Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Former Duke star Stevens transfers to UConn

Former Duke star Azura' Stevens, who likely would have been a leading contender for All-American honors during the 2016-17, will be finishing her collegiate career at UConn.

The 6-foot-6 Stevens averaged 18.9 points, 9.6 rebounds and had a team-high 53 blocked shots as a sophomore before announcing that she was intending to transfer after the season.

She was the team's leading scorer 16 times, scored in double figures in all 25 games she played in last season and had 14 double-doubles.

Stevens will need to sit out the upcoming season due to NCAA rules on transfers and will have two seasons of eligibility.

"Words can't express how excited I am to have this opportunity to be part of the UConn family,” Stevens said.  "I appreciate the hospitality that my teammates and coaches showed to me this weekend. I am eager to start journey with the Huskies and can't wait to get back up to Storrs this summer."

Stevens played with UConn rising sophomore Napheesa Collier and incoming freshman Crystal Dangerfield on the U.S. team which won the FIBA U19 World Championship for Women. Stevens averaged 11.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game in 17 minutes as the U.S. team won its seven games by an average of 32.2 points per game.

UConn has not accepted a large number of transfers over the years but she will be one of two on the UConn team in the next two seasons as former Georgetown star Natalie Butler has two more years of eligibility remaining.

"We don’t usually get involved in transfer situations but this particular one was intriguing," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.  “Getting the chance to speak with Azurá and having her on campus to meet with the coaches and the players really convinced us and her that this was the right place for her going forward.  We are excited and anxious to get Azurá up here and start summer school and look forward to her being a part of our team.”


Friday, April 29, 2016

Explaining Candace Parker's omission from Olympic team no easy chore

I'm not sure if you've heard this news yet but two-time Olympic gold medalist Candace Parker was not among the 12 players selected to the U.S. Olympic team.

The news that one of the world's most talented and versatile players is not a part of the U.S. going for a record sixth straight gold medal was a surprise. The backlash, however, was not.
Whether deserved or not, there are those who believe that the UConn connections on the national team during Geno Auriemma's tenure as the head coach of the women's national team as hardly coincidental.

There were some rumblings when Swin Cash and Asjha Jones were named to the 2012 Olympic team and certainly the omission of Parker from the team figured to bring the Auriemma critics out in full force. A popular refrain was that players who have beaten UConn were left out of equation (not sure how Sylvia Fowles and Brittney Griner's selections are justified in this convoluted way of expressing one's dissatisfaction).

The fact that Auriemma is not on the committee which selects the 12-member team hasn't stop people from piling on. On my UConn timeline it doesn't take much effort to find tweets laying into Auriemma favoring his former players. When my curiosity gets the better of me and I click on the Twitter profiles, more often than not they hail from Tennessee. That is hardly unexpected considering that Parker is one of the best players to ever play at Tennessee and it is easy to connect the dots by stating that UConn product Breanna Stewart was put on the team at the expense of Parker.

In a perfect world there would some clarity on what led to Parker's omission from the team. I will go on the record as saying that I truly believe the U.S. team is not as strong without Parker on the squad. She is an exceptionally talented player and I think her comments since this story broke have been respectful which is a credit to her.

There was only one question pertaining to Parker being left off the team on the USA Basketball conference call held the afternoon that the team was announced which might be the most stunning turn of events in this entire deal.

Carol Callan, chair of the selection committee and women's national team director for USA Basketball, chose her words carefully when the subject came up.

"Candace is a great player," Callan said. "She's a two‑time Olympian. She's done a lot for us in the past, since she was in high school. As a committee, we don't get into specifics speaking about each player publicly. Needless to say, there are a lot of deliberations. We have a committee for a reason. Every player has an advocate, and in that case, it's not just one person who is making a decision. So, I may not be able to satisfy your question with an answer specifically of why or why not, but I think what it does speak to is that we have incredible depth on this team. We have ten Olympians, as you mentioned, from 2012. We had five more newcomers in the World Championship. That's 15 athletes, without even considering some of the emerging young players that we have currently.  We're looking at depth and talent at each position, and there are just a lot of numbers games that are played at that 3‑4 position. That is the strength of our team. So, we appreciate Candace. It's not an easy call to make. It's not an easy call to hear, from her perspective. And yet what we are trying to do is pick a team collectively that we feel has the best chance to win the gold medal, and we think we've done that."

There has been attempts to make this a two-dimensional process. Geno doesn't like Candace, Geno coached Breanna Stewart therefore Stewart makes the team over Parker. I would think it's not quite that simple although it does make it easy for the Geno bashers. I don't question for a second that Auriemma got his wish in this matter with Stewart making the team and being the strong personality that he is, I am sure he did not hold back in expressing his thoughts during the selection of the team. However, to assume that five committee members would just allow Auriemma to walk all over them just to get his way is quite a reach. I doubt Parker, if she has any hopes of making the 2020 Olympics, is going to come out and get into specifics and Callan made it clear that won't happen from USA Basketball's end of things so it will be a case of people choosing whatever side they like. There will be those, like me, that believe that something significant must have taken place behind the scenes for such a drastic move to be made and others will simply go with the "it's all UConn all the time" party line.

Connecticut Sun general manager Chris Sienko is one of the five committee members and at yesterday's media day he addressed the situation as much as he could.

"It was an eye-opening process because I am very familiar with the athletes in the league and a few collegiate players over the last couple of years," Sienko said. "I just think that the depth of knowledge of who these players are, watching them workout, watching them overseas when I was at the World Championships or on a day to day basis at WNBA games was different than it was before because you look at them with a different (way). How are they interacting with their teammates? How are they responding to adverse situations? What are they doing if things are going against them just all sorts of different things. They may not mean anything in the bigger picture but it is the way that I started to assess players differently.

"The committee is five of us and the coach is obviously involved in the oricess but at the end of rhe day we are responsible for making the selection and not Geno. We want to get input and have an understanding of his feelings but we have to make the decisions."

I was at the 100 Days Out event in Times Square on Wednesday when the Olympic team was announced. I know asking former UConn players to weigh in on the situation might not make for the most impartial responses but I did ask Sue Bird and Maya Moore about it.

"The selection process for the Olympic team is definitely one of the hardest," Moore said. "Our country top to bottom  we have so much talent. It is not always about the most talented 12. Coach Auriemma always tells us that you don't have to be the top person in the world. We want you to come out and bring something that no other person can bring and you have a shot at making the team. I don't envy their position because it is a tough call but anybody from our national team pool who would be put out here would do a great job of representing us and I am looking forward to it."
Bird, who is set to become one of five U.S. women's basketball players to appear in at least four Olympics, also gave her take on the hotly-debated subject.

"I do not envy the committee one bit," Bird said. "I think anytime they sit down to pick the teams for women's basketball whether it is the Olympics or World Championships, I think they have the toughest job. There is going to be a lot of talk of who made it, who didn't. At the end of the day and this is the same at this Olympics, the World Championships, who do you leave off? It sucks that somebody has to be left off."

I asked Bird if Auriemma being criticized for the women's national team being overly UConn-centric was fair.

"I do think that is unfair," Bird said. "Again who do you leave off? I don't think it is fair. We are talking about the Olympic team, I don't know  it is accurate and correct me if I am wrong but it is the committee that selects the team and not Coach Auriemma so I don't really buy into that. I do understand that when it comes to choosing this team, it is not easy, at the end of rhe day there are people who get left off and it sucks."

The person who makes out the worst in this deal is Parker, a wondrously talented player. However, Stewart has been caught in the middle of a situation not of her doing which I find extremely unfortunate. Callan spoke about players having advocates and I've spoken to her enough over the years to figure she was very much in Stewart's corner when it came to picking this team. Will Stewart be more willing to accept a role, even a limited one, than Parker would have been? That is another question that is almost impossible to answer. I expect when the Olympics roll around, this subject will once again pick up some steam. I've seen people say they won't support the team because of Auriemma turning this into a UConn-dominated team (of course with 10 national championships since the 1999-2000 season), it is only natural that there is a large number of former Huskies on the Olympic team. If people want to take that approach, they have the right to do so but I think they will be missing a pretty special team going for some Olympic history.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Former UConn star Tuck thrilled to remain in Connecticut

Not every star who rolls off the assembly line at UConn is completely enamored at the prospect of remaining in Connecticut as a professional.

Four years of living under the microscope can wear on even the most jovial type of person and getting to chance to spread the wings out of the glare of the spotlight can be the best thing to happen to many former Huskies.

However, Morgan Tuck is embracing her role as not only the top draft pick of the Connecticut Sun but a player likely to have attention paid to her due to her UConn roots.

"I think it is something that everybody would want," Tuck said at Thursday's Connecticut Sun media day event at Mohegan Sun Arena. "They want to go as high as they could in the draft, you are going to have high expectations. For me, I am not going to take this as 'I don't want this pressure of having to do well.' I want to be great, I want to be the best that I can be so I am going to try to use that to try to work harder."

Tuck has come to Sun games in the past. A season ago she was in the stands when Los Angeles came to town to see not only her former UConn teammate (and now current fellow Connecticut Sun team member) Kelly Faris but to see UConn graduate assistant coach Jasmine Lister play for the visiting Sparks.

Likely many of UConn's returning players will make the drive down to see Tuck play this season.

"It is kind of weird. I think once we start getting into games (it will sink in)," Tuck said. "It is cool that my old teammates can come and see me play. We came to the LA/Connecticut game so now they will be doing the same thing so it is kind of weird to think about."

Tuck has already impressed her coaches and teammates with her professional attitude and ability to impact the game in a variety of areas. Her versatility could be her calling card in the early stages of her professional career.

"Here I need to use my versatility way more than I did (at UConn)," Tuck said. "I think towards the end of the season I had to use it more because we were playing against teams with big post players but that is going to be more of how I try to play here just even now I am the smallest post on the team so for me it is really trying to focus on my versatility every possession done.

"I feel like I played really well (in the NCAA tournament) especially coming off that February run I had that was terrible so it really felt good to end on the right note and I am definitely going to try to carry it through to the season."

Since she only appeared in eight games as a sophomore Tuck was eligible to return to UConn next season where she likely would have been the No. 1 offensive option more often than at any other time in her collegiate career. Before the season Tuck said her intention was to return next season but after giving it much thought, she made the decision to declare for the draft. With a little and I do mean little down time since the end of the college season Tuck is confident she made the right decision.

"The way everything worked out and the way everything is working out, I think it was the best decision," Tuck said.

Tuck was inducted into the Huskies of Honor one day after helping UConn win an unprecedented fourth straight national title. Then came the draft preparations, the final work so she can graduate as well as moving her stuff out of her apartment to the place she is currently living in.

"It has been crazy," Tuck said. "It has calmed down a little bit now because we are in more of a routine of going to practice but it was crazy after the season ended, there was a lot of stuff that had to get done in a short amount of time. It has been great. I couldn't ask for a better experience for the last month, it's been the best time I've had in my life. "

Speaking of a hectic schedule, just imagine how things have been for Tuck's former UConn teammate Breanna Stewart who was introduced as part of the 2016 Olympic team yesterday in New York.

"It is crazy that she is really going to play in the Olympics," Tuck said. "I think it is literally every kid who plays the sport is to play in the Olympics. For her to be able to do that, being the youngest on the team just shows how great of a player she is. I talked to her about it and she didn't even bring it up when we were talking, she is super humble."

Tuck and Stewart will be reunited on May 28 when Tuck's Connecticut Sun plays at Stewart's Seattle Storm squad. She won't have to wait that long to see former teammate Moriah Jefferson, now a rookie with the San Antonio Stars since the Stars will play exhibition games on May 4 and 5 at Mohegan Sun Arena with the latter game coming against the Sun.

"In an actual game, I don't think we've ever played against each other," Tuck said. "It helps that we won't be guarding each other but it definitely is going to be weird.

"It's been a lot going on. It is kind of crazy what we've been able to do. I wish we could still be on the same team but it definitely has helped us quite a bit being able to do it together is the best possible thing we could do."

The departure of Stewart, Jefferson and Tuck leave three major holes to fill. Incoming freshmen Molly Bent, Crystal Dangerfield and Kyla Irwin won't be expected to replace the production of UConn's Big Three but there will still plenty of eyes on them. So what advice would Tuck give them?

"To work hard and try to do whatever you can to help the team win," Tuck said. "That is what us three did, when we were needed to step up as leaders we kind of did that. I would tell them to buy into the system, buy into what the coaches are telling  you because they obviously know what they are doing. I think they have to have fun with it but literally do whatever they need to do to make sure the team is going to be good.

"I think the team is taking it as a challenge because a lot of people are saying we aren't going to be as good but it wasn't just us this out there playing, we had a whole team and in our four years, it wasn't just us three. Our freshman year we weren't the ones carrying the team, they have to take it as a challenge. They can still be a great team, they can still win a national championship and Coach (Geno Auriemma) is going to make sure he gets them ready to do that."


Another busy summer for UConn's Nurse

The U.S. Olympic team was garnering the headlines yesterday as the team, featuring five former UConn players, was announced on NBC's Today Show and made its first public appearance in Times Square at the "100 Days Out" Olympic preview extravaganza.

It find of flew a little bit under my radar that Canada announced the summer schedule for its national team featuring UConn rising junior Kia Nurse.

The first of the training camps will run from May 21-30 in Edmonton before the team leaves for Europe to train in Spain and France from June 1-9. The schedule doesn't mention this but you would have to figure some international friendlies will be included during that time. After about 2 1/2 weeks off, the team will reconvene in Edmonton on June 26 for another training camp leading into the Edmonton Grads International Classic featuring games against China on July 9, 10 and 11. From July 22-26 there will be more training, this time in Toronto.

The part that could be of most interest to UConn fans is that there is an entry in the schedule for exhibition games at a site in the U.S. from July 27-31. While nothing is expected to be announced until likely at some point in May, considering how many times the U.S. has trained or held exhibitions in Connecticut during Geno Auriemma's time as the U.S. national team coach, perhaps Nurse will get a chance to play in front of Connecticut fans before the team leaves for Rio.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Getting Olympic spot never gets old for UConn legends

Whenever Sue Bird would look Breanna Stewart's way during Wednesday's "100 Days Out" event at Times Square, she couldn't help but take a trip down memory lane.

In 2004 Bird was just two years removed from her time as an All-American point guard at UConn when she made her first Olympic team. The announcement lacked the pomp and circumstance of Wednesday's festivities when the 12-member team was announced on NBC's Today Show and then there was the meet in greet in New York featuring athletes from nearly every sport, Olympic legends and First day Michelle Obama. However, the memories of Bird's first taste of life as an Olympian have never subsided.

"I remember my first time, what it felt like and being able to say the words for the first time that you are going to be an Olympian for the first time, the weight it carries," Bird said. "In your own little world, for us being an Olympian is huge but even when you talk to your friends at home or random people, being an Olympian has weight."

Bird laughs when asked if she ever thought she would be a four-time Olympian.

"I think when you are younger, ignorance is bliss in a way, you just don't know any better to think about that stuff," Bird said. "It is probably a good thing so it doesn't get all messy in your head, you are able to keep your eye on the prize, It is not until you are older that you have that awareness, you realize what it means and in some ways how lucky you are to get to a fourth."

So could Bird hang around long enough to join Teresa Edwards as the only U.S. women's basketball player to take part in five Olympics?

"I don't really think about it," Bird said. "It is not something that is on the forefront in my thoughts, it is not something I feel the need to announce or comment on. I am just taking it literally one day at a time, one season at a time and going from there."

Bird certainly was thrilled to be a part of Wednesday's extravaganza.

"It is a special day," Bird said. "As WNBA players, we don't really get to be involved in a lot of this stuff and it is a bummer sometimes. This is in my experience the only time we've been at an event like this, the combination of the event itself, the First lady being here, all these other athletes being here and they are announcing our team, it is a big deal. You put all of that together and it has made for a special day."

Tina Charles and Maya Moore combined to play for two national championship teams at UConn and then were teammates once again four years ago when they were among the new faces on the team that would win a fifth straight Olympic gold medal.

Both Charles and Moore admitted that having gone through the Olympic experience in 2012 will allow them to appreciate the process even more this time around.

"I was so excited to be there that I didn''t take in  every little detail from Catch (Tamika Catchings), Sue (Bird) and Diana (Taurasi)," Charles said.

Here's what Moore had to say about now being a two-time Olympian,

"The first one, I am just trying to take everything in but now I kind of know what to expect and I can enjoy it at a different pace I think, in a different way and just help the players that it is their first time so just help them enjoy it,," Moore said. "Also, the ones who are on their way out to enjoy their last one. It is a cool spot to be in where I can  enjoy the people I am around in a different way."

Moore also happens to be on the same Olympic team as Minnesota Lynx teammates Seimone Augustus, Sylvia Fowles and Lindsay Whalen as well as having formed bonds with the four other former Huskies on the team even if Charles was the only one she played with during her remarkable college career.

"It is super great because the relationships that are already established going in  to be able to make it that much richer," Moore said. "I've had the opportunity of knowing most of my teammates on the Olympic team for five, six, seven years. Tina, we have been playing against each other since we were in middle school so some of these relationships go way back. This is my sixth season with the Lynx so with Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus, I played with Diana, Tamika and Sue when I was in college on the Worlds team in 2010 so thee are just a lot of memories, a lot of tie we've been able to build the chemistry that we've had."

Having Wednesday's event in New York was extra special to Charles who not only rose to prominence as a star at New York powerhouse Christ the King but also now plays in the WNBA for the New York Liberty.

"It is definitely special to be able to represent New York, have the jersey so it is definitely special," Charles said.

Charles also made it clear that once the pomp and circumstance came to an end that the team she is focused on at the current time is not the Olympic squad.

"My focus right now is the New York Liberty and getting us a championship but I am enjoying this moment," Charles said. "When the time comes when we get to Rio and I am healthy, that is what my focus (will be on) then."

Photos from today's 100 Days Out Olympic event

It was a memorable trip to New York as I got to catch up with four former UConn stars who were named to the U.S. Olympic women's basketball team in an event at Times Square attended by First lady Michelle Obama.

While my photos might be what you would expect from a smart phone, I figured I would post them here

Former UConn great Stewart ecstatic to get Olympic nod

For almost a week Breanna Stewart had knowledge that another of her basketball dreams had become a reality but needed to keep the information - mostly - to herself.

On Friday USA Basketball Women's National Team Director Carol Callan placed a call to Stewart to inform the former UConn star that she was among the 12 players being named to the U.S. team playing in the Olympics.

"I was nervous when she called. I thought that either she was going to say I made the team or
didn't make the team," Stewart said on Wednesday at an event in New York commemorating the 100 days until the start of the Olympics. "She congratulated me right away, I didn't even know what to say, I was speechless.

"The first people I spoke to were my parents.They have been with me through this the entire process and I want to make sure that (they knew that)  me going to the Olympics means they are going to the Olympics too."

"It is an unbelievable feeling to be able to be here, be a part of the Olympic team, we've talked about it a lot but to for it actually to be coming true, it is amazing. I think definitely being here celebrating 100 days out makes it hit home a little bit more realizing that this is reality, in 100 days I am going to be in Brazil fighting  with my teammates for a gold medal."

Stewart joins Elena Delle Donne and Brittney Griner as the first-time Olympians on the team. Four years ago former UConn stars Tina Charles and Maya Moore were among the Olympic newcomers and they both weighed in on what Stewart and the other first-time Olympians should try to take out of the events in Rio in August.

"I would definitely tell them to appreciate the process of what it takes to win," Charles said. "I think for me I was so excited to be there that I didn't take in  every little detail from Catch (Tamika Catchings), Sue (Bird) and Diana (Taurasi) so anything they can (learn) from them knowing that this is their last go round they should definitely pay attention."

So what does Charles most appreciate about what Stewart will bring to the team?

"I would have to say her eagerness, her eyes are really wide right now and I know she is going to really value every possession and every minute she is on the floor," Charles said. "I think just how eager she is to be on the team and know that she is going to play hard every second."

Moore looks at Stewart and recalls being in a similar situation four and six years ago when she was the rising superstar playing alongside some legendary players.

"Stewie and I have pretty much identical paths as far as being the young one, being a No. 1 draft pick, coming from a successful college career and having to step up and lead in her class, in her generation because she is one of the leaders of the next generation if things go the way we all think they will for her," Moore said. "It is really cool to make this official and look forward to this opportunity. For her to go into her Olympic (debut) with the captains (Bird, Catchings and Taurasi) that we have, then we have Syl (Sylvia Fowles), Seimone (Augustus), Whay (Lindsay Whalen), just so many different ways she can appreciate her time as a young  player but also wanting to go in and contribute as well so I think it is a really memorable time for her."

Bird joins Catchings and Taurasi by being named to her fourth Olympic team something previously only accomplished by Teresa Edwards and Lisa Leslie. She also has the opportunity to see Stewart up close and personal as they are teammates with the WNBA's Seattle Storm.

"Being an Olympian has weight." Bird said. "It is pretty special that Stewie can get to experience that and have that on her resume, I know she is going to make the most of it."

So how has Stewart done in her first couple of days at training camp?

"She is doing great. training camp in the WNBA is so short so you really have to throw a lot out there but she has picked up things very well," Bird said. "Offensively, I think the more we are together we will get comfortable but you can already see her talent, you can already see the things she does and her versatility and that she will be able to play multiple spots on the floor. Her defense day one is just unbelievable. Obviously people have to get used to her just like people have to get used to  a player like Brittney Griner but she was immediately blocking pretty much everybody's shot."

Taurasi, Griner, Augustus and Angel McCoughtry were unable to make it to today's event because of they are still playing overseas.


5 UConn products on U.S. Olympic team

Former UConn teammates Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi along with Tennessee legend Tamika Catchings were named to the U.S. Olympic women's basketball team for a fourth time as they headline the 12-member team announced on Wednesday morning.

Lisa Leslie, who appeared in the 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics, and Teresa Edwards, who was a part of five straight Olympic squads from 1984-2000, are the only other U.S. women's players to make at least four U.S. Olympic teams.

The team has an unmistakable UConn flavor to it. Tina Charles and Maya Moore will be playing in the Olympics for the second time while Breanna Stewart is the youngest member of the team.
Stewart's inclusion did come at the expense of two-time Olympian Candace Parker, the leading rebounder for the U.S. during the 2012 Olympics. The move led to criticize UConn and U.S. national team coach Geno Auriemma for favoring his former players or at least influencing the selection committee into leaning towards former Huskies. The ultimate irony is that if Stewart is part of the gold-medal winning team, it will mark the first time a women's player won the NCAA and Olympic title in the same year since Parker accomplished the feat in 2008.

"This was an incredibly difficult decision for the selection committee, but a very positive challenge given the talented athletes in our pool," said Carol Callan, USA Basketball Women's National Team Director and chair of the USA Basketball Women's National Team Player Selection Committee in a statement. "If you combine the returning 2012 Olympians with the 2014 world champions, you have 15 very qualified candidates. Add to that an emerging group of young athletes and the decision becomes that much harder to settle on a final 12-member roster. The good news is that we have developed a deep, talented pool of athletes at each position through our national team program.  We are grateful that the very best athletes in our country want to play and push each other to be better whenever our team gathers to train.

"This team has all of the areas necessary for success covered - talent and depth at each position, flexibility to play several positions, leadership on and off the court, international experience, demonstrated teamwork and a blend of veterans and youth. They understand their roles and the responsibility of representing the U.S. in Rio, and we look forward to watching their journey as they work toward a sixth-straight gold medal."

Bird, Catchings, Charles, Moore and Taurasi will be joined by Seimone Augustus, Sylvia Fowles, Angel McCoughtry and Lindsay Whalen to give the U.S. nine players back from the team which won a fifth straight Olympic gold medal in 2012. Stewart, Elena Delle Donne and Brittney Griner are the first-time Olympians on the team.

The U.S. will be joined in Group B at the Olympics by Canada, featuring UConn rising junior guard Kia Nurse, Senegal and Serbia as well as two of the five teams to emerge out of June's Olympic qualifying tournament. Pool play runs from Aug. 6-14. the quarterfnals are on Aug, 16, semifinals on Aug. 18 and the gold-medal game on Aug. 20 in Rio de Janeiro.

Monday, April 25, 2016

UConn's Stewart named Honda Award winner

UConn All-American Breanna Stewart was named the women's basketball winner of the Honda Sport Award for the third season in a row.

Stewart is now a finalist for the Collegiate Woman Athlete of the Year and the Honda Cup which will be presented on a live telecast on June 27 in the Founders’ Room at the Galen Center in Los, Angeles.

Stewart led UConn to four straight national titles. She finished as the second-leading scorer in UConn history, set the program record with 414 career blocked shots and was the only player in women's Division I history with at least 400 assists and 400 blocked shots. She was taken first overall by the Seattle Storm in the 2016 WNBA Draft.

New-look Connecticut Sun open training camp

All five 2016 draft picks including UConn's Morgan Tuck were among the 14 players on the court as the Connecticut Sun opened training camp.

The biggest news was that former WNBA Rookie of the Year Chiney Ogwumike was back on the court and she is one of six returnees who are currently in camp.

Tuck was joined by fellow No. 1 draft picks Rachel Banham and Jonquel Jones, second-round selection Jamie Weisner and third rounder Aliyyah Handford. Heather Butler, Victoria Macaulay and Jennifer O'Neill are also taking part in the training camp.

All-star guard Alex Bentley could be joining the team soon which could leave first-year head coach Curt Miller with a decision to make. He said he is "talking very aggressively with a 15th person to come into camp" and that player is playing in Brazil. If that is how the team proceeds, that would mean a cut would need to be made when Bentley reports to camp.

"The earliest I could see a cut being made is how fast Alex could get here, if we picked up a 15th and Alex. I think you could see this group of 14 practice all the way to Friday or Saturday without a cut," Miller said. "You hear of people making cuts already and it is one day in so it would be a better screen shot of what they could do and be fair to them."
He did not divulge a name but being the curious soul that I am, I checked into the teams currently alive in Brazil's playoffs. Well, Corinthians and Sampaio are currently in the championship series.

Regular-season champion Corinthians features a roster with 10 natives of Brazil headlined by Damiris Dantas, who was acquired by Atlanta in trade that resulted in Sylvia Fowles landing in Minnesota so obviously she is not in the mix. Now there is nothing stopping Miller from adding somebody from Brazil but if I were to take an educated guess of which player could be on the radar, I would go with former Rutgers guard Erica Wheeler who played last year with the Atlanta Dream and New York Liberty. Keep in mind this is merely speculation on my part and time will tell if I am even in the ball park on this subject.

Wheeler leads Sampaio with an average of 4.4 assists per game and also has a team-high 45 3-pointers while shooting 46.4 percent from 3-point range as she is second on the team in scoring at 11.8 points per game.

If Wheeler is the player Miller is eyeing, it would make sense since the team is lacking in bodies to play point guard. Miller said Jasmine Thomas and Banham are the top options there but also said that Banham, Tuck and Ogwumike will be monitored closely because of their past knee issues so having  another player in camp who can run the point in the event that Banham is held out of practice or has her practice time scaled back.

The timetable for Aneika Henry and Camille Little to report to camp is a little more uncertain since both of their teams are still in the playoffs. Little is playing in Italy and those playoffs could be going for a while.

The Minnesota Lynx certainly seem to like bringing in players with UConn's championship pedigree.

There were four former UConn players on the roster as the Lynx won the 2015 WNBA title (Maya Moore, Renee Montgomery, Kalana Greene and Asjha Jones). Moore, Montgomery and Jones remain on the roster and now the team announced that it has invited Kaili McLaren to training camp.

Friday, April 22, 2016

UConn's Collier on the mend after hip surgery

UConn freshman forward Napheesa Collier underwent a procedure on her hip earlier today.

The injury, first reported by the Manchester Journal Inquirer's Carl Adamec as a torn labrum, has bothered her since high school. She is expected to begin the rehabilitation process next week and is expected to be able to practice without restriction when UConn kicks off the preseason.

Collier joined Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams as the only UConn players to appear in all 38 games. She averaged 6.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game and had a team-leading 83 offensive rebounds. In the NCAA tournament she averaged 8.3 and 4.3 rebounds per contest. Collier shot 91.7 percent from the free-throw line, the highest for any freshman in program history to average at least one foul shot per game.

Recovery time for a labral tear tends to fall in the three to four month range.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

UConn's Auriemma released from hospital

UConn announced that its Hall of Fame women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma has been released from the hospital and is back at home.

Auriemma has been ill since returning from the Final Four with flu-like symptoms resulting in him missed multiple public events including the national-championship parade. On Saturday Auriemma was on board of a plane at Bradley Airport when he decided to deplane and check himself into the hospital.

Here is the official statement from UConn

UConn head women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma returned home from the hospital on Tuesday morning.  He is feeling better and enjoying some time with his family.  Coach Auriemma and his family wish to express their appreciation and gratitude to everyone for their thoughts and prayers.  

In an effort to respect the Auriemma family’s privacy, UConn will have no further comment.

UConn commits Espinoza-Hunter, Gordon heading to U-17 trials

Andra Espinoza-Hunter set to make a run at another national team
UConn Class of 2017 commits Andra Espinoza-Hunter and Lexi Gordon are among 35 players who have accepted invitations to try out for the U.S. U-17 team.

UConn commit Lexi Gordon taking part in U-17 trials
Espinoza-Hunter is one of 12 players who played on the U.S. U-16 team last summer who have accepted invitations to the team trials. Gordon attended the trials through the application process and was among the final cuts.

Once again USA Basketball will be adding players through an application process and is open to players born on Jan. 1, 1999 or later with the complete list of players heading to the trials likely approaching 150.

The team trials will be held from May 26-30 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. The finalists for the team will be announced on May 30 and they will remain in Colorado until June 3 when the 12-member team representing the U.S. in the FIBA U17 World Championships being announced.

The FIBA U-17 World Championships will be held from June 22-July 2 in Zaragoza, Spain. UConn rising sophomore Katie Lou Samuelson and former Husky stars Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck were members of previous U-17 teams.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Former UConn star Breanna Stewart signs with Nike

Breanna Stewart, who was the No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft after leading UConn to four straight national titles, has been signed to a multi-year endorsement deal with Nike.

Connecticut Sun rookies Rachel Banham and Jonquel Jones were also signed by Nike.

Here is the release

NIKE, Inc. is proud to announce the signing of Breanna Stewart to a multi-year endorsement deal, adding to what has already been a historic year for the Syracuse, New York native. Stewart was the number one pick in this month’s WNBA draft, just over a week after becoming the most decorated player in women’s college basketball history. She is also the first player ever, male or female, to win four consecutive national titles while earning four tournament Most Outstanding Player awards.
Throughout it all, Stewart has shown dedication and humility. “My parents are my role models. They taught me the value of hard work,” she says. “The moment that rebounding for my dad at the YMCA as a kid turned into him rebounding for me was special for us both — it showed me that loyalty and support go a long way.” 
The Nike family of athletes is eager for Stewart to join them, and many have compared her versatility and style of play to that of Kevin Durant. She's proven herself a leader with a strong work ethic and a pure love of the game, who will be an invaluable addition to the team.
Stewart’s partnership with Nike will also continue to build basketball’s global footprint. “Being strong and bold while carrying yourself with humility and confidence is something I hope to share with young kids,” asserts Stewart, understanding that as a professional athlete, she has an opportunity to positively influence young players around the world.
The next chapter in Stewart’s journey takes her to the Pacific Northwest, where she will join the Seattle Storm. The team begins its regular season on May 15 against the Los Angeles Sparks.
In addition to Stewart, today Nike Basketball announces the signings of Rachel Banham, Aerial Powers, Jonquel Jones and Tiffany Mitchell.
Rachel Banham was selected fourth overall by the Connecticut Sun. Banham was the Big Ten Player of the Year for the University of Minnesota.
Aerial Powers was selected fifth overall by the Dallas Wings. Powers averaged nearly 19 points and 10 rebounds during her three-year career at Michigan State University and is the sixth MSU player to be selected to the WNBA.
Jonquel Jones was selected sixth by the Los Angeles Sparks and immediately traded. She will join fellow rookie Rachel Banham on the Connecticut Sun. Hailing from George Washington University, Jones finished her collegiate career ranking third at George Washington in rebounds, fourth in scoring and fifth in blocked shots.
Tiffany Mitchell was drafted ninth to the Indiana Fever. The three-time All-American holds the University of South Carolina record for most career starts and is fifth in points.


Sunday, April 17, 2016

UConn legend Diana Taurasi wins another EuroLeague title

Another year and another title for former UConn star Diana Taurasi.

Taurasi had 22 points, four rebounds and four assists to lead UMMC Ekaterinburg to a 72-69 win over Nadezhda in Sunday's title game.

A 3-pointer by DeWanna Bonner put Nadezhda ahead by four with 6:14 to play. Taurasi hit a pair of 3-pointers in a span of 30 seconds. Another 3-pointer by Taurasi, this one with 1:49 left, put Ekaterinburg in front for good. Taurasi hit a pair of free throws with 13 seconds to play. When Bonner's 3-pointer with 3 seconds left was no good, Ekaterinburg had its third time in the last five seasons.

Taurasi, who had 21 points and three assists in a semifinal win over ZVVZ USK Praha, was named the tournament's MVP. It was the sixth Euroleague title for Taurasi between her time with Ekaterinburg and Spartak Moscow Region.

Taurasi's Phoenix Mercury teammate Brittney Griner had 12 points and six rebounds while fellow WNBA stars Sancho Lyttle (18 points, 12 rebounds, 4 steals), Kristi Toliver (9 points, 5 assists) and Emma Meesserman (7 points) also played pivotal roles in the victory.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

UConn's Geno Auriemma hospitalized

UConn Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma was hospitalized earlier today.

Auriemma hasn't been feeling well, missing the parade honoring the national champions and Husky Day at the State Capitol.

Here is the statement released by UConn

After boarding a plane at Bradley International Airport on Saturday morning, UConn head women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma decided to deplane because he was not feeling well.  Coach Auriemma had been ill for the last several days and was brought to the hospital for observation where he is resting comfortably.

The University will have no further comment on this matter and we ask that people please respect the Auriemma family's privacy.

WNBA preseason tourney to feature local stars

When the WNBA announced the four preseason games being played at Mohegan Sun Arena on May. 4 & 5, I'm not even sure I put it in my blog.

Well, after Thursday night's draft definitely added some juice to that event since former UConn star Moriah Jefferson and former Hillhouse star Bria Holmes could play their first WNBA games in Connecticut.

The first of the four games will feature Jefferson's San Antonio team playing Holmes' Atlanta squad at 5 p.m. on May 4 followed by the new-look Connecticut Sun squaring off with the Chicago Sky at (about) 7 p.m. as Morgan Tuck will be one of the three first-round picks set to debut for the Sun.

The next day Atlanta and Chicago play at 5 p.m. while San Antonio and Connecticut wrap up the four games in two days at approximately 7 p.m.

Breanna Stewart is set to make her WNBA debut at 2:30 p.m. on May 4 when the Seattle Storm host the Phoenix Mercury.

Stewart will return to Connecticut on June 10 when the Storm play at Mohegan Sun Arena

Friday, April 15, 2016

Dangerfield excited to begin life as a Husky

There were more than a few nifty passes that should have resulted in assists in Crystal Dangerfield's stat line at the Jordan Brand Classic and a few "wows" could be heard from the crowd at the Barclays Center when she changed gears with some hesitation dribbles that bore resemblance to the player she is certain to be compared to at UConn.

Yet, the speedy 5-foot-6 Dangerfield knows that when she puts on a UConn uniform that she will invariably be compared to All-American Moriah Jefferson. While she may take a certain amount of pride in the comparisons, she is not going to spend her collegiate career chasing a ghost.

"On our official visit, I pulled her (Jefferson) aside and she (said) I don't have to go up there and try to be her," said Dangerfield after recording seven points, four rebounds, three assists and a steal in the East's 100-94 loss to the West in the second girls' game at the Jordan Brand Classic. "I have to go up there and be Crystal. I talked to Coach Shea (Ralph) last night, she said I don't have to come in and be thinking 'I have to replace Moriah Jefferson. I have to do what I do.'
"The coaches have said the same thing, just be me. Me and her know we aren't the same player. When I was younger, I was more like her but now we have gone our separate ways. At the same age I an not like she was and she is not like I am."
Dangerfield averaged 23.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.5 steals per game as a senior. She had 21 20-point games as a senior and seven 30-point efforts.
In her first three seasons Dangerfield played a role similar to the one Jefferson had at UConn as she not only was a double-digit scorer but also ran the team as she averaged a career-high 5.6 assists as a junior. However, when three of Blackman's top five scorers graduated, Dangerfield was asked to look for her own shot more than in past years.

"It was a longer season because the kids hadn't had as much experience but the season was pretty enjoyable even though we didn't meet our ultimate goal of a state championship," Dangerfield said. "Being able to take that role as a leader is going to help next year. The read and react are going to be key. They are going to have to guard all five people, say they focus on Kia (Nurse) or Lou (Katie Lou Samuelson), they are going to leave somebody open and if it is me, it is me."
So what does Dangerfield, who was named the Morgan Wootten Award winner as the McDonald's national player of the year, believe she will bring to UConn?
"A whole lot of speed, that is not going to be anything new coming from Moriah though, just a floor general and trying to be vocal," Dangerfield said. "Coach Auriemnma has already voiced that is going to have to be done, handle the ball because he has expressed that as well that he going to have somebody that he can lean on to get the ball where it needs to be."

Thanks to her time in high school and with USA Basketball, she has been on the court at the same time as UConn rising sophomores Samuelson and Napheesa Collier which could make the adjustment to playing with them go all the more smoothly.
"Sophomore year I played against Napheesa twice and Lou, I have been with her since the U-16 USA team so just having that experience with them for basically my entire high school career has been helpful and I know it will carry on when I get to UConn," Dangerfield said.

Transformation of Connecticut Sun roster continues

Minnesota's Rachel Banham is one of new
additions for the rebuilding Connecticut Sun
With five picks including two of the top four selections last night's WNBA Draft figured to be a roster-shaping evening for the Connecticut Sun. That most certainly was the case.

There weren't too many surprises when UConn's Morgan Tuck and Minnesota's Rachel Banham were taken by the Sun with picks No. 3 and 4. I thought the Sun might try to package the two second-round selections to move back into the first round and take another shooter. I did not see the blockbuster trade resulting in Jonquel Jones landing with the Sun as Connecticut gave up guard Chelsea Gray, picks No. 15 and 23 and next year's No. 1 pick to acquire the rights to Jones, taken sixth overall by Los Angeles, and the 17th pick which turned into Oregon State's Jamie Weisner.

Gray was the only player to appear in all 34 games last season and once it became apparent that San Antonio was planning to draft Moriah Jefferson, I figured that Gray was going to be a part of the team's future. Surprise, surprise, surprise.

"It is hard to lose Chelsea but we rolled the dice with the risk involved in being able to acquire Jones," first-year Sun coach Curt Miller said. (With Gray) being the only player on the roster to play every game last year, having a great overseas (season) so we have to make up for that. She has a great future ahead of her, she is from California so when we talked to her later she sounded really excited about going to LA. A lot is put on Rachel (Banham) right away, it gives us a spot for a 2 guard with Jen O'Neil in camp now, a feisty combo guard, it gives an opportunity for Weisner to stick on our roster. We thought that a wing player in the middle of the second round could stick on one of these rosters. We are excited to get them in camp and get working."

There were thoughts that if there were any red flags about Tuck's knees that Jones could be selected by the Sun with either the No. 3 or 4 picks. Tuck, Banham, Jones and South Florida's Courtney Williams were the four names most often linked to Connecticut in the days and weeks leading into the draft and the Sun ended up with three of them.

"As great as Tuck is, she is a strong, physical defender where Jones gives us a rim protector, a proven collegiate rebounder and we thought a missing piece for us," Miller said. "We have a lot of posts, the most difficult thing coming out of this draft is how we are going to manage minutes in the post. We have a lot of post players who have the ability to play at this level so managing minutes, finding things but the one thing that we did in LA last year was play (Candace) Parker, (Nneka) Ogwumike and (Jantel) Lavender  together. We believe Jones or Tuck can play on the floor with other players, we can switch a lot of screens if we needed play with a big lineup."

Surrendering a future No. 1 pick when you are a perennial championship contender isn't that big of a deal but when it is done by a team which hasn't been in the playoffs for the last three years, it is certainly a gamble.

"It is a big gamble but we looked at this draft as one of the deeper drafts in recent years," Miller said. "We looked ahead, we studied the 2017 draft and feel it is not as deep as this draft. If you move forward and put Jonquel Jones in the '17 draft, she may be the No. 1 draft pick in all of 17 so we felt like it was a gamble so it was a risk worth taking."

The 2018 draft, likely headlined by South Carolina's A'ja Wilson, has a chance to be something special but as Miller said, there may not be as much high-end talent in next year's draft although players like Washington's Kelsey Plum, Stanford's Erica McCall, Notre Dame's Lindsay Allen, Northwestern's Nia Coffey and Maryland's Shatori Walker-Kimbrough are among those who could emerge into top prospects.

The Sun weren't far removed from making the playoffs last season even without injured star Chiney Ogwumike so if a return to the playoffs takes place this year, it could lessen the blow of not having a No. 1 pick.

Ogwumike, who is healthy and raring to go, did not hide her excitement when she looked at the new-look Sun roster.

"We are going to be young," Ogwumike said, "Shoot, I don't know what's going to happen, I just know that we are going to have some fun, it is going to be running and gunning.

"After last year Kelsey Bone had to do a lot, my rookie year I felt like I had to do a lot so we can just kind of go in there, do our thing and Jonquel go grab some rebounds, go block some shots, OK Morgan go get the fans all hyped so I think it is going to be good. It is going to be a healthy roster, we can go nine deep, rely on each other and it is going to be tough to guard.

"We were young when I came in as a rookie, we tried hard and fell short. Last year we gained a little experience. Everybody says how young we are. Well, everybody is young when you get a new coach because you all start at square one so having . Alyssa (Thomas) and I always joke that we play our best basketball if we didn't know what we were doing, we were just out there playing. We mask it a lot, we had each other's backs and went out and just played. I think with Curt, that is his style. He gives us assignments but we just go and play basketball."

Ogwumike squared off against Tuck during her college days so she understands what the UConn All-American can bring to the court.

"I do love that she is now my teammate," Ogwumike said. "She is very smart, she is very methodical. People don't really talk about what she is amazing at and that is because she is really good at a lot of things. If she a passing post, I don't mind that . She will have a nice post partner, if she can hit a shot, stretch the floor. I have no complaints, we are going to compete in practice but we are going to have so many fun, exciting moments.

"I think it is awesome (that UConn's Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Tuck were taken with the top three picks),' Ogwumike said. "If you look at the championships, they are bound to be 1, 2 and 3. Who are you taking at 3? You'd better take (Tuck). I am not trying to get tomatoed in my nice pretty dress (at the draft) if we don't take her so I think we made great decisions, getting everybody we wanted  so I am proud of what she has accomplished and want to see what her leadership will bring as a rookie showing us how to win. We need to get more wins over here."

Ogwumike was no stranger of winning when she was at Stanford and is eager to get a taste of that feeling again.

"We had drop off, we lost Tina (Charles) and then I got injured. We had games where we didn't close (it out) and lost a lot of those so I think last year it showed that the little things.

"My goal is to walk out in the state of Connecticut and ask me 'are you a UConn girl?' No, it says Connecticut Sun and if we can accomplish that where people know who we are, it will get us closer. I want to win a championship, our goal is to win a championship but more so our goal is to play basketball and play it well. I feel like our fans deserve that. If you are playing well you are winning and when you are winning you are getting close to a championship."

With a new coach it is really hard to tell how the roster battles will shake out. Ogwumike, Bone, Alex Bentley, Alyssa Thomas, Camille Little, Shekinna Stricklen and Jasmine Thomas were the top seven scorers last season and all are back. Aneika Henry and O'Neil are among the new non-draft additions seemingly with the best chance to make the roster. If you add in the three first-round picks, that brings the roster to 12. O'Neil and Weisner might have to battle it out for a spot and we'll see what happens at point guard because unless Banham is ready to provide quality minutes at that position, Bentley might have to move back to that position after playing mostly as a shooting guard last season. Another name that hasn't been mentioned is former UConn wing Kelly Faris. It certainly looks like she will face an uphill battle to make the team.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A historic night at WNBA Draft

Breanna Stewart stopped answering a question in mid sentence and slammed her fist onto the table when he was informed that Morgan Tuck was indeed the third pick in the WNBA Draft. Moriah Jefferson, taken second overall just a few minutes earlier, also had a rather exuberant reaction to the news.

The historic achievement of being the first teammates to be taken with the top three picks in a pro draft was special but more than anything else, the three former teammates were incredibly excited at the situations they are all walking into.

Stewart joins Sue Bird (now her teammate in Seattle), Diana Taurasi, Tina Charles and Maya Moore as the UConn players selected No. 1 overall in the WNBA Draft. Jefferson, the first Texas native to play for the Huskies, is returning home to suit up for San Antonio and Tuck was one of five draftees joining an already young nucleus for the Connecticut Sun.

"I have to wonder if it was actually real," Stewart said  "I woke up this morning and my thought (was similar to) when we won the national championship 'wow, I am getting drafted today.' That is a childhood dream and it just came true.

"We've been waiting here, we've been up since 6:30 this morning  and we want to know what is going to happen. I think to have Mo to my left, Morgan (around)  the corner from me and just to be able to look at them, embrace them as I was walking to the podium, that just shows the kind of group we are, we care about each other and how each other are doing."

Jefferson figured she was in a win-win situation as she would either be suiting up in her native Texas or in the state that has become her home away from home these last four years.

"They asked me if I would rather go to Connecticut or come here and they are both like home now," Jefferson said. "Being here for the last four years, it was great to be able to go back home."
Jefferson joked that she would pick up the ball and throw it at Stewart the first time her former teammate blocks one of her shots and would keep her distance from Tuck since she "is going to try to knock me out too."

San Antonio coach Dan Hughes, a two-time WNBA coach of the year, attempted to put in perspective the history that transpired on Thursday night.

"It is equally as remarkable as four straight championships., it is just amazing," Hughes said. "That is the beautiful thing about Connecticut players and all three of those girls came in as freshmen, were impactful and got better every year. The escalation led to a unique time here in the WNBA with 1, 2 and 3.

"You get a Connecticut player, they do things rights whether it is on the court, there is a focus. They are supposed to win the games, how many times did they get out of the gate with a mentality that was professional with just how they did it. I started dealing with them after the season and their ability to communicate with me, I've been fortunate to have some Connecticut players and they all bear that resemblance to me, it just love that because I feel like they are ready."

Connecticut Sun coach Curt Miller said that after consultation with UConn coaches and medical personnel, there were no concerns about Tuck's knee issues impacting her pro career. If there were any concerns, the Sun would have selected George Washington's Jonquel Jones. As it turned out, Connecticut got both of them - at a hefty price by giving up guard Chelsea Gray, the No. 15 pick and next year's No. 1 in exchange for Jones and the No. 17 pick (used to select Oregon State's Jamie Weisner. Oh, the Sun also selected Minnesota's Rachel Banham with the No. 4 pick.

Both Stewart and Jefferson said they felt more joy when Tuck went third overall than when they were selected. For Tuck, it was a night she won't soon forget.
"I was in fourth grade, I loved Lisa Leslie and I did a project in school and since then I wanted to play in the WNBA," Tuck said. "Now to get drafted, it is kind of surreal that is happened."

Another dream was fulfilled when Atlanta selected former Hillhouse High star Bria Holmes with the No. 11 pick making her the first state native taken in the first round of the WNBA Draft.

“It has always been a dream of mine to play in the WNBA, and to finally get drafted, especially in the first round, it was a bitter sweet moment,” Holmes said. “I wasn’t really expecting to go in the first round, but my dream actually came true. I couldn’t be happier and more proud of myself. All of the things that I have been through in high school and at West Virginia really paved the way for me.”

Banham is now the answer to a trivia question for being the first non-UConn player taken in this year's draft. She hopes to be more than just a footnote in the history books.

"I really did want to come here so I was hoping to hear my name, once I did I was in shock," Banham said. "He said 'I want you to score' when I hear that I said absolutely, I am coming there. I am excited to work under him."

Banham seemed to enjoy watching the delight in the faces of Stewart, Jefferson and Tuck as they went right before her.

"Those three girls were going up there and the fans were loving it," Banham said. "This is a championship state. I watch UConn play every year and they just win, that is what they do. The vibes of the fans, they love it and they love basketball and that is fun to play in front of."

The 6-foot-6 Jones is an intriguing prospect as she has the ability to step out and hit from the 3-point range. She is aware that the Sun gave up quite a bit to get her.

"I just don't want to let them down now, you want go in training camp, spend a lot of time in the gym and show you are willing to work," Jones said

"I am really fond of her. I was telling her to make sure she leaves her mark. She was somebody I really enjoyed being around and I was telling her we should keep in touch so I guess we will be keeping in touch."
Weisner, who led Oregon State to the Final Four, and St. John's Aliyyah Handford will also be joining the Sun putting the roster at 19 but there are four players who could remain overseas at the start of training camp. With 15 players allowed in training camp at one time, that would allow the Sun to take a look at the new players before some of the veterans arrive.

Miller said he did not want to trade away Gray and certainly was in no hurry to lose next year's first-round pick but he felt that a talent like Jones was worthy the price of what the team surrendered. He said if Jones were in next year's draft that perhaps she would be the top player available.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Corum heading from UConn to Southern Utah

Deb Corum, the former Senior Women's Administrator at UConn, is taking the job as Senior Woman Administrator at Southern Utah.

Neal Eskin, UConn's Senior Associate Director of Athletics/External Relations, handled many of the SWA duties for the women's basketball program during the recently-completed season including putting together what could be the toughest non-conference schedule in program history so Corum's departure won't have much of a day to day impact on the women's basketball program.

Corum was the Chair of the American Athletic Conference SWA Committee, and was a member of several other high profile boards including the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee, the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators (NACWAA) Board of Directors, the AAC Strategic Planning Task Force and the AAC Athletics Director’s Executive Committee. She also assisted with the design of a $38 million men’s and women’s basketball facility, as well as the design and implementation of a new logo for the University.

“I had a wonderful experience and UConn and I would like to thank everyone in Husky Nation,” said Corum in a statement. “We won a lot of championships and had great success during my time at UConn, but really the best part was the people. I worked with amazing student-athletes and coaches and with a great administrative team. I know that there is a great future ahead for all the Huskies.

“I am very excited to join the athletic family at Southern Utah. I am impressed with the incredible progress this University has made over time and look forward to working with the student-athletes, coaches and administration. I can’t wait to move to this beautiful area of the country and be closer to some of my family members.”

Before taking a position at UConn, Corum spent time at the Southeastern Conference (2000-2012) as the Associate Commissioner of Sports Administration. Corum was familiar with the Southeastern Conference, after spending time there from 1989-1994 as a Director of Championships, as well as an Assistant Director of Championships. She also spent four years at Louisiana State University (1996-2000) as an Associate/Assistant Athletic Director for their Olympic Sports after spending two years at Stanford University (1994-1996) as an Assistant Athletic Director of Intercollegiate Sports.

More history for UConn's Big Three?

There is finally some suspense surrounding the UConn women's basketball team and it will play out on ESPN2 tomorrow night.

It seems like a foregone conclusion that Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson will be taken with the first two picks in the WNBA Draft with Stewart going to Seattle and Jefferson to San Antonio. Then the fun starts as the rest of the first round festivities will be determined by what the Connecticut Sun do with picks No. 3 and 4.

If the Sun take Morgan Tuck with the third pick which seems like a realistic possibility, it would mark the first time that three players from the same program have gone with the top three picks in the draft.

I went through all the former NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS, Major League Lacrosse, different versions of the pro women's soccer leagues as well as National Pro Fastpitch (softball) and found 12 previous occurrences where the top two picks came from the same school or junior hockey program. It should be noted that in 1997 there were two drafts and former USC stars Tina Thompson and Pam McGee were the top two picks but it was nearly 15 years since McGee graduated from USC so this does not fit the criteria of teammates going at the top of the draft.

Here's the list I came up with of players going No. 1 and 2.
2002 UConn:
1. Sue Bird, Seattle; 2. Swin Cash, Detroit
2012 Kentucky:
1. Anthony Davis, New Orleans; 2. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte
2000 Penn State:
1. Courtney Brown, DE Cleveland; 2. LaVar Arrington, LB Washington
1984 Nebraska: 1. Irving Fryar, WR New England; 2. Dean Steinkuhler, OT Houston
1967 Michigan State: 1. Bubba Smith, DT Baltimore; 2 Clint Jones, RB Minnesota
1969 Montreal Junior Canadiens:
1. Rejean Houle, RW Montreal; 2. Marc Tardif, LW Montreal
1963 St. Michael's Juveniles: 1. Garry Monahan, C Montreal; 2. Pete Mahovlich, LW Detroit
1975 JANUARY DRAFT South Carolina State:
1. Gene Richards, OF San Diego; 2. Willie Aikens, 1B California
1976 JANUARY-SECONDARY DRAFT USC: 1. Pete Redfern, P Minnesota; 2. Dennis Littlejohn, C San Francisco
2014 North Carolina: 1. Crystal Dunn, Washington; 2. Kealia Ohai, Houston
2015 Oklahoma:
1. Lauren Chamberlain, 1B USSSA Florida Pride; 2. Shelby Pendley, IF USSSA Florida Pride
2001 Princeton:
1. Ryan Mollett D Rochester; 2. Trevor Tierney G New Jersey

Here's the closest I could come to finding an instance where teammates went with the top three picks
2015 NWSL: UCLA's Sarah Killon, Abby Dahlkemper and Samantha Mewis were selected with picks No. 2, 3 and 4.
2011 MLS SuperDraft: Akron's Darlington Nagbe, Perry Kitchen and Zarek Valentin were taken with picks No. 2, 3 and 4 in 2011 MLS SuperDraft
2010 NFL draft: Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, Gerald McCoy and Trent Williams were taken 1st, 3rd and 4th,
2002 WNBA Draft: UConn's Sue Bird, Swin Cash and Asjha Jones went with picks No. 1, 2 and 4

WNBA Draft is open to public

Just in case you haven't heard, tomorrow night's WNBA Draft, which is being held at Mohegan Sun Arena, is open to the public.

Connecticut Sun season-ticket holders who had RSVP'd will be admitted free and have access to priority seating. Fans who are not season ticket holders will be admitted with the donation of a canned food item at the door. All donations will benefit the New London Community Meal Center.

The draft begins at 7 p.m. Breanna Stewart is set to join Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Tina Charles and Maya Moore as UConn players taken with the No. 1 overall pick. There's a chance that Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck could be the top three picks which has never happened in another professional draft.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

UConn trio among WNBA Draft invitees

The WNBA released the list of players attending Thursday's draft.

I'm sure it won't surprise too many people to see UConn's Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck headlining the list of invitees. Former Hillhouse High star Bria Holmes, who could sneak into the first round, is not on the list and will be watching the draft with friends and family.

Here's a list of those expected to be at the draft which begins a few minutes after 7 p.m. on Thursday
Rachel Banham                    Minnesota                        Guard                       5-9
Imani Boyette                        Texas                               Center                      6-7
Kahleah Copper                    Rutgers                            Forward/Guard        6-1
Moriah Jefferson                   Connecticut                     Guard                       5-7
Jonquel Jones                       George Washington        Forward                    6-6
Tiffany Mitchell                      South Carolina                 Guard                       5-9
Aerial Powers                        Michigan State                Forward                    6-0     
Breanna Stewart                   Connecticut                     Forward                    6-4
Morgan Tuck                         Connecticut                     Forward                    6-2

Courtney Walker                   Texas A&M                     Guard                       5-8
Talia Walton                           Washington                      Forward                    6-2
Courtney Williams                 South Florida                   Guard                       5-8

Sunday, April 10, 2016

One final ride through Hartford for UConn seniors

In each of the last three years there must have been times when Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck thought there would be no end in sight to their time playing at UConn.

However, there was a sense of finality as the trio took part in their final UConn Victory Parade.

"There is no more 'we'll be back next year' for our senior class and that makes it hit home," Stewart said. "Coming out here today, this is probably the last time we will see all of these UConn fans in their element. It makes you realize that all that they've done, all that's happened here and how it have been a great four years."

UConn Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma was ill and was not able to take part in the festivities so there would be no bold proclamations other than Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin saying "same time, same place next year."

The only promise that UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey made to the crowd was not to make any promises. However, the expectations won't wane even with the departure of arguably the greatest recruiting class in women's basketball history moving on.

"It is bittersweet because it is fun to see them get kind of emotional about everything that is going on," UConn sophomore forward Gabby Williams said. "I think things like this, it kind of starts to sink in but at the same time we know they are leaving which is obviously really sad.

"They have taught all of underclassmen how to keep the tradition going, what is means to be a Husky. Those three have really paved the way for us, they really taught us how to keep it going."

The last time the players were greeted by fans came on Wednesday when there was a rally inside Gampel Pavilion upon the team's arrival from Indianapolis. That was the first time Tuck was greeted by Husky Nation after making it official that she would not be returning for a fifth season of eligibility and would be eligible for the WNBA Draft, being held at Mohegan Sun Arena,

"It is a lot of fun and it is great to see all the support we are getting," Tuck said, "I am just trying to enjoy this time with my team. I know our time is coming to an end shortly where we aren't going to be doing team things so I am trying to make the most out of every moment."

The trio finished with an NCAA Division I women's basketball record 151 wins as well as the four national titles since their arrival but not all the memories Jefferson, Stewart and Tuck have to fall back upon have to do with their basketball exploits.

"It was a goal," Jefferson said of winning four titles in four seasons. "I definitely thought about it and kept saying in my head over and over that I can not believe we won four in a row, it is history and I will be in the history books forever.

"The memories we are going to have are mostly going to be off the court, the bond we have created through the years ... They are truly my best friends, they will be in my wedding and I will be in their weddings."

UConn's Stewart, Navy's Reynolds named co-winners of Sullivan Award

Breanna Stewart is no stranger to receiving prestigious awards but this one has to be extra special.

Stewart swept the national player of the year awards in each of the last two seasons en route to leading UConn to an unprecedented four straight Division I titles. But on Sunday it was announced that Stewart and Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds were named co-winners of the AAU's Sullivan Award which is presented to the nation's premier amateur athlete.

Stewart is not only the first UConn women's basketball player to win the award but first women's basketball player so honored since sisters Coco and Kelly Miller shared the honor in 1999. Tennessee's Chamique Holdsclaw, who won the award in 1998, is the only other women's basketball player to be named winner of the Sullivan Award.

Stewart was unable to be at the ceremony because she was taking part in the UConn Victory Parade in Hartford but will receive the award in a special ceremony during tomorrow night's on-campus event honoring the Huskies.

The best way to illustrate how prestigious of an honor this is would be to link to the list of previous winners

"It is kind of cool to have something outside of just basketball," Stewart said. "I am honored to be with those other great athletes."

Stewart was named the winner of Wooden Award, Wade Trophy, Naismith Trophy, Associated Press Player of the Year and U.S Basketball Writers Association Player of the Year Award for the second year in a row.

Stewart, the only Division I women's basketball with at least 400 assists and 400 blocked shots, joins Maya Moore as the only UConn player to score more than 700 points more than once. As a senior she averaged 19.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game while setting career highs with 147 assists, 126 blocked shots and 67 steals.

Stewart is the only player to be named the Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four four times. She finished second with 71 blocked shots, tied for second with 207 rebounds and third with 446 points in NCAA Division I women's basketball tournament history. She will graduate as the Huskies career leader in blocked shots and will rank second in scoring and fourth in rebounding.
Reynolds led Navy to a school-record 11 wins during the 2015 season and the final ranking of No. 18 is the highest in more than 50 years. He finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting and was named a third-team All-American. Reynolds is the all-time leader in FBS history in touchdowns scored (88) and rushing yards by a quarterback (4,559).

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Fundraising push a success for UConn championship parade

All the necessary funds for tomorrow's parade to honor the national champion UConn women's basketball team have been secured.

The parade will begin at 1 p.m. at the State Capitol and will be followed at approximately 1:30 p.m. by a rally on Trumbull Street in front of the XL Center.

Here's a list of the businesses who provided funds so the parade could be held

Webster Bank
Mohegan Sun
The Travelers Companies, Inc.
CT Lottery
The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company
Bank of America
Moe's Southwest Grill
ProHealth Physicians
The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc.
Frontier Communications
Virtus Investment Partners

The 2016 parade route begins at the State Capitol building on the corner of Trinity Street and Elm Street. It proceeds north on Trinity Street, goes through the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Arch, turns right (east) onto Jewell Street, turns left (north) onto Trumbull Street, and ends at the intersection of Asylum Street and Trumbull Street, just steps away from where the rally will be held in front of the main entrance of the XL Center.

Parking: Starting at 12 noon on Sunday, all Hartford Parking Authority, LAZ Parking and Propark managed properties in the vicinity of the parade route will be $5 or $6. As always, on-street parking is free on Sunday. On-street parking along the parade route and near the rally will be off-limits to facilitate event viewing.

From CTtransit: As a result of street closures associated with the Victory Parade and Rally, some bus routes in Downtown Hartford will follow temporary detours starting at approximately 12:30 p.m. Buses will return to regular routing as soon as the parade or street closures conclude, approximately 2:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. During this time, bus routes using Gold St., Pearl St. or Asylum St. will be detoured in downtown Hartford. Service on Main St. or Capitol Ave. will not be affected. During the temporary detours, all buses from the west (including CTfastrak service) will use Spruce and Church Streets to enter and exit the downtown area. CTfastrak buses will not serve stops on Asylum St. at Bushnell Park, at Asylum & Trumbull, or Asylum & High, on Gold St. or on Pearl St. (TheaterWorks) during the detours. CTfastrak buses will serve the stop on Main St. at Travelers and use Church St. outbound (vs. Asylum). CTtransit buses from the west (Routes 60-66, 72, 74, 76) will follow regular routing from Union Station via Church St. to downtown, and also use Church St. outbound (vs. Asylum).

Friday, April 08, 2016

UConn's Stewart wins Wooden Award for second year in a row

The postseason award races have featured as much drama as most of the games for the national champion UConn women's basketball team.

On Friday night UConn senior forward Breanna Stewart was named the winner of the Wooden Award for the second consecutive season adding it to the Wade Trophy, Naismith Trophy, Associated Press Player of the Year and U.S Basketball Writers Association Player of the Year Award.

Stewart, the only Division I women's basketball with at least 400 assists and 400 blocked shots, joins Maya Moore as the only UConn player to score more than 700 points more than once. As a senior she averaged 19.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game while setting career highs with 147 assists, 16 blocked shots and 67 steals.

Stewart is the only player to be named the Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four four times. She finished second with 71 blocked shots, tied for second with 207 rebounds and third with 446 points in NCAA Division I women's basketball tournament history. She will graduate as the Huskies career leader in blocked shots and will rank second in scoring and fourth in rebounding.

She is up for the Sullivan Award as the nation's premier amateur athlete which will be announced on Sunday and on Thursday is expected to join Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Tina Charles and Maya Moore as the only UConn players taken first overall in the WNBA Draft.

Stewart was joined on the Wooden All-American by classmate Moriah Jefferson.

Stewart was in Los Angeles to accept the award just two days after making the trip to Indianapolis to Storrs following UConn's 11th national title including the fourth in a row. She will be taking part in Sunday's championship parade in Hartford before going through orientation for the WNBA Draft on Tuesday and Wednesday in preparation for Thursday's WNBA Draft at Mohegan Sun Arena.


UConn's Butler gets major test at Final Four

The outcome of the national semifinal was no longer in question but there was still work to be done when Natalie Butler checking into the game with 7:47 left to play.

For more than six minutes the 6-foot-5 Butler had a chance to go head to head with Oregon State's 6-foot-6 senior center Ruth Hamblin. Nobody was more interested to see how Butler would fare more than the UConn coaching staff.

Six seconds after getting into the game Butler hit a jumper. From the time Butler checked in until Hamblin came out of the game with 1:25 remaining Butler was 1 for 3 from the floor, had three points and one rebound while Hamblin had two points (on 1 of 3 shooting) with three rebounds.

The numbers, however, are irrelevant. Butler had a year to get accustomed to UConn's way of doing things when she redshirted following her transfer from Georgetown. This past season it was about getting back on the court in live game situations. Moving forward, Butler will be counted on to be a regular contributor and that span of 6:22 going against Hamblin might have been the most valuable stretch of playing time she has received all season.

"Going against a big girl like that is always a valuable lesson, it is an experience that can really help you," Butler said. "She is a really talented post player, she moves really well for her size. From what I understand she comes from humble backgrounds, just seems like a good person who works hard. I hope she goes far. She brought the team to the Final Four as a player going against her was great, I learned a lot and posting up, being a big guy in the post, when you go against girls who are better than you, how do you try to get a shot off? It was an awesome experience and I wish her the best.

"I was looking at her and she is definitely a role model type of player. She just seems like a good person, she is a leader and she makes a heck of impact on her team and you can see that her team responds to her. I would love to fill a spot like that."

Nobody is going to ask Butler to be a player like Breanna Stewart or even Morgan Tuck. However, looking at Hamblin play, I couldn't help but wonder if Butler could end up being that type of player (not including Hamblin's incredible shot-blocking ability) over the next two seasons.

"The ability to not foul, rebound, contest shots and just have the experience of being in the Final Four so for our team it is a great thing and for Natalie it is an awesome thing," UConn assistant coach Marisa Moseley said.

"She has great size, great touch from up to 15 feet and she is good passer. It is so different because this year she has made some plays from the high post and she is a great screener. I am excited for her continuing development and can't wait to get back and work with her."

UConn returns four players who were in the main rotation and certainly expectations are high for rising juniors Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams and sophomores-to-be Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson. While there will be plenty of eyes on incoming freshmen Molly Bent, Crystal Dangerfield and Kyla Irwin, another trio of players have a chance to make an impact as well.

Saniya Chong averaged 12.4 minutes, Butler played 12 minutes a game while Courtney Ekmark was in there 8.9 games per contest. There will be ample opportunities for more playing time with the departure of All-Americans Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck. Obviously they aren't going to replace UConn's Big Three and won't be asked to do so but a jump in playing time and productivity would be a major help moving forward.

"I have a ways to go in the offseason, I need to put in overtime and work really hard," Chong said. "I have to make sure I am a leader and a role model. Looking at the seniors, they have been the biggest role models for us, following in their footsteps will be the best thing. Just coming in , being one of the only seniors plus T (Tierney Lawlor), I think that we have a long way to go but I think we will be OK."

There was a stretch of games when it was Ekmark who was first player to enter the game after the main seven-player rotation of Jefferson, Stewart, Tuck, Nurse, Williams, Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier. Perhaps it was just UConn coach Geno Auriemma sending a message to Chong and Butler or maybe it was a case of Ekmark displaying some signs of growth.
"It is always hard to play here but it definitely has been easier than my freshman year," Ekmark said. "Sophomore year with more experience, you have been here before and you know how it all goes so it has gone better for me.

"I think it is really important to show up every day with the same attitude, work my butt off no matter what happens. As long as I can control the things that I can control, that is what I need to do."

Assuming that Dangerfield is as good as advertised, that gives UConn five players certain to be in the main rotation. If Butler, Chong and Ekmark are able to take that next step and earn the confidence from the coaches to play in every situation and not just when the game's outcome is no longer in doubt, it would make the 2016-17 season go a little more stress-free.
"The summer is going to be a huge part of my development next year and just getting me mentally for it," Butler said. "These last couple of years, it has been a little bit of a struggle but I am pretty happy to be here on this team. I am looking forward to the next chapter, I want to step up and be a factor for this team."

Moseley, along with associate head coach Chris Dailey, works with the post players so she will not only be overseeing Butler's progress but is also eager to work with Irwin, a 6-foot-2 star out of State College (Pa.) High who had a spectacular senior season but is still a bit of an under the radar recruit.

"She just has a contagious personality, a work ethic, she loves the game, loves her teammates," Moseley said. "I have never seen somebody more happy for other people's success and she is skilled. I can't wait. With her, her body will change, her game will change but she has the right mindset, she is a coach's kid so I am excited for her to become a part of the program."

I missed this when it happened on Tuesday night but with Collier and Nurse each recording a steal in the national-championship game, this year's team is the first in program history to have five players with at least 50 steals.

Jefferson had a team-high 95 steals followed by Williams' 72 and Stewart's 67. Collier and Nurse finished with 50 steals each.

The 1997-98, 1998-99, 2000-01, 2001-02, 2006-07 and 2012-13 UConn teams had four players with at least 50 steals.

This year's squad also set a program record with a free-throw percentage of 80.0 with Collier (91.7 percent), Jefferson (89.4) and Chong (85.7) all shooting better than 85 percent. The real story, however, was Williams. She hit only 46.2 percent of her free throws as a freshman but finished at 75 percent this season. Among players averaging at least one foul shot per game, it was the largest one-year improvement since Marlene Stager went from 51.3 percent in the 1979-80 season to 88.1 during the 1980-81 campaign. If the criteria changed to a made free throw per game, Williams would have the greatest jump in foul shot accuracy in program history.

"It is definitely an approach," Williams said. "I think mentally I think I have grown. It started with 'I hope I don't miss this.' I attacked it in different ways."
Finally, Stewart (4,256) and Jefferson (4,130) finished sixth and 11th in UConn history on the minutes played list. Bria Hartley's record of 4,731 seems to be safe for a while as the active UConn leader in terms of minutes played is Kia Nurse and she would need to average nearly 35 minutes per game in her final two seasons to make a run at that record.