the U.S. Olympic Training Center trying out for the U.S. teams playing in the Pan Am Games and World University Games,

"They were getting everybody on campus, we walked in and they were eating," Dangerfield said. "We walked in and she gave me a hug. Most of the time when it is somebody you look up to you would be too shy to talk to. I credit her for being somebody who is open to talking to somebody younger. It's not so much of taking me under her wing or anything but trying to be a friend."

Dangerfield took tremendous joy in seeing Jefferson's Huskies win the national title for the third season in a row.

"I was very happy for them," Dangerfield said. "I knew it was going to be a game and it was. In the second half they just took off like I knew they were capable of. I am excited to see them have a great season with a chance of doing it again."

A year ago at this time Dangerfield was still trying to figure out which college she wanted to attend. Lauren Cox, considered to be the top player in the Class of 2016, still has some work to do in that department. She recently cut her list to six schools (Baylor UConn, Louisville, Notre Dame, South Carolina and Tennessee) and what's interesting is that each school has players at the trials who will be on the team in the current college season.

"It is helping me a lot because I am going to see what is is going to be like in college, the strength of the players, the pace of the game," Cox said.

As for her timeline for picking a college, she has more focused on earning a spot on a U.S. team for the third summer in a row and will worry about the recruiting process when the time is right.

"I am not really focusing on recruiting right now," Cox said. "I am focusing on trying to make this team so hopefully in the fall I will take my official visits, I haven't scheduled any yet and don't know what I am going to do but hopefully but I'll take all of them and will try to make a decision."

Cox did say that "there is a lot less stress and it's not as overwhelming" after cutting her list of schools down to six.

The NCAA Women's Rules Committee, with the backing of the WBCA, has recommended a shift from playing two 20-minute periods to playing four 10-minute quarters with the possibility of the changes coming as soon as during the 2015-16 season.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma was in favor of the move which would limit the number of stoppages with two fewer media timeouts under the new format.

"What a great step forward for our game," Auriemma said in a story posted on the site. "As the game becomes more global each year, it’s important that we start the process toward standardizing the rules. This is just the beginning of what I hope are many other changes to improve this great game."

Under the proposal teams would shoot two free throw after committing five fouls in each quarter. Currently teams shoot one plus the bonus after the seventh foul is committed with the double bonus utilized after 10 fouls are committed. Another change would allow for teams to advance the ball into the frontcourt after a timeout in the final minute of each quarter.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

UConn commit Espinoza-Hunter, two state players headed to U.S. U-16 trials

It was previously announced that UConn Class of 2017 commit Andra Espinoza-Hunter was among the 34 players invited to try out for the U.S. U-16 team. Today USA Basketball revealed all 158 players set to take part in the trials which begin a week from today.

A pair of Connecticut natives are among the 124 players who were given chances to try out after going through an online application process.

McKenna Frank, who plays at Greenwich Country Day School, and Ridgefield High's Meagan O'Hara will head to Colorado Springs, Colo. for the trials.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Connecticut Sun trades Asjha Jones to Minnesota

It could be a case of the rich getting richer as the star-studded Minnesota Lynx acquired the rights to former UConn star Asjha Jones from the Connecticut Sun in exchange for a second-round pick in next year's draft.

Jones has not played for the Sun since 2012 and showed little interest in returning to the team she played with for nine seasons.

“This was a trade that made sense for us,” Connecticut Sun Vice President and General Manager Chris Sienko said. “Asjha did not want to return to Connecticut so we found what we believe is the best available deal, especially as we continue to add and develop young talent.”

Allison Hightower and Kelsey Griffin are the only remaining players from the 2012 Connecticut Sun team, the last one to appear in the playoffs.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

UConn's Aurriemma addresses "Deflategate"

With Geno Auriemma and Duke men's basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski in New York to be honored at the New York Athletic Club's annual Winged Foot Award dinner the two national championship coaches were guests on the Michael Kay Show.

Naturally they were asked whether coaches at the college level push the envelope when it comes to rules and ethics. Krzyzewski wanted no part of the question saying he doesn't know enough about the subject to state his opinion on the matter. Auriemma, never one to hold back on any subject, also seemed to choose his words carefully.

"Our jobs aren't on the line so we aren't looking at this season as 'I have to do something that is going to get me (an edge),'" Auriemma said. "I always worry that the minute you do that, now your players start to think that is OK to do. Now if somebody asks me do I turn my coach in because they know I did it and it is not right. You never want to put somebody in that situation."

He also wondered whether the story would have gotten the play it did if the New England Patriots, accused of playing with air pressure in footballs below the NFL minimum, hadn't been to a Super Bowl in 25 years.

The highlight of the segment was Auriemma getting a chance to revisit his comments that he thought the men's college game was "a joke."

"They micromanage the same so there is less scoring than ever before in college basketball," Auriemma said. "I was asked a question 'as a fan do you enjoy watching the college game.' He answered 'not as much as I used to' because I think more coaches coach not to lose because they want to hold onto their job or whatever or maybe the kids coming out of high school don't have the fundamentals they used. I just mentioned this the other day to Mike, they played (39) games and only three times did they not get to 70 points so obviously they can play to win and let their guys play even within the rules now you can be a fun team to watch. I just think college men's basketball is the only sport that has not kept up with the times in terms of making it easy to play and put points on the board.

"Guys missing six of every 10 shots or the game played at a walk instead of the beautiful game that is can be, I just think we are losing the entertainment value."

What followed next was even more interesting than what Auriemma had to say.

Krzyzewski was given an opportunity to play point/counterpart with Auriemma but actually was in Auriemma's corner on this subject.

"I don't think we do keep up with things," Krzyzewski said. "I think it is because we have no one in charge. Who runs college basketball? . You should have a governing body, a leader for men's and women's college basketball so we can keep up to date."

Krzyzewski pointed to the way Jerry Colangelo runs things at USA Basketball as a perfect example of what the college game should have.

He was not a fan of the 35-second shot clock, being able to call a timeout to avoid a 10-second backcourt call and have the count start over again. He would like to see the lane widened, the 3-point line moved back a little bit kind of what the international game has with dimensions from 21.65-22.15 include of the NCAA line of 20.75.

"Things like that in the NBA it would be changed," Krzyzewski said. "Our process is archaic. It is just not run like a billion dollar business."

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Stokes receives Honors Scholars recognition at UConn graduation

It was graduation weekend at UConn with Kiah Stokes and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis among those receiving their degrees.

Stokes, a highly-decorated student-athlete, was among those being recognized for attaining Honors Scholars status. Stokes was recognized in the ceremony for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Next stop for the duo will be WNBA training camps as Stokes was drafted by the New York Liberty and Mosqueda-Lewis was taken by Seattle with the third overall pick.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Final UConn overseas report of the season

The WNBA training camps are fast approaching, I figured it would be the best time to wrap up the overseas seasons for the former Huskies. Overseas isn't completely accurate as Tiffany Hayes played in Brazil.

Unfortunately I don't have complete statistics for Kaili McLaren but 10 of the 13 players averaged at least 10 points per game led by Maya Moore's 29.8 average in leading Shanxi to its third straight WCBA title in China.

Tina Charles Fenerbahce (Turkey)
G Min   FG-ATT 3PT FT         PPG R    A     S   B  (TO)
 30 27.3 187-413  6-20  50-69    14.3-7.7-1.7-0.8-0.4 (1.7)
Stefanie Dolson Osmaniye Genclik (Turkey)
G Min   FG-ATT 3PT FT       PPG R    A     S   B  (TO)
 10 26.7 61-124   2-6  11-12      13.5-7.1-1.5-0.5-0.7 (2.5)
Spartak Vidnoe (Russia)
G Min   FG-ATT 3PT FT       PPG R    A     S   B  (TO)
 11 21.7 52-93   0-2  14-17       10.7-4.2-0.6-0.8-0.5 (2.1)
Kelly Faris Adelaide (Australia)
G Min   FG-ATT 3PT FT     PPG R    A     S   B  (TO)
 13  19.4  19-57   5-18  7-10     3.8-3-5-1.2-0.6-0.5 (1.5)
Bria Hartley UE Sopron (Hungary)
G Min   FG-ATT 3PT FT       PPG R    A     S   B  (TO)
 26 27.9 120-280 34-98 63-84   13.0-4.0-3.2-1.8-0.2 (2.4)
Tiffany Hayes Recife (Brazil)
G Min   FG-ATT 3PT FT             PPG R    A     S   B  (TO)
  25 27.3 154-257 36-80 97-121     17.6-3.9-2.0-1.7-0.3 (2.8)
Charde Houston Woori Bank Hansae Chuncheon (South Korea)
G Min   FG-ATT 3PT FT              PPG R    A     S   B  (TO)
 41 22.0 296-586 12-51 107-141     17.3-7.2-1.4-0.8-1.1 (2.2)
Asjha Jones Elitzur Ramla (Israel) 
G Min   FG-ATT 3PT FT            PPG R    A     S   B  (TO)
 18 29.6 87-186   0-2  40-55          11.9-5.3-2.1-0.7-0.3 (1.9)
Kaili McLaren Urla Eka S.K. Izmir (Turkey)
G Min   FG-ATT 3PT FT           PPG R    A     S   B  (TO)
 8 36.4 57-120  2-15 15-19           16.4-12.1-2.0-1.6-2.1 (2.3)
Maya Moore Shanxi (China)
G  FG-ATT 3PT         FT              PPG   R   A     S   B  (TO)
 29  319-778 68-232 159-190         29.8-9.1-3.9-3.6-0.7 (1.7)
Renee Montgomery Chevakata (Russia)
G Min   FG-ATT 3PT FT             PPG R    A     S   B  (TO)
 22 31.1 113-271 44-117 43-55      14.2-2.6- (3.2)
Ketia Swanier CCC Polkowice (Poland)
G Min   FG-ATT 3PT FT           PPG R    A     S   B  (TO)
 28 29.5 103-256 25-99 35-47        9.5-5.3-3.6-2.4-0.0 (1.8)
Diana Taurasi UMMC Ekateriburg  (Russia)
G Min   FG-ATT 3PT FT          PPG R    A     S   B  (TO)
 13 26.4 70-133 38-68 50-60       17.5-3.8-5.1-1.3-0.3 (1.9)
Barbara Turner Orduspor (Turkey)
G Min   FG-ATT 3PT FT          PPG R    A     S   B  (TO)
 23 34.3 103-267 57-170 67-83   14.3-6.8-3.4-0.6-0.5 (1.7)
Samarie Walker Gran Canarie (Spain)
G Min   FG-ATT 3PT FT   PPG R    A     S   B  (TO)
  6 35.8  52-97   0-0   9-18        8.7-11.5-2.0-2.2-0.8 (1.5)

Friday, May 08, 2015

Former UConn forward Michala Johnson granted sixth season at Wisconsin

Former UConn forward Michala Johnson was granted a sixth season of eligibility so she will be returning to play for Wisconsin during the 2015-16 season.

UW Womens Basketball@BadgerWBB 12 minutes ago
"I am so excited to be able to come back next year and put on a Badger jersey."

Thursday, May 07, 2015

New blood gets chance to impress at U.S. national camp

Many of the players who led the United States to the FIBA World Championship for Women in September and October were missing at the recently-completed national team training camp for a variety of reasons.

As a result there was an opportunity for some of the younger players to try to open some eyes.

"It's been pretty good because we have had a chance to see some of our veterans," UConn and U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said. "We've had a chance to bring out some of the younger guys to see what impact they can have in trying to figure out 'do our veterans still have what it takes, are they still at the level that they need to be.' We are missing a lot of guys from the World Championship team so it has given our players a chance to spend more time on the court, show us a little more of what they can do.

"I have seen the competitiveness, I have seen how much they have improved - the older guys - I have seen what the present looks like and ultimately what the future could look like."

Leading the list of the younger players were Jewell Loyd, the No.1 player taken in this year's WNBA Draft, current South Carolina star Tiffany Mitchell and former BYU center Jen Hamson.

"For them it has been a little bit of a struggle because they are so young so even compared to the guys who didn't make the team at the last world championships they are young," Auriemma said. "Forget that we've got veterans who made the world championship team, the guys who didn't make who were young. Bria Hartley is here, well Jewell Loyd and Tiffany Mitchell compared to Bria Hartley are still young so they have a ways to go to catch up to the guys that are at the second level. It was good for them to see what this is what I have to improve on and they all had their strengths, they all had their weaknesses and they all did things that make you glad that we invited them out, they had some success in the first two days and it is going to help them going forward. It is invaluable, you can't get this experience anywhere else."

So did Auriemma put out all the younger players at the same time or mix and match them with more experienced players?

"A little bit of both," Auriemma said. "We tried to be a little more flexible with that. Sometimes we have them out there with a lot of the young guys and try to figure out who can figure things out, sometimes we get them out there with some veterans. We try to give them a little different looks throughout practice and they have held their own. It is good to see."

Having gone through one full four-year cycle has allowed Auriemma to get a better sense of what he has to work with especially with those players who didn't play for him at UConn. He recruited many of those players and faced nearly all of them at some point during his time with the Huskies.

"You don't spend enough time around them to really know who they are but you do get a sense of 'this is why I recruited these kids,'" Auriemma said. "Obviously from when they are in high school to now they have changed but they are just like any other kid, they just come at it from a different perspective. My guys are sued to me and I am used to them but I enjoy being around those guys. They are fun to coach even though we competed against them all the time. Somebody like Angel McCoughtry is fun to coach. Seimone Augustus is great to coach, I love that. I really appreciate their talents. I enjoyed coaching against them and I enjoy being around them."

The Canadian national team, which includes UConn's Kia Nurse, announced its plans for the coming months which includes a two-week training camp beginning on Sunday in Edmonton and six international friendlies, three being played in Spain and three more in France before playing host to the Pan Am Games. It's a different situation for the U.S. Auriemma said the earliest the team could get together would be in late September with the players not in the WNBA conference finals taking part in another training camp.


Wednesday, May 06, 2015

UConn's Jefferson, Stewart to try out for World University Games and Pan Am Games teams

UConn All-Americans Moriah Jefferson and Breanna Stewart will be teaming up again, this time at the trials to pick to United States team competing in the World University Games and Pan Am Games.

Jefferson and Stewart, who have led UConn to three straight national titles, are no strangers to USA Basketball.

Jefferson was a member of the U.S. team which won the 2012 FIBA Americas U18 Championships and the following year played for the gold-medal winning team at the FIBA U19 World Championship for Women.

Stewart, who is currently in Las Vegas for the three-day national team training camp, has won a gold medal competing for the U.S. every year since 2009 as she has starred for USA Basketball at the U16, U17, U18, U19 levels in addition to her experience last summer at the FIBA World Championship for Women.

Former Hillhouse High star Bria Holmes, a rising senior guard at West Virginia, is also among the 54 players looking to be named to the 12-member Pan Am Games and World University Games teams.

The training camp will run from May 14-17 in Colorado Springs.

The World University Games will be held from July 3-12 in South Korea while the Pan Am Games run from July 16-20 in Toronto.

At least one UConn player should be at the Pan Am Games as Kia Nurse figures to be suiting up for host Canada.

The Canadian national team announced that Nurse is one of 22 players invited to the first phase of training. There will be a two-week training camp starting on Sunday in Edmonton, The team will head to Europe to play six international friendlies.

It begins with three games in La Rioja, Spain as Canada plays Poland on May 28, Great Britain on May 29 and Spain on May 30. There will be a rematch in Poland on June 3 in Lille, France which is also the site of games against Italy and France on June 4 and 5.

Labels: , , ,

5 current or future UConn players heading to U-19 trials

UConn incoming freshmen Napheesa Collier, De'Janae Boykin and Katie Lou Samuelson are among the players who have accepted invitations to try out for the U.S. U-19 team along with UConn rising sophomore forward Gabby Williams and UConn Class of 2016 commit Crystal Dangerfield.

Samuelson was the leading scorer on the U.S. team which won the FIBA U-17 World Championship for Women as she averaged 13.9 points per game and also had a ream-leading 19 3-pointers. Boykin was also a member of the team. Boykin started all seven games, was second on the team with an average of 6.1 rebounds, was tied for second with 16 assists.

Collier was a key member of the U.S. team which won the FIBA Americas U18 Championships. She finished ranked third in the tournament in scoring (14.0 ppg) and fifth in rebounding (8.6). She also finished fifth with a 56.4 field-goal percentage, third with an average of 1 blocked shot per contest, was fourth in assist/turnover ratio, led all players with a 55.6 3-point percentage and was 10th in steals.

UConn Class of 2016 recruiting target Lauren Cox, the leading rebound on the U-17 team, is among the top candidates to make the team competing in the U-19 World Championship for Women.

The 12-member team will be selected during the trials which run from May 14-17 and will play in the FIBA U19 World Championship in Chekhov, Russia from July 18-26.

The list of players heading to the trials for the World University Games and Pan Am Games will be announced at 2 p.m. UConn's Breanna Stewart said she would be a part of the WUG trials.

As I previous reported, former Hillhouse star Bria Holmes will get her homecoming game as part of the third annual Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Challenge.

The event wraps up with four games being played at Mohegan Sun Arena including Holmes' West Virginia team playing Yale at 4 p.m. Meriden native and former UConn guard Sadie Edwards' Southern California team will be playing Iona at noon although Edwards will not yet be eligible to play as she won't be able to suit up for the Trojans until the fall semester is completed.

Here is the full schedule

Chapel Hill, N.C. Campus Round ScheduleNovember 20Fairleigh Dickinson at North Carolina
Iona vs. Yale
November 21
ona at North Carolina
Fairleigh Dickinson vs. Yale
November 22Yale at North Carolina
Fairleigh Dickinson vs. Iona

Spokane, Wash. Campus Round ScheduleNovember 22West Virginia at Gonzaga
Grand Canyon vs. Southern California
November 23Grand Canyon at Gonzaga
Southern California vs. West Virginia
November 24Southern California at Gonzaga
Grand Canyon vs. West Virginia

Mohegan Sun Arena Schedule – November 29 10 a.m. – Fairleigh Dickinson vs. Grand Canyon
12 p.m. – Iona vs. Southern California
2 p.m. – Gonzaga vs. North Carolina
4 p.m. – Yale vs. West Virginia

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

UConn's Breanna Stewart always at home on basketball court

Nobody would blame Breanna Stewart if she wanted to enter a basketball-free zone for a few months after leading UConn to its third national title.

It was a grueling junior season as Stewart was asked to take more of a leadership role following the graduation of Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley so some time off might be something many people would welcome.

However, that it simply not the way she is wired. So she jumped when given the opportunity to spend three days in Las Vegas at the U.S. senior national team training camp. She is also anxiously awaiting a trip to Colorado Springs later this month for the World University Games trials. She will almost certainly be on the U.S. team playing in the World University Games from July 3-12 in South Korea.

"This is what I want to do," Stewart said. "I love playing basketball and I want to do it as often as I can."

I asked Stewart what it would be like if she could spend every week this summer either practicing or playing for a U.S. national team and she predictably said, "that sounds good to me."

Stewart admits that things have been a bit hectic since the national championship game. She will take the last of her final exams on Friday and then gets five days to spend with her family before heading out to Colorado Springs. She is not the only UConn player heading out to the trials for the World University Games and Pan American Games squad. The list will be released tomorrow so while Stewart did give me the names of her teammates, I will wait until tomorrow to reveal them.

UConn and U.S. national team coach Geno Auriemma doesn't believe that Stewart is being overwhelmed physically by time she will be spending with the U.S. national teams.

"Stewie likes to play so it is not like anybody is overdoing it," Auriemma said. "It is not like it is a wear and tear on you. It is more of a mental thing than it is a physical thing and the more that you can play against really good competition the better you can be. Stewie loves the game, she loves to be in the gym and loves to compete. Any chance she gets to do, that makes her a better player."

Since Auriemma looked completely spent the first time I saw him after the 2012 Olympics, I asked him if balancing his UConn and U.S. national team responsibilities can be too much for him at times.

"It does get to you after a while," Auriemma said. "You do look for times when you do get away from everything. There are plenty of opportunities to do that. These things (training camps) come sporadically so they are not all the time, all the time, all the time. For me the more I keep moving the better I am going to do.

"I try to compartmentalize. I am not thinking about the Olympics when I am at UConn and I am not thinking about UConn when I am with the national team. when I am not with either of those teams, I am not thinking about either of those things."


Friday, May 01, 2015

Connecticut Sun's Katie Douglas retires

A back injury resulted in veteran guard Katie Douglas retiring after spending 14 seasons in the WNBA leaving a major hole for the Connecticut Sun to replace,

“This was a very difficult decision for me because basketball has been such a big part of my life, but I believe I am making the right choice,” Douglas said in a statement. “My back has not responded to treatment the way I hoped it would. I have no expectation that I would be able to play at a level that is acceptable to me, so rather than compete as a shell of myself, I am choosing to retire.”
Douglas leaves ranked fourth in WNBA history with 623 steals, fifth with 727 3-pointers, eighth with 5,563 points and 14th with 1,075 assists.