Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Bob Joyce to remain the radio voice of UConn women's basketball

Three and a half months after it was announced that 97.9 ESPN would become the new home for UConn's basketball, football and men's hockey programs, news has come out that Bob Joyce, the voice for the 11-time national champion women's basketball team would be continuing in that role.

The move means that Joyce will be leaving WTIC but will continue to call the games for Geno Auriemma's powerhouse program as well as men's hockey games when his schedule permits.

In other women's basketball broadcasting news, the WNBA's Connecticut Sun announced that NBC Sports Boston will air 22 regular-season games beginning with Friday's game at Chicago. Fox 61/CW 20 will carry five games (June 15 at Seattle, July 3 at Los Angeles, July 7 at Las Vegas, July 15 at Minnesota and July 22 at Dallas).

This means that only four of the Sun's 34 games won't be shown on either NBC Sports Boston, Fox 61, WCCT, ESPN2, Twitter or NBA TV.

Here's the schedule
June 1                    at Chicago                              9 p.m.                     NBC Sports Boston
June 3                    at Washington                      3 p.m.                     NBC Sports Boston
June 5                    at Atlanta                               8 p.m.                     NBC Sports Boston
June 7                    at New York                           7 p.m.                     NBC Sports Boston             
June 9                    Minnesota                             2 p.m.                     NBC Sports Boston
June 15                  at Seattle                               10 p.m.                   Fox 61/CW20
June 22                  at Atlanta                               7 p.m.                     NBC Sports Boston
June 24                  at Indiana                               6 p.m.                     NBC Sports Boston
June 26                  at Washington                      7 p.m.                     NBC Sports Boston
June 27                  Indiana                                   7 p.m.                     NBC Sports Boston
July 1                      at Seattle                               7 p.m.                     NBC Sports Boston
July 3                      at Los Angeles                      10:30 p.m.             Fox 61/CW20
July 7                      at Las Vegas                           10:30 p.m.             Fox 61/CW20
** July 11              New York                               11:30 a.m.             NBC Sports Boston
July 13                    Phoenix                                 7 p.m.                     NBC Sports Boston
July 15                    at Minnesota                         7 p.m.                     Fox 61/CW20     
July 17                    Atlanta                                   7 p.m.                     NBC Sports Boston
July 20                    Seattle                                    7 p.m.                     NBC Sports Boston
July 22                    at Dallas                                 4 p.m.                     Fox 61/CW20
July 24                    Washington                           7 p.m.                     NBC Sports Boston
August 1                New York                               7 p.m.                     NBC Sports Boston
August 5                Las Vegas                               3 p.m.                     NBC Sports Boston
August 10              at Chicago                              9 p.m.                     NBC Sports Boston
August 12              Chicago                                  3 p.m.                     NBC Sports Boston
August 14              Dallas                                      7 p.m.                     NBC Sports Boston
August 17              Minnesota                             7 p.m.                     NBC Sports Boston
August 19              Los Angeles                           3 p.m.                     NBC Sports Boston
*All times EST
** The New York Camp Day game will be re-broadcast at 7:30 p.m.

Monday, May 28, 2018

UConn incoming freshmen Nelson-Ododa, Williams named to U.S. U-18 team

The U.S. team playing in the FIBA Americas U18 Championships will be headlined by UConn incoming freshmen Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Christyn Williams.

The duo, who are expected to arrive on campus tomorrow, were among 12 players named to the team after trials held at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Their inclusion is hardly a shocking turn of events considering that they were the top two scorers on the U.S. team that won the bronze medal at the 2016 FIBA U17 World Championship for Women.

Here's a story I did on the two of them after catching up with Nelson-Ododa and Williams at Jordan Brand Classic media day last month.

Ten of the 12 players will be college freshmen in the fall - Jenna Brown (Stanford), Queen Egbo (Baylor), Nazarah Hillmon-Baker (Michigan), Rhyne Howard (Kentucky), Jordan Nixon (Notre Dame), , Sedona Prince (Texas), Abby Prohaska (Notre Dame), Nalyssa Smith (Baylor) and the two UConn commits. The only players with remaining college eligibility are Aijha Blackwell and Class of 2019 Notre Dame commit Anaya Peoples meaning five of the 12 players are committed to either UConn or Notre Dame.

The 12 players will return to Colorado on July 20 to begin preparations for the tournament which will be held from Aug. 1-7 at a site to be determined.

Next up is the naming of the 12-member U-17 national team. The list of hopefuls has been cut from 156 to 18 with UConn Class of 2019 recruiting targets Aliyah Boston, Jordan Horston and Haley Jones among the finalists. The 12 players representing the U.S. in the FIBA U17 World Cup will be announced on Wednesday.

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Inspired by stars who have played in her hometown, now Aliyah Boston is the star attraction

Years before the honors started heading Aliyah Boston she was just another wide-eyed youngster heading out to the University of the Virgin Islands Sports & Fitness Center watching some of the top teams and players in the Paradise Jam tournament each November.

"Since I was younger I went every year," Boston said. "It did help because I got to watch basketball at another level."

UConn, which will play in the 2018 event, went undefeated at the events in 2007 and 2012 at that time they had no idea that a player who is one of the top recruits in the country would join the legions of fans of the UConn women's basketball program.

"When I first started playing basketball I loved UConn so I think it is just natural," Boston said.

Even with hosting elite programs on an annual basis, it's not easy for rising girls basketball players from St. Thomas to catch the eye of the top college programs. So in 2014 Boston made the difficult decision to leave her parents and move to Worcester where she lives with an aunt.

"It was really just about more exposure for basketball and better schooling," Boston said.

Boston would enroll at Worcester Academy and become a two-time Gatorade Massachusetts Player of the Year and now she has a chance to become the first girl from Massachusetts to win the award three times. Her story bears a striking resemblance to the journey Jonquel Jones of the Connecticut Sun took to become one of the WNBA's rising stars. It has come at a price as being away from her parents can be challenging to say the least. That was never more evident than in September when Hurricane Irma touched down in St. Thomas, causing incredible carnage. Another category 5 hurricane hit the area a couple weeks later. There were some anxious moments when Boston was uncertain how her parents were doing. They were OK but in late September she tweeted "my home has been severly damaged from two category 5 hurricanes. Please help me provide disaster relief by donating whatever you can."

"I think I am getting better," Boston said of dealing with being away from her parents, "but it is still tough."

Boston knows why she relocated to New England and is taking advantage of her opportunities. She's a B student at Worcester Academy and is fresh off leading her school to the NEPSAC 2A title. She averaged 21.2 points, 14 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.2 steals and 6.2 blocked shots per game. Her junior season was highlighted by four triple-doubles and 19 double-doubles. She also had three games with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds as a sophomore. Last summer she not only made the U.S. team which played in the FIBA Americas U16 Championships but she was the leading scorer and rebounder for the gold-medal winning United States squad.

Now she is back looking for a spot on the team playing in the FIBA U17 World Championships.

"I want to show them that I've gotten stronger, I want to show them my inside game but I also want to show them that I have developed an outside game with shooting and dribbling," Boston said.

If Boston spends any more time at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado she might need to start paying rent. Not only was she was the U16 trials in 2017 but in March she teamed with Notre Dame commit Samantha Brunelle and UConn Class of 2020 recruiting targets Paige Bueckers and Hailey Van Lith on the winning Quest team at the USA Basketball Women's 3x3 U18 National Championship. Those four will reunite in October when they represent the U.S. at the Youth Olympic Games in Argentina. Now she is back in Colorado again.

Boston credits her 3x3 experience for helping develop her game and play at a quicker pace.

"I think it does because it is so much faster than a regular 5 on 5, things happen so quickly so that really helps you out," Boston said. "It is really special because when you get to wear USA across your chest, it is just a great opportunity and it is just exciting."

Boston, the No. 7 rated prospect in the Class of 2019 by ESPN, will set up her five official visits before making her college decision. She isn't ready to divulge her list of five finalists but did say, "I'm down to five, UConn on that list."

Boston and fellow Class of 2019 UConn recruiting targets Jordan Horston and Haley Jones are among 18 finalists for the team as announced by USA Basketball this morning. The finalists will remain in Colorado Springs until May 30 when the 12-member team is announced.


Sunday, May 27, 2018

Incentives to shine not hard to find for UConn recruiting target Haley Jones

After failing to make the U16 squad at last year's trials, motivation wasn't going to be a problem when UConn recruiting target Haley Jones returned to the U.S. Olympic Training Center for the U17 trials. However, the moment she caught a glimpse of her basketball idol who happens to be on the selection committee, there was even more reason for Jones to put on a show.

"My favorite player since I was little was Tamika Catchings so it is pretty cool that she is in the same gym as me," Jones said. "I like how she always worked so hard and is always the best teammate out there and I like players who work hard and are good teammates and the ones who have the balance of making the extra pass but also knowing how not to overpass, take their shot when it is their time.

"She is my idol, I don't even know her but at the same time I want to do so well."

Jones stands 6-1, the same height as Catchings. She also has the versatility that marked Catchings' time at Tennessee, with the WNBA's Indiana Fever and as a member of the U.S. national team. As a junior at national powerhouse Archbishop Mitty in San Jose, Calif. Jones led her team in scoring (21.9), rebounding (10.0) and blocked shots (2.5) while ranking second in assists (4.1) and steals (2.0). She had 19 double-doubles in 30 games including a triple-double against Saint Francis on Feb. 14. Her remarkable junior season saw her team ranked first in the national high school polls for stretches but it ended with a disappointing state tournament loss to Pinewood. Jones fouled out in regulation as her team lost in triple overtime. Still, it was a season she will never forget.

"We had such a great bond this year and team chemistry really helped us," Jones said. "It is just the heart that we play with and we do so much conditioning so that has a huge impact on our game. Coach (Sue) Phillips is an amazing coach so we wouldn't be where we are without her."

Phillips is no stranger to how things work at U.S. junior national team trials. Phillips was the head coach of the gold-medal winning U.S. team at the 2014 FIBA U17 World Championships. The leading scorer on that squad was UConn All-American Katie Lou Samuelson. Phillips, who also coached the U16 team featuring Samuelson and Crystal Dangerfield in 2013, gave her star player some words of advice before Jones left for Colorado.

"She coached the U16 team with Katie Lou, Sabrina (Ionescu) and all of those guys so she has definitely given me pointers on what to work on," Jones said. "I know Sabrina through the Cal Stars (AAU program) so she is giving me tips on what to look for and she said what was important was all the little intangible things, hustle play as well, doing everything to stand out."

Intangibles figure to play a role in Jones' college decision.

She has taken home visits to Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, Texas, South Carolina, Louisville, UConn, Notre Dame and Cal. She will be cutting the list down sooner rather than later before taking campus visits in September and October.

Although she was given the nickname "Baby UConn" by her club teammates, she didn't want to speak in specifics about the 11-time national champions or any of the programs she is considering.

"I try not to single out any programs like that. I guess, I've tried to deal with every program the same so I am looking for the same things," Jones said. "I have developed a relationship with the UConn coaches as well as a lot of different coaching staffs."

I've made more than a few trips to Colorado for junior national team camps in the past but unfortunately I am not out there this time. However, based on the social media posts by those who on site who cover girls basketball recruiting, it certainly sounds like Jones is one of the top players out there. With the list of participants being cut from 156 to 102 to 70 and then to 45 less than an hour ago, Jones is alive and well in her quest to be on the team playing in the FIBA U17 World Cup in Belarus from July 21-29.

"I think personally I am doing pretty well out here," Jones said. "You always want every single shot to go in. What I've improved a lot is my ball handling and my shooting so I want them to see that as well as my capability to drive to the rim and get inside."

The 12-player team will be announced tomorrow.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Growth continues on and off the court for UConn recruting target Jordan Horston

When Jordan Horston cast her eye toward playing high school basketball, she sort of figured she would have normal size to play point guard. That all changed when she grew six inches in a summer and after leading Columbus (Ohio) Africentric to its second state time in her first three high school seasons, she now stands 6-2.

While her body has changed, the essence of who she is when Horston steps on the basketball court remains the same. She revels in her ability to make her teammates better and would rather throw a crisp bounce pass leading to a layup for a teammate than fire away at will on the perimeter.
Jordan Horston in action with U.S. U-16 national team (USA Basketball photos)

"My style of play, I like to pass the ball anyways, I like getting my teammates involved because it makes the game a lot more fun," said Horston, a top 10 rated player in the Class of 2019 who is planning to take a visit to UConn next week.

Horston was not only a member of the U.S. team which won the gold medal at the 2017 FIBA Americas U16 Championships but she led the squad with 17 assists and was second on the team in 106 minutes played. Now she is looking to make the U17 team competing for a world title in Belarus from July 21-29.

Horston is the type of player who could set off a triple-double alert each time she steps onto the court. She averaged 18.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4 assists and 4.3 steals per game as a junior when she was a co-winner of the Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association Division III Player of the Year honor. Horston has the length to play on the wing and that is exactly what she did as a junior but she still has the same point guard mentality before her growth spurts.

"I feel like every kid should start off with basic ballhandling because you never know if you will grow or not," Horston said. "I am glad I grew but I am also glad I had those point guard skills as well. It is like having two point guards on the court at the same time if I don't have the ball a lot."

The plan is for Horston to be back at point guard for her final high school season.

Horston's athletic background is a rather interesting one. She was coached by her dad when she learned the game and related to former North Carolina and WNBA star Sylvia Crawley who is an assistant coach with the Tar Heels which certainly figures to have played a factor in North Carolina being the first program to offer her a scholarship. However, her first athletic endeavor was as a cheerleader. Then she shifted to soccer and there was a time when it looked like that could be a sport she stuck with. Track and field came next before she got serious about basketball. She has also run cross country and in high school she is a star tennis player and a member of the softball team.

Although she is the epitome of a team-first player, taking part in individual sports like tennis, cross country and track aided in her development as an athlete and person.

"Definitely I think it helps me especially if you are doing track or cross country because it keeps you in shape for your next sport," Horston said.

Something else that allows Horston to stand apart is her loyalty. In this age when players change high schools and AAU programs seemingly on a whim, Horston has been committed to Columbus Africentric and since she started to play with the All Ohio AAU program, she has not had a wandering eye.

"He (Jaybee Bethea) got me to where I am today so he put me on the stage to let me do what I do so why would I (leave) because he is the reason I am where I am today and it is a good program," Horston said.

Horston's former AAU teammates Valencia Myers and Bexley Wallace signed with Florida State and Penn State respectively and they've been there to give Horston somebody to bounce ideas off when the recruiting process might get a tad bit overwhelming.

"They pushed me and they have already told me that it is your decision, you just have to pray about it and don't get stressed out about it," Horston said. "They just give me a lot advice on how I should handle the recruiting process. I think I am doing a pretty good job. At first it was overwhelming but I have narrowed (the list of schools) down so it has been a lot easier."

While she hasn't been focusing on recruiting since arriving in Colorado Springs, that will soon change as one of her first tasks after the trials are over will be heading to UConn for her visit.

"I am definitely excited," Horston said. "You know he (Geno Auriemma) is a great coach, he makes players better and that is what I want, I want somebody to push me and make me better. I don't want to go somewhere where I am comfortable because that is not how I get better. I'd like to be put in an uncomfortable situation so I can get better so I feel like he does that. I have watched some of his practices, I just feel like he is a great coach and he produces great players."

USA Basketball announced the first cut after Saturday's morning session and she was among the 102 players moving on. Mercy High School forward Vienna Knox, the only Connecticut native at the trials, did not make the cut. The 12-member team will be announced on Monday.


Friday, May 25, 2018

A special night at Mohegan for Samuelson sisters

The latest Ogwumike vs. Ogwumike showdown was the dominant storyline in Thursday night's nationally televised game between undefeated Los Angeles and Connecticut squads.

While the Ogwumikes did not disappoint with Chiney scoring 18 points to lead the Connecticut Sun to the 102-94 victory and Nneka finishing with 19 points while leading all players by playing 38:23 in the game, there was another sister-related story worth addressing.

With UConn All-American Katie Lou Samuelson at Mohegan Sun Arena looking on, her older sister Karlie played nearly 10 1/2 minutes. She made both of her field goal attempts including a 3-pointer to finish with five points for Los Angeles.

"Very special, we were lucky to play last year (at Mohegan Sun Arena) in camp and this year a few games for preseason and now a regular season game so I feel like it is real special for me and for her," Karlie Samuelson said.

Samuelson played in three preseason games in 2017 including both of the ones at Mohegan Sun Arena. She would finish the preseason averaging 7.7 points per game while shooting 53.3 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range but a foot injury suffered late in camp ended any chance she had of making the Sparks. She was once again signed to a training camp contact and yet again got to play two of her three preseason games at Mohegan Sun Arena meaning that she has actually played more games on that court than her sister. She got the start against host Connecticut on May 7. She finished with 14 points and four rebounds and would average 9.7 points per game. Once again her shooting numbers were rather impressive as she drained 68.8 percent of her shots from the field, 62.5 percent of her 3-pointers and both of her foul shots.

While she had her moments of brilliance in the six preseason games she played on, it isn't too hard to pinpoint her most memorable moment.

Samuelson's first regular season game happened to be a rematch of the 2017 WNBA Championship Series. She wasn't even supposed to be on the team as she was one of the final cuts but with the Sparks missing former MVP Candace Parker because of a back injury, veteran post player Jantel Lavender still playing overseas and No. 1 draft pick Maria Vadeeva still in Russia, she was able to be added to the roster. Samuelson's night figured to be done when she was subbed out with 9:03 to play as there were enough veterans left to finish out what has become the top rivalry in the WNBA. Well, after Lindsay Whalen made two free throws with 5.8 seconds to play, Los Angeles coach Brian Agler called a timeout to set up a final play and also have the ability to advance the ball into the frontcourt. He did something else, he took out Essence Carson and replaced her with the undrafted rookie from Stanford. Samuelson flashed to the top of the key, received the inbounds pass and then fed the ball to Chelsea Gray. Gray did the rest by driving to the basket for the game-winning layup to give Los Angeles the 77-76 in a game that ESPN said was watched by 297,000 viewers.

"Brian told me I get to suit up for the Minnesota game so that was pretty crazy," Samuelson said. "It was a whirlwind but it was exciting. Brian drew up a great play and we executed it. I got the ball to Chelsea and that was incredible, it was really awesome to be there for that.

"Whether I was on the court or on the bench, I had a great view of Chelsea's shot, I'll give you that. It was crazy to be a part of."

Samuelson has averaged 4.7 points, 1.7 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.3 steals and 0.7 blocked shots in 14.7 minutes per game in the first three games of the season. Although playing on the wing at Stanford, the Sparks are a little thin in the post so she got to play a power forward position for the team.

"I am playing the 4 out here," Samuelson said. "The players on the team are unbelievable, Nneka, Alana, Essence, Chelsea, Cappie, Candace has helped me out at the 4 (power forward) a lot because we don't have a lot of bigs. It is unbelievable to learn from these women who are amazing role models."

Her teammates have plenty of confidence in her ability as do her coaches otherwise she never would have been out on the court for the final play in the Minnesota game.

"We knew what she could bring and I knew she was probably first one on the list for camp this year and for her to able to make the team after everything we've been through and obviously the Stanford connection is really good for us too," Nneka Ogwumike said.

"She just needs a chance, she can capitalize on any opportunity she gets."

Parker is listed as being day by day and Lavender could be joining the team as early as Sunday when Los Angeles kicks off a five-game homestand against Phoenix. That could leave Samuelson on the outside although she certainly has shown that she can play in the WNBA.

"I don't know how it will all go down but I am happy," Samuelson said.

Of course I wasn't going to let Karlie get away without asking about her younger sister. I focused on the toughness Katie Lou displayed fighting through tremendous pain after injuring her ankle early in her junior season. The injury was severe enough that she needed surgery after the season was over. It reminds me of hockey players who play through incredibly painful injuries and once they are eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, word comes out of the medical procedures they need to undergo.

"Her ankle was so bad throughout the whole season," Karlie Samuelson said. "It just shows her resilience, she is not going to stop, she wants to be there for her team. She wants to win and she is competitive so just shows."

Sunday, May 20, 2018

WNBA's Dearica Hamby excited to see her sister in law suit up at UConn

Dearica Hamby was subjected to her first "UConn experience."

Typically before WNBA games at Mohegan Sun Arena, the players most often interviewed from the visiting teams are typically former UConn stars. However, since Hamby married the brother of UConn incoming freshman Olivia Nelson-Ododa, she was given the treatment usually reserved for the former Huskies.

Here's what she had to say about Nelson-Ododa who in next week and a half will be graduating, heading to Colorado Springs for the USA Basketball U-18 national team trials and then arriving at UConn.

"She is going to be under Geno who is a fabulous coach, she has a great skill set," said Hamby, a forward for the Las Vegas Aces. "She obviously has to get a little stronger but I am excited to see what Geno can do with her and how far they go.

"She can handle the ball, she can post up. She is super athletic, she can jump obviously, she can defend, she can run, she can shoot and do just about everything. The players who do that at this level are superstars, (Elena) Delle Donne, Candace (Parker) I think I would compare her to those types of players. Off the court, she is a good person, she has a good heart."

Hamby grew up in the Atlanta area as did Nelson-Ododa and ultimately chose Wake Forest. She did enough good things there to turn herself into the sixth overall pick in the 2015 WNBA Draft so she was able to offer advice to her sister in law.

"I told her the things to look for and when she went on her visits, I told her to go to the place that feels like home for you no matter where that is and she chose UConn," Hamby said.

Hamby believes Nelson-Ododa is best suited to play the power forward position at the next level something that Morgan Tuck of the Connecticut Sun and Gabby Williams, a rookie with Chicago did with great distinction during their time with the Huskies. Obviously with Azura' Stevens passing up her final season at UConn and now with the WNBA's Dallas Wings, even more minutes could be avaiable when Nelson-Ododa suits up at UConn.

"She was looking forward to that and said you have to go right now, she is lookig forward to it," Hamby said. "I think it will be a growing process for her but she will be all right."

JEFFERSON ON THE MENDFormer UConn guard Moriah Jefferson made the trip with the Las Vegas team but she is still recovering from a serious knee injury so is not in the lineup.

"It is day by day right now taking my time so in a few weeks I should be back," Jefferson said.

"It is a struggle because I love playing, I am used to being on the court. It is good for my body, getting back to being a lot better, faster and stronger when I get on the court."

Friday, May 18, 2018

UConn alums setting the pace once again in WNBA


It is not exactly "stop the presses" material to report that no program has more alums on current WNBA rosters than UConn. According to my research, the last time somebody other than UConn had more of its players on WNBA rosters came in 2013 when Tennessee beat out UConn 12-10 and before that, it last took place in 2009 with Tennessee edging out the Huskies 13-12.

It is noteworthy, however, that the 17 alums from UConn on the WNBA rosters is the most for one program in the history of the WNBA. The mark was 15 set by UConn in 2016.

Stanford was the first program I could find with at least 13 alums appearing in WNBA regular season games in the same year and that transpired in 2000. Tennessee peaked at 13 alums during the 2009 campaign. That leaves UConn that has had at least 13 former players play in a season six times - 2008 (14), 2012 (13), 2015 (13), 2016 (15), 2017 (14) and 2018 (17).

More remarkable numbers to consider include the fact that there are more WNBA teams with multiple UConn grads on rosters (five) than teams without a UConn product. Or how about 35 players who spent their entire college careers at UConn have been taken in the WNBA Draft and only Shea Ralph in 2001 (as a result of the last of the serious knee injuries she suffered on the court) failed to make it onto a roster. When you add in Rita Williams and Azura' Stevens either playing or about to play in the WNBA and Natalie Butler becoming the second draft pick out of UConn not to make a WNBA roster, that makes it 36 of 38 picks who played at UConn have made it in the WNBA.

I have Duke ranking second on the alum count on active rosters with Azura' Stevens counting both for UConn and Duke.

Here's the team by team breakdown of UConn alums in the WNBA
Atlanta: Tiffany Hayes, Renee Montgomery
Chicago: Stefanie Dolson, Gabby Williams
Connecticut: Morgan Tuck
Dallas: Saniya Chong, Azura' Stevens
Las Vegas: Moriah Jefferson
Minnesota: Maya Moore
New York: Tina Charles, Bria Hartley, Kia Nurse, Kiah Stokes
Phoenix: Diana Taurasi
Seattle: Sue Bird, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Breanna Stewart

Thursday, May 17, 2018

UConn to meet Vanderbilt at Mohegan Sun Arena on Nov. 17

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced details of UConn's game against Vanderbilt.

The teams will meet on Nov. 17 at Mohegan Sun Arena at the fifth annual Hall of Fame Women's Showcase. It will be a busy few days of basketball at Mohegan since it runs in conjunction with Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament, held November 16-18 featuring men's teams from George Washington, Holy Cross, Michigan, Norfolk State, Providence College, Siena, South Carolina and Stony Brook.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

No surprises as Connecticut Sun finalize 2018 roster

With Alex Bentley, Rachel Banham, Jonquel Jones, Chiney Ogwumike, Shekinna Stricklen, Alyssa Thomas, Jasmine Thomas, Morgan Tuck and Courtney Williams and 2018 No. 1 pick Lexie Brown all expected to make the 12-player roster even before training camp kicked off, the only drama surrounded who would be the final two players to make the Connecticut Sun roster.

Former Rutgers standout Betnijah Laney, who played for Chicago during the 2015 and 2016 seasons, and last year's first-round pick Brionna Jones joined the aforementioned 10 players as the Sun on the roster.

Leticia Romero and Jessica January, taken by Connecticut in the second and third rounds in the 2017 WNBA Draft, Cayla George (acquired from Phoenix for the 21st overall pick in this year's draft) and Nikki Greene, a former third-round selection by Phoenix were the final players cut.  It is the second season in a row that January was among the final cuts but with her averaging only 4.7 minutes per game and Romero on the court for a total of 10 minutes in three preseason games, it was not shocking to see them let go. The battle for the final reserve post position was a different story. Jones averaged 3.7 points, 4 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.7 blocked shots in 14.7 minutes in three preseason games while George averaged 1.3 points, 2.7 rebounds and 0.7 steals in 12.3 minutes.

If Connecticut had kept the pick used to acquire George, Mercedes Russell (who averaged 26 minutes per game for New York in the preseason, talented Russian Rasia Musina and Shakayla Thomas (9.3 PPG for Los Angeles in the preseason) are among the players who could have been selected.

Every indication is that Jonquel Jones, who missed all of training camp, should be arriving in the next day or two. New Haven native Bria Holmes will miss the 2018 season as she prepares to give birth to her first child.

The Sun, coming off a 21-13 season, will play Las Vegas in its home and season opener on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Mohegan Sun Arena.

UConn alums dominate WNBA GM survey once again

UConn alums once again proved to be rather popular with the WNBA general managers.

The WNBA released its annual GM survey and as is usually the case, former Huskies were at the top of many lists.

Diana Taurasi received 67 percent of the votes for "Who is the best guard in the WNBA?", Maya Moore earned 42 percent of the votes as being the top forward in the league and 33 percent of the voters picked her to win the MVP award, Tina Charles and Moore finished 1st and 2nd as being the best finish. Tiffany Hayes was tied with Chelsea Gray as being the most underrated player. Charles earned 83 percent of the votes for having the best post moves, Bird was tied with Courtney Vandersloot at 42 percent for being the best passer with Bird picking up 75 percent of the votes for being the best leader, 67 percent for having the highest basketball IQ and 58 percent of the GMs said she is the best at making her teammates better. Taurasi and Allie Quigley finished tied for the lead for being the best shooter.

Jonquel Jones of the Connecticut Sun in the best rebounder in the league according to the general managers while 75 percent predicted that the Sun would have the most regular-season wins in the Eastern Conference.

Next up is the league's release of the opening day rosters. With Kelly Faris being cut by the New York Liberty despite a solid preseason, there are 17 UConn alums on WNBA rosters and five of the league's 12 teams having more than one UConn product on the roster. It should also be mentioned that Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Kiah Stokes, both selected in the first round in the 2015 WNBA Draft have been signed to extensions.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Former UConn forward Natalie Butler waived by Dallas

The Dallas Wings announced that former UConn forward Natalie Butler and guard Loryn Goodwin have been cut.

Goodwin was the 18th overall selection while Butler was taken with pick No. 30 in the 2018 WNBA Draft.

Butler, who was the leading rebounder among Division I women's players this past season at George Mason, had four points and seven rebounds in two preseason games - both played at Mohegan Sun Arena.

The feeling was that Goodwin could challenge former UConn guard Saniya Chong for the backup point guard role but she was 2 for 6 from the field with six turnovers in two preseason games.

There are still 18 former UConn products on WNBA rosters as we are just over a week away from the start of the season.

Atlanta: Tiffany Hayes, Renee Montgomery
Chicago: Stefanie Dolson, Gabby Williams
Connecticut: Morgan Tuck
Dallas: 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

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

UConn alums make an impact at WNBA preseason tourney

The final totals are 95 points and five double-digit scoring games for the seven UConn alums who took the court at Mohegan Sun Arena over the last two days.

For the sake of full disclosure, I was not in attendance for Tuesday's doubleheader but did make an appearance for Monday's doubleheader. I was able to catch up with Natalie Butler, Kia Nurse and Azura' Stevens before they made their professional debuts as well as getting some time with Saniya Chong and Kelly Faris.

Considering that New York has five former Huskies on its roster (although Bria Hartley and Kiah Stokes were not here) and Dallas has three, it seems fitting that Dallas and New York were among the three teams joining the Connecticut Sun for the two day preseason tournament.

Nurse averaged nearly a point a minute (29 points in 29:47), Stevens was dynamic on Monday (19 points and nine rebounds) but had a quiet game on Tuesday. While it can be dangerous reading too much into playing time when it comes time to make cuts, Butler was only out there for 9:50 in the two games.

Faris had a solid couple of days making all six of her field goal attempts. It was a good sign that she played 45 1/2 minutes so the New York coaches are giving her a a chance to show what she can do.

The next week or so won't be easy for players like Butler, Chong and Faris as they look to stick around.

"I love the opportunity to play with this team," Butler said. "I am going to keep working, that has been my motto since day one and it has been working out well. Worry about the things that are in your control and take it from there. I would love to be a part of this fantastic (franchise)

"At the beginning of the year I had no expectations on how it was going to go, sort of play, enjoy my senior year."

Last year Chong defied the odds by making the Dallas roster as a third round pick. Butler joked that she hopes she didn't bother Chong too much as she solicited as much advice as she could get.

She got to square off with Stevens, who was taken sixth overall by Dallas, during practice and both are coached by Dallas assistant coach Taj McWilliams-Franklin, one of the best players in Connecticut Sun history.

"It's been great being back around Nat, going through training camp, being in a new place and both coming from UConn," Stevens said.

Chong has a different position coach this year as former Connecticut Sun guard Erin Phillips is working with the perimeter players. It's kind of ironic because it created a bit of a buzz last year when Chong made the team while Phillips was not a part of the roster. She was hired as director of player and franchise development by the team a week and a half after she was waived.

Chong headed over to Israel and she led Elitzur Holon by averaging 38 minutes per game. She ended up contributing 17.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game helping her team to a 17-9 mark in the regular season and a spot in the Final Four.

"I learned a few tricks from last year and I am still learning, I am really excited about year 2," Chong said.

"Erin has been in our position before, it has been really helpful, trying to be a point guard, trying to lead."

Speaking of decorated former players as coaches, both Faris and Nurse get to work with not only the legendary Katie Smith, who is in her first season as the Liberty's head coach, but also with Liberty lcon Teresa Weatherspoon. Two intense competitors, certainly they much like the fire that Faris and Nurse bring to the court.

Smith spoke about Nurse after her big game on Tuesday and here's the quote courtesy of the Liberty's official site.

"Kia is a skilled athlete," Smith said. "That experience against high-level competition that she came in with makes her well aware of what she can do and we as a staff know it too."

Although New York didn't play Connecticut during the tournament, it still had to a little strange for Faris, a former first round pick by the Sun and one of the last cuts by the team last year.

"One door closes and you have to look for the next one to open and you have to work for it," Faris said. "It wasn't going to be the end of my career, I just knew that it would be a good time to do something different and it would be a good time to let my body rest, train and work on my game."

While Nurse looked the part of a top 10 draft pick, it is going to be interesting to see how the minutes shake out in her rookie year once the Liberty has its full roster. One recent move was the signing of veteran wing Marissa Coleman adding another scorer to a talented roster for Smith's debut season.

"She has a ton of experience, been a lot of fun she has been open and willing to help me," Nurse said of Smith, who is the fifth all time leading scorer in WNBA history.

"We worked a lot of defensive things and offense in practice and Teresa Weatherspoon is doing a great job helping me out with some of my drives, people playing me for my shot so kind of working with that and understanding that everybody is a threat, if you are open knock down the shot," Nurse said.

As for the Sun, there is a preseason game on Friday against Atlanta at Bridgeport's Webster Bank Arena. Getting down to the maximum 12 player roster won't be easy.

Betnijah Laney, who played in 40 games for Chicago in 2015 and 2016, is making a strong push to make the team and if she does make the cut, the last spot could come down to Brionna Jones, last year's first round pick by the Sun, or Cayla George, who played in 66 regular season games with Phoenix in 2015 and 2017 before being traded for a second round pick in this year's draft. Phoenix used the pick to select promising Russian prospect Raisa Musina. There will be more on George in Friday's edition of the New Haven Register.

 New Haven native Tanaya Atkinson was cut by the Washington Mystics on Tuesday.

The former Temple star was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent. She had three points, one rebound and one assist in 6:31 of playing time in Washington's win over Minnesota on Sunday. I'd expect Atkinson to get a chance to play overseas and if she proves that she can make shots from the perimeter on a consistent basis, she could get another chance at making it in the WNBA next year.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Arkansas high school legend Shekinna Stricklen dishes on UConn signee Christyn Williams

When UConn signee Christyn Williams was erupting for 42 points to lead Central Arkansas Christian to the 4A championship, there were plenty of references to 2008 when three different players had 45-point games in the state tournament.

One of those shooting stars is none other than Shekinna Stricklen of the Connecticut Sun. At the Sun's media day festivities, Stricklen took a trip down memory lane of her senior season at Morrilton High School. Stricklen tied the Arkansas record for points in a state title game with 45 in the 2008 5A final against Camden Fairview but it was Camden Fairview emerging with the 70-63 victory and a second straight title.

"I wanted it so bad, I had lost to the same team my junior year and we had to play the same team my senior year and I just remember I gave it all I had, I really wanted to win," Stricklen said.

Williams' high school career had a better ending as she led Central Arkansas to the 68-57 win over Riverview.

Stricklen doesn't recall ever meeting Williams but still she feels plenty of pride hearing of Williams' exploits.

"She is very explosive, good ball handler, good shooter, good IQ, a very good player and I am so happy she is from Arkansas," Stricklen said. "We really don't get too many Arkansas players and I am really excited for her

"I've been keeping up with her and pretty sure I will reach out to her soon but I am excited. She is coming to a great team, a great coach in Geno and he is going to take her game to another level. She will be here in the league soon."

PLENTY OF PRAISE FOR COLLIERUConn's Napheesa Collier was the only active college player to take part in the recent U.S. national team camp. Morgan Tuck, her former UConn teammate, also took part in the camp held in Seattle and loved what she saw from Collier.

"She was the only college player there and she did really well and held her own," Tuck said. "I think the biggest thing is she was really open to learn, she tries to learn from everybody especially somebody who is still in college, you have Sue and Diana who have been out of college for a long time so I think she just really enjoyed the experience and she looked really good.

"How active she is, she is getting a ton of rebounds and even if she was a little nervous, which you always are the first day, she was active the whole time and that is what helps her be so effective that even if she is not scoring, she is active."

Tuck opened up enough eyes when she was at the camp that when Elena Delle Donne wasn't able to play in an international friendly against China, Tuck was asked to suit up.

One of the six former Huskies to play in the game, Tuck tied for the team lead with six rebounds in the 83-46 victory.

"It was my first time playing in a game at the national level and it kind of made it even sweeter because I originally didn't make the roster but then they asked me to hang around and it was a great experience, hopefully I get more of those chances in the future."