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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

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. " 


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