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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Geno Auriemma dishes on newly signed recruiting class

When Christyn Williams called UConn coach Geno Auriemma to let him know she was planning to become a Husky, it wasn't a stunning revelation. However, Auriemma admitted he wasn't sure which way Olivia Nelson-Ododa was leaning before she committed to the Huskies on Monday.

"You never know about recruiting," Auriemma said. "I remember the very first time I sat down and watched her play, I thought this kid plays really hard, she is really competitive and she has incredible athletic ability. There are a lot of things that she does well, then when you meet these kids, sometimes it makes you question (if you want to continue to recruit them) and other times it just adds to it. She is one of the nicest kids we have been involved with in recruiting - both of these kids her and Christyn,

"I know Olivia hasn't played, it's been a little while since she played (as a result of a knee injury). She is a little bit like Azura' as a person, laid back kind of easy going, nice kid and just a really talented kid. She is not a 'stick them in the low post and forget about them' player, she is a basketball player. Needless to say we were pretty excited when we got her."

UConn entered the early signing period with no commitments but with the No. 1 rated player in the ESPN rankings (Williams) and in the All-Star Girls Report ratings (Nelson-Ododa), the Huskies are challenging Baylor for the top recruiting class.

The Huskies never look at a ton of kids, they are very selective in the way they recruit but this year it seemed like they were involved with fewer recruits than ever.

"We take kind of a different approach to recruiting," Auriemma said. "We try to identify pretty on what we are looking for and then when we find it, we spend all our time and energy on those kids. If it is one, two or three we go in believing we are going to get the kids we think work hard enough and fit what we want. You roll the dice and you might come up empty but that is the chance we might take. We've been in that situation a lot of times. People said what was your Plan B back in 1991 with Rebecca Lobo? We didn't have a Plan B. What was your Plan B with Stewie, Tuck and Moriah? We didn't have a Plan B, those are the guys we want. Who would your shooter be if you didn't get Lou or Pheesa? I don't know, those are the two guys we wanted and we got them so there are years when you come up empty but we have gotten pretty much what we need more times than not."

Auriemma appreciated the low maintenance  way that Nelson-Ododa handled her recruiting process.

"It wasn't the normal recruiting scenario," Auriemma said. "She is not your typical kid who wants to have 20 schools involved so she can get 20 phone calls and then put out on social media that I am being recruited by 20 schools and when signing day comes, I am going to have 20 different hats and I will pick one out, I am going to post it on all the message boards and let everybody know that I am taking my talents to this particular school. You couldn't get a hold of Olivia for weeks and weeks and weeks you couldn't get a hold of her which was fine with me, apparently it was fine with her and fine with her mom but this wasn't one of those, we have to call them three times every day, we have to text them or be on instant message an all that other nonsense that I don't even know anything else about, she was unusual in recruiting and because of that I don't think anybody really knew where you stood.

"This was old fashioned, when she came up on campus that is when I felt like, CD (associate head coach Chris Dailey) did and the rest of the coaching staff felt like we are going to get her just because of the way it evolved when she was on campus. The other kids by the time they come on campus, you know but not with this kid."

Before suffering a season-ending knee injury as a junior, Nelson-Ododa's high school team faced the teams that current UConn freshmen Mikayla Coombs and Megan Walker were on in a tournament in South Carolina.

"She is aggressive and around the basket, she is really talented, she hustles and on defense she will get the blocks," Coombs said. "We've always been in the same (age) group but we were never close. Once she came here, we were able to bond a little bit."

Coombs in thrilled to have another Georgia product coming to UConn.

"They always made fun of me because of how I talk so she will be able to advocate for me that this is how people talk in Georgia so I am excited," Coombs said

The 6-foot-4 Nelson-Ododa will give the Huskies some needed size. Azura' Stevens is 6-foot-6 and she could return for her senior season, Katie Lou Samuelson is 6-foot-3 but she tends to play on the wing.

Auriemma has said that it can be challenging landing commitments from players in the 6-foot-4, 6-foot-5 range.

"There are so few of them anymore, it used to be that there are a couple of choose from and now there aren't very many. You watch college basketball today and do you see any of them who are any good? I don't too many that are any good. I look out there and see a lot of 6-4. 6-5 kids that you go, wow they are really, really good. We've had our share, we probably gotten more than most, you don't have a lot to choose from., If you do get one, it is not like there are seven others  who went to seven other schools, if you got one or two, there's a pretty good chance you were one of the schools to get one so that is a little bit different."

It should be no surprise to hear that Nelson-Ododa and Williams were named to the preseason watch list for the Naismith high school player of the year.


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