Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Friday, April 13, 2018

WNBA comes calling for UConn stars yet again

Another WNBA Draft and three more No. 1 picks coming out of UConn. Consider it business as usual.

Beginning with the 2001 draft when Svetlana Abrosimova and Kelly Schumacher were both first-round picks, a record 23 No. 1 picks have come out of UConn's program.

When Gabby Williams was selected by Chicago with the fourth overall pick, she became the 12th former Husky to be a top five pick. Azura' Stevens and Kia Nurse were taken with picks No. 6 and 10 by Dallas and New York respectively giving UConn 17 top 10 selections.

"It speaks volumes of the UConn program as a whole what Geno, Chris and company have created and sustained and that is what is so impressive, the sustained success is unmatched and unparalleled in our game," Connecticut Sun coach and general manager Curt Miller said. "It also underratedly speaks to their player development. They get great players but they also develop great players and players we are all anxious to get our hands on at the pro level."

Those numbers figure to grow next year when Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson figure to be among the top prospects in what will be a star-studded draft class.

What's interesting about last night is that the three teams which drafted UConn players already had former Huskies on their roster meaning that Indiana, Los Angeles and Washington remain the only teams currently without a UConn product on its roster.

Atlanta: Tiffany Hayes, Renee Montgomery
Chicago: Stefanie Dolson, Gabby Williams
Connecticut: Morgan Tuck
Dallas: Natalie Butler (also drafted last night), Saniya Chong, Azura' Stevens
Las Vegas: Moriah Jefferson
Minnesota: Maya Moore
New York: Tina Charles, Kelly Faris, Bria Hartley, Kia Nurse, Kiah Stokes
Phoenix: Diana Taurasi
Seattle: Sue Bird, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Breanna Stewart

Williams is set to be the first of the rookies out of UConn to make her professional debut when Chicago hosts Atlanta on May 6. The next day Butler, Nurse and Stevens could make their WNBA debuts at Mohegan Sun Arena as part of a four-game, two-day preseason tournament.

While the departures of Nurse, Stevens and Williams leaves some huge holes to fill, perhaps some help could be on the way.

As I wrote yesterday, Anriel Howard who is one of the nation's top rebounders is set to visit UConn this weekend. She won't be alone as her Texas A&M teammate Danni Williams is also expected to be on the visit.

Both players are set to graduate from Texas A&M in three years (which is a truly remarkable feat) and would be immediately eligible as graduate transfers.

Williams, a 5-foot-10 guard from Clovis, New Mexico averaged 14.2 points with a team-leading 71 3-pointers. She was second on the team with 85 assists.

Howard, a 5-foot-11 forward from Atlanta, was among the national leaders in rebounds per game (12.2), double-doubles (20) and offensive rebounds (166) to go with a 12.1 scoring average (on just 9.6 field-goal attempts per game). She also had 70 assists, 12 3-pointers, 37 steals and 14 blocked shots.

This will be the second visit for Howard and according to her mother, the plan is to take all five visits allowed by the NCAA so there's no timetable for a decision. It goes without saying that an already strong UConn team would be even more dynamic if the Huskies land the two graduate transfers.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

More UConn history at WNBA Draft

For the seventh time in WNBA history, three players from the same school were selected in the WNBA Draft and of course it was UConn accomplishing that feat for a third time.

Gabby Williams was the first former Husky off the board, going No. 4 to Chicago. Azura' Stevens was taken with the sixth overall pick by Dallas and Kia Nurse was the 10th overall pick by New York.

"I was nervous, I was anxious and I wanted the time to be here already," Williams said. "It's a scary thing, you don't know what city you are going to, you don't know what team you are going to be, you don't know who your teammates are."

UConn has had 23 of its players selected in the first round. The only programs with more total draft picks are Tennessee and Stanford.

"It says so much about the program that Coach (Geno Auriemma) and CD (Chris Dailey) have built, people want UConn players and that is because they know how to develop us," Williams said. "That is why I went to UConn so I could be developed and I could be pushed every day."

Stevens was thought to have the chance to go as high as No. 2 but is excited to land in Dallas which also selected former UConn guard Saniya Chong last season.

"A little bit of nerves, actually a lot of nerves because I didn't know where I would end up but really happy to be a part of that team," Stevens said.

"These couple of days have been amazing, to have these teammates here is really cool. It is one thing to experience this but to have them by my side with the things we have been through and to be able to play with them this year, it has been really cool to see this special day happen to them."

Nurse was available when the Connecticut Sun picked at No. 9. Sun coach and general manager Curt Miller coached both her older sister and aunt when he was a college coach and he recruited her hard when he was at Indiana but with Brown more able to play the point guard at the professional level was a deciding factor for the Sun selecting the former Maryland and Duke guard Lexie Brown.

"My emotions were that wherever I get an opportunity to play, that is where I am going to be happy," Nurse said. "This is a great fit for me and I am excited about it. I love the city and I am excited to get there."

Former UConn forward/center Natalie Butler was selected by Dallas with the 30th overall pick.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Some crazy numbers as UConn set to have three more No. 1 WNBA Draft picks

It's not exactly breaking news for me to report that UConn has become a training ground for future WNBA stars.

Not only is UConn second behind only Tennessee with 34 players being taken in the WNBA Draft but if Kia Nurse, Azura' Stevens and Gabby Williams are selected in the first round as expected in tomorrow night's draft, UConn would have a record 23 of its players selected in the first round. As a point of reference, only Tennessee and Stanford will have had more of its players taken in any round of the draft than UConn would have had its products selected in the first round.

Taking it a step further, beginning with the Class of 2001 (the first year that a UConn player was selected in the first round) there have been 33 four-year players at UConn who finished their careers averaging at least 15 minutes per game and 27 of them have played in the WNBA. That ratio is about to increase to 29 for 35. Three of the six players not on the list were injured as seniors (Shea Ralph, Caroline Doty and Mel Thomas) while Maria Conlon and Lorin Dixon took part in WNBA training camps. The other player is Nicole Wolff, a top recruit coming out of high school who dealt with injuries throughout her four seasons at UConn.

If Nurse, Stevens and Williams are all taken in the first round, it would mark the sixth time that three players from the same college were No. 1 picks in the same year. Three of those six occurrences will involve UConn.

Georgia, 2001: 1-2 Kelly Miller, 1-6 Deanna Nolan, 1-9 Coco Miller
UConn, 2002: 1-1 Sue Bird, 1-2 Swin Cash, 1-4 Asjha Jones, 1-6 Tamika Williams
Tennessee, 2012: 1-2 Shekinna Stricklen, 1-4 Glory Johnson, 1-7 Kelley Cain
UConn, 2016: 1-1 Breanna Stewart, 1-2 Moriah Jefferson, 1-3 Morgan Tuck
South Carolina, 2017: 1-2 Alaina Coates, 1-4 Allisha Gray, 1-10 Kaela Davis

The first round airs on ESPN2 from 7-8 p.m. tomorrow with the second and third rounds set to be televised from 8-9 p.m. on ESPNU.

There's a chance that former UConn forward/center Natalie Butler, who played her final season at George Mason and led all NCAA Division I women's basketball players in rebounds per game, could be drafted. The WNBA people I've spoken to believe New Haven native Tanaya Atkinson has a chance to be drafted as well. Also, former UConn guard and Meriden native Sadie Edwards took part in a combine held during the Final Four.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a story reporting that the game UConn has scheduled at Saint Louis so Napheesa Collier can play in front of friends and family is set for Dec. 4 at Chaifetz Arena.

UConn has played in St. Louis before as both the 2001 and 2009 Final Fours were held there. 

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Wrapping up Jordan Brand Classic showings by UConn commits Nelson-Ododa, Williams

UConn signees Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Christyn Williams were among seven players to score in double figures in the girls' game at the Jordan Brand Classic.

Nelson-Ododa had 12 points, five rebounds, one assist, one steal and a blocked shot in 18 minutes for the winning White team. She joined Emily Engstler as the only double digit scorer for the winning team to make more shots than she attempted.

Williams had 11 points, nine rebounds, one assist and one steal in 19 minutes for the Black team. Her lone assist gave her team the 88-87 lead with 17 seconds left to play.

Jazmine Massengill grabbed her own miss and scored with 5 seconds to play to win the game for the White team.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

UConn signee Nelson-Ododa steals the show at Jordan Brand Classic media day

Hitting the road bright and early this morning (pulled out of my driveway at 6 a.m.) so I could catch up with UConn's incoming freshmen Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Christyn Williams at media day festivities, I was hoping it was going to be worth the trip.

Thanks to Nelson-Ododa talking her way into one last attempt to dunk following the end of today's practice session, mission was certainly accomplished.
Since I already wrote a lengthy feature on Williams as I made my way to a game in Arkansas the night before UConn played at Memphis in January, I knew I wanted to focus much of my story on Nelson-Ododa, especially with the news of Azura' Stevens declaring for the WNBA Draft.

Nelson-Ododa created quite the stir with her performance in a dunking competition held as part of the lead up for the McDonald's All-American Game late last month. Then after taking a team photo, Nelson-Ododa headed to the other end of the court. Her fellow All-Americans knew what was coming and lined up to watch her throw one day. She missed her first few attempts which is hardly stunning since it had to be a long trip to New York for the Georgia native and she went through an entire 90 minute practice. It looked like there would be no successful dunks before Nelson-Ododa pleaded for and was granted one last attempt before the boys All-Americans would take to the court. Nelson-Ododa delivered an impressive one-handed dunk much to the delight of the other players.

"It is fun whenever they react like that," said Nelson-Ododa, a 6-foot-4 post player out of Winder-Barrow (Ga,) High School. "It is an element I want to be able to add to my game and I want to keep adding that and hopefully use it in a game.

"My first dunk was two summers ago. I was just at the gym messing around and tried dunking. I didn't even expect it but I was like, OK, since then I have been trying to practice. Last year it was difficult with my knee injury but it has also been motivation to keep practicing and get better at it."

Williams was among those celebrating the most when Nelson-Ododa dunked both in Atlanta and today in Brooklyn.

"That was crazy, we got so excited," Williams said. "She is just dunking with ease, that is crazy."

It remains to be seen if Nelson-Ododa dunks in tomorrow's 2:30 p.m. game at the Barclays Center. I've found it more productive to head down to Brooklyn for media day and pass on the coverage of the game but I'm hoping to post stats after tomorrow's game is over.

May 29 is the day when Nelson-Ododa and Williams are planning to arrive at UConn as they begin preparations for their freshmen seasons.

Obviously plenty of eyes will be on Williams, the consensus national high school player of the year but following Azura' Stevens' decision to declare herself eligible for the April 12 WNBA Draft, UConn is lacking in post players so the 6-foot-4 Nelson-Ododa could be a pivotal piece of next year's team.

"I just want to go in, work as hard as I can and be prepared for my career and doing whatever my coaches need me to do," said Nelson-Ododa, who averaged 19 points, 16 rebounds and 6 blocked shots per game to earn the Atlanta Tipoff Club's Miss Georgia Basketball honor.

"It is a new chapter, I am extremely excited. I want to come in, remained focused and work hard for the team."

Nelson-Ododa and Williams will be on different teams tomorrow as they were in the McDonald's All-American Game when Nelson-Ododa narrowly missed a double-double while Williams had 22 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and a blocked shot to earn MVP honors.

They were the top two scorers on the U.S. U17 team competing in the 2016 FIBA U17 World Championships and are looking forward to being teammates one again.

"We talk all the time," Williams said. "The games, we text each other and say, did you see that? So it is just regular things."

They also share a work ethic both in the gym and in the classroom.

"Christyn is one of the hardest workers, one of the best players that I know so it is definitely motivation for me, I can feed off of that," Nelson-Ododa said."

Nelson-Ododa still has some work to do, some of it with her brother Alonzo who is averaging 7 points and 6.3 rebounds in 25 games with Salt Lake City in the NBA's G League.

"They are a running team so that is a big thing is running but regardless, I want to develop my game, however Coach Auriemma and his coaching staff wants to develop me as a player, I am ready to do that," Nelson-Ododa said.

"He works with me daily, he has that experience from college. He works with me on different things and his wisdom from playing in college (is beneficial)."

It wasn't a perfect day. I had a decent video of Nelson-Ododa grabbing a rebound and bringing the ball up the court but I accidently deleted it so it is not part of the video package I put together.

An interesting note about tomorrow's game is the Bob Mackey, the high school coach of UConn legends Sue Bird and Tina Charles, is one of the three coaches for the Away team while James Anderson, who coached Willnett Crockett in high school, is among the coaches for the Home team.

Monday, April 02, 2018

UConn's Stevens declares for the WNBA Draft

Interviews were wrapping up in the weight room, which is used for post-game interviews at Gampel Pavilion, and without many people left around Azura' Stevens I threw a question her way that I thought I already knew the answer to.

Because the class that Stevens was in coming out of high school are seniors in college, she was eligible to declare for the WNBA Draft. When I asked about her intentions, I thought she would give me a similar answer to what Napheesa Collier did about definitely coming back for her final season. That was not the response I got.

"I haven't really put a lot of thought into it so I don't know what is going to happen," Stevens said. "I never came into the season saying I was going to leave or I was going to stay so I am kind of focused on the present and enjoying what we have here right now."

Well, Stevens' focus is now on her professional career as she announced her intentions to make herself eligible for the April 12 WNBA Draft. UConn, which finished third in the final USA Today Top 25 Coaches Poll, figured to be ranked no higher than third even if Stevens returned. Now it will be intriguing to see where the Huskies fall when the preseason polls come out.

“I’d like to thank the coaches, my teammates and the fans at the University of Connecticut for helping me grow and supporting me as a player,” Stevens said in a release from UConn. “I will miss this program and all that it has been to me. It’s been a lifelong dream for me to play in the WNBA, and I’m excited for this opportunity God has presented me with.”

Stevens is not the first UConn player to give up a season of eligibility to turn pro. Morgan Tuck could have come back for the 2016-17 season but opted to enter the 2016 draft where she went third overall to the Connecticut Sun. The same year, Michigan State's Aerial Powers passed up her remaining eligibility and went fifth overall, in 2015 early entrants Jewell Loyd and Amanda Zahui B. were the top two picks and last year Allisha Gray and Kaela Davis entered the draft after helping South Carolina win the national title and went fourth and 10th overall.

Stevens would have been a centerpiece of  next season's UConn squad and her departure leave UConn without a potential national player of the year candidate.

“We wish Azurá nothing but the best and we’re going to be there to support her in any way we can,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “Z and her family have given this a lot of thought and feel this is the right time to pursue this.”

Stevens averaged 14.7 points and 7.4 rebounds per game in her only season at UConn. One of three players to appear in all 37 games this season, the 6-foot-6 Stevens led UConn with 100 offensive rebounds and 76 blocked shots.

UConn will be without three of its top six scorers from a team that was undefeated before a loss to eventual national champion Notre Dame at the Final Four with Stevens joining Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams as former UConn players expected to be taken in the first round.

Leading scorer and two-time All-American Katie Lou Samuelson, fellow rising senior Napheesa Collier and Crystal Dangerfield will form the nucleus of a team looking for its record 12th straight Final Four appearance. The role for highly touted freshman Megan Walker already was expected to expand with the departure of Nurse and Williams. With Stevens also leaving, naturally she figured to be a significant part of the rotation during her sophomore year. Incoming freshmen Olivia Nelson-Ododa, a 6-foot-4 forward, and Christyn Williams, a 5-foot-11 guard, will be joined by the other returning players Molly Bent, Batouly Camara, Mikayla Coombs, Kyla Irwin and Lexi Gordon on next year's roster.