Wesleyan School reunion will be one to remember for UConn signee Mikayla Coombs
Little did she know, however, that she would be seeing a familiar face on the sidelines as she is part of the third annual Jordan Brand game.
Jan Azar, who coached the UConn signee for the last six seasons at the Wesleyan School in Peachtree Corner, Georgia, is one of three coaches for the West team which includes Coombs.
"It is bittersweet," Coombs said of her final high school game shortly before Wednesday's practice began at the HSS Training Center in Brooklyn. "The reason I think I am on the West team is because my high school coach is coaching the West so it is our last go around and I am excited about that.
"We are actually super close so just the fact that she is here and able to coach me, I am super
Azar still remembers the first time Coombs came into the gym to take part in a practice at Wesleyan. The wide-eyed seventh grader had already been cut from softball and volleyball teams.
"Mikayla wanted to uphold the tradition we had already set at Wesleyan," Azar said. "When she began playing basketball back in seventh grade for us, she knew what she was getting into and she wanted to be a part of something special. When she went out with that knee injury (in the first game of her sophomore season) but I have never seen somebody more excited than Mikayla was as an injured player winning a state championship.
"She spoke at our banquet the other night about that, talked to the other kids about finding what you are good at. Just because it looks like you have the world doesn't mean you haven't had to work for it. She was cut from both of those teams in seventh grade and really dove into basketball. I think the work that she put in is what put her at this level. I knew she was going to be special, it depended on the work she wanted to put in to utilize that."
There were plenty of things that Azar could say about Coombs, what an unselfish player she is but the greatest tribute came when the other seven seniors on this year's state championship Wesleyan team paid their way to Chicago so they could see Coombs play in the McDonald's All-American Game.
Another tribute came when UConn coach Geno Auriemma said that Coombs' ability to impact a game even if her shots aren't falling reminds him of current UConn star guard Kia Nurse at a similar time in their respectively careers.
"She is an unselfish person and that translates to the court," Azar said. "I think that is a great comparison and an honor for Mikayla to be compared to somebody like that so for somebody to look up to and aspire to play like, I think it is great for her."
Coombs was a teammate of fellow UConn signee Megan Walker in the McDonald's game but she may have to guard either Walker or another UConn commit Lexi Gordon in Friday's Jordan Brand Classic.
"I think it will give me a look into what practices are like," Coombs said. "It will be fun. I got to play with Megan and now I play against her so I think it will be cool, a different perspective."
Coombs got a taste of just how competitive things are when she took part in pickup games against her fellow commits and the current UConn players during her official visit so she has some idea of what she is getting into.
"I think they are just fighters," Coombs said. "Even when we went to go scrimmage them, you could tell that even losing in scrimmages was (upsetting) to them. Lou is super competitive, Phee is super competitive, Gabby is competitive so I think it is a good environment for us because some people think winning is important but they take it seriously."
So does Coombs.
She entered a program that has played in the state title game every year since 2004. Forced to the bench with early foul trouble in the Georgia Private School 1A title game against rival Holy Innocents. Coombs had 10 points in the second quarter as Wesleyan rallied from a 17-point deficit to win the program's 12th title in the last 17 seasons. True to her nature, she impacted the game in the fourth quarter not with an offensive explosion but with stout defense, pinpoint passes and rebounds in traffic.
"She came in that second quarter, put up 10 points right away and I think that just let her
teammates know that she was there, follow me and I will lead you,"Azar said. "I think the rest of the game, it was more about involving her teammates and bringing them along with her which I think she did a really good job of, she gave them a lot of confidence.
"Once she started scoring so much, they really started keying on her and because we have some
really talented players, once they keyed on her it left her teammates open to distribute the
basketball. Mikayla didn't care how many points she had, she just wanted to win."
That is an attribute that should serve her well at the next level.
"I think my game is based off doing the little things and helping my team in any way I can," Coombs said. "It is just finding my spot at UConn and trying to help them succeed the way they have been doing."
Azar will be watching on from afar. It will be the first time that one of her players will suit up for Hall of Fame UConn coach Geno Auriemma but she has seen plenty of her star pupils play major-college basketball. Nikki Luckhurst played at Tulane, Anne Marie Armstrong and Kaelyn Causwell suited up at Georgia while more recently former Wesleyan players have gone to Auburn and Clemson.
"I think she is going into a program that we all look up to and they get it, those kids get it," Azar said. "It is a team-first atmosphere. She is going to add (the qualities) that Geno recruits to bring in there, those are kids who understand team first. She will add that along with all of these other kids who are coming in because the selfishness is not there with Mikayla and Mikayla is not a selfish player.
"I can't wait. I have never been to UConn for a game. I will be traveling. I have a daughter in
eighth grade, a son who is in the fifth grade so we will be making some trips, seeing some games
in person, that atmosphere is great for girls sports for general so I can't wait."
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