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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Letter from "solid citizen" Napheesa Collier special for national team coach

A Hall of Fame player and the head coach of the reigning national championship team, Dawn Staley certainly has received her share of mail over the years. However, one letter than landed on her desk not long after Staley's first training camp at the U.S. Senior Women's National Team head coach really touched her heart.

UConn junior forward Napheesa Collier was one of five current college players who accepted invitations to take part in the national team camp. Staley had coached Collier with the U-18 national team in 2014 and on the FIBA U19 World Championship squad in 2015 so knew what kind of player and person that Collier was. Or so she thought.

"Napheesa I've had a number of opportunities to coach her on USA Basketball teams and a solid citizen," Staley said on Thursday at NCAA women's basketball media day at ESPN. "I've never received a thank you card from any player that I've coached but did that and that shows the true character of a person when they can do something like that. I love coaching Napheesa, just having all of them there I thought was a great thing."

Among those in attendance at media day was fellow national team training camp attendees Asia Durr of Louisville and A'ja Wilson of South Carolina.

Durr's summer also included a stint as the leading scorer for the U.S. team at U23 Four National Tournament when the U.S. posted wins over Australia, Canada and Japan. Collier was one of four UConn players who took part in the U23 training camp but with UConn embarking on a trip to Italy, they Huskies weren't available to play in the tournament. Still, Durr's roommate at the U.S. Olympic Training Center was none other than Collier.

Durr admits that through her previous USA Basketball experiences, she knew Katie Lou Samuelson better than Collier before her time at the U23 camp.

"Napheesa I met her in high school in the Jordan Brand game but didn't talk that much," Durr said. "We roomed together in Colorado so we got a chance to bond. She is a great person as well."

As enjoyable as it was winning another gold medal with USA Basketball with the U23 squad, Durr admitted to heading out to California for the national team camp was an entirely different experience.

"As a person and as a player I got the chance to be around a lot of really great players, it prepared me well especially going out to Santa Barbara and dealing with people who have been playing for 10-12 years," Durr said. "I think that was a great experience and I am trying to take that back to school.

"Sue Bird was somebody, the starting point guard for the national team. I got the chance to speak with her and have my coach (Jeff Walz) out there was really cool as well."

Speaking of having her coach out at the national team camp, that is something Wilson enjoyed as well. She joked that Staley wasn't raising her voice in her direction as much as she does during the college season. There was also a rather comical aspect of the camp when it came time to break into groups for positional skill work.

"I always laugh because when we went into post/perimeter (position groups) I was the only player who didn't go to UConn," Wilson said with a laugh. "I was like, 'sorry guys.' Everybody was looking around and saying A'ja is the only one because there's Kiah Stokes, Stefanie Dolson, Stewie and all of them down there so I am like, 'hey guys.'

"It was a fun experience being out there with the pros. You see how fast paced the game is and how everyone there, you see that their basketball IQ is through the roof. That is something I took and hopefully bring back to South Carolina is knowing that even on water breaks they run, tight huddles and just little things that can make such a huge difference. That is something I am going to bring back to South Carolina, we are going to have tight huddles, we are going to make sure we get through every drill and not slack off."

Wilson is no stranger to Collier and Samuelson through her previous USA Basketball experiences and of course the annual non-conference matchups between South Carolina and UConn.

"They are great players, great to be around," Wilson said. "Katie Lou, we always laugh, I don't even know why but we just kind of this relationship where we just laugh. It is always great seeing them at national camps or at USA teams, they are great people and great players so well so I always like playing with them."

Staley believes it was beneficial not only incorporating college players but younger professionals into the national camp experience.

"It was a great experience for them and me," Staley said. "As you can see the current roster on our national team, they are getting up in age so we have to come in and get some younger players ready to compete at that level."

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