When a highly-touted freshman comes into a program with the success and prestige of a UConn, she can look forward to high expectations from everybody: the coaching staff, the fans and even their teammates. Recruiting rankings are one thing, but head coach Geno Auriemma knows greatness when he sees it.
“You can tell early on during somebody's freshman year whether that’s somebody you’re going to be able to build around going forward,” the legendary head coach said. “Because even among those other stars...they handle certain things in a way that you would say ‘as they get more mature, they’re going to be able to take on a much bigger role.’”
Freshman point guard Crystal Dangerfield certainly has lofty expectations to live up to. With the departure of Moriah Jefferson, many hailed Dangerfield as the heir to the 4-time national champion and No. 2 overall pick in the WBNA Draft. While there are aspects of Dangerfield’s game that resemble Jefferson’s—such as her size and quickness—expecting to replace an All-American with anybody, let alone a freshman, is a lot to ask of a player.
“Moriah dominated the ball so much. I think having shared responsibilities between Kia, Saniya and Crystal, I think we’re going to have to share it,” said Auriemma. “We’re going to try and take some of the pressure off of them individually by spreading it around.”
For a team that lost so much talent and identity this season, Dangerfield needs to learn on the fly in order to contribute.
“On this team we need them to step up and make plays here and there every single game,” said Kia Nurse. “You don’t have the time where you can just sit back and wait your times probably coming quickly so to have them go out there and make those plays.”
During the first few weeks of practice, Dangerfield struggled with the transition to the college game. But as she’s spent more time on the court, Auriemma noticed that she started improving rapidly.
“She just is more comfortable, more assertive, she’s picking up the pace we want to play at,” he said. “She struggled with it for a long time and it seems to have started to sink in a little bit and you can see the progress everyday that she’s making at both ends of the floor.”
Dangerfield has even played well enough to the point where she has started to challenge senior Saniya Chong for playing time.
“The gap between (Chong) and Crystal is not as big as it was. And not because Saniya has come down, it’s because Crystal has gotten that much better,” Auriemma explained.
In UConn’s season opener on Monday against Florida State, Dangerfield came off the bench to play some point guard.
“The pace wasn’t too different,” she said. “Just the physicality and just being used to the home crowd, that’s just the difference in that game.”
Dangerfield wasn’t happy with her performance overall, scoring just five points on 2-for-6 shooting.
“I just felt like I wasn’t in the moment as much as I should’ve been been,” she said. “I wasn’t taking advantage of what I should have and I’m looking to do that tomorrow night.”
Her next opportunity comes Thursday night in the Huskies’ home opener, where they will be unveiling the 2015 National Champions banner before the game. With all the fanfare, Dangerfield is just trying to stay focused on improving as a team. She knows what her coaches and teammates expect of her and that’s what is driving her to try and improve every day.
“I think that I’ve been taking it upon myself to go harder on both sides of the floor, and I know that’s what they want from me. He knows I have an extra gear and it just needs to be consistent.”
UConn faces off against the No. 2 Baylor Bears at Gampel Pavilion. Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m., with the banner being unveiled during a pregame ceremony.