Geno Auriemma isn’t big on recruiting transfers, but it’s easy to see why he made a rare exception for Azura Stevens, formerly of Duke.
A Parade All-American in high school, Stevens made an immediate impact for the Blue Devils. She started 26 out of 33 games and was an ACC All-Freshman selection, averaging 14.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per contest. As a sophomore, the North Carolina native led her team in scoring (18.9 ppg - 2nd in the ACC), rebounds (9.6 rpg - 1st in the ACC), field goal percentage (53.5%) and blocks (53).
Amidst some turmoil in the program, Stevens was one of many players to transfer out of Duke, leading to an investigation into head coach JoAnne McCallie. The forward took her talents to Storrs, sitting out the year where Geno’s UConn Huskies extended their record winning streak to 111 before losing in the Final Four.
On one of the deepest UConn teams in recent memory, Stevens started this season in the unfamiliar role of a backup. Despite an up and down start coming off the bench, she had received positive feedback from her head coach and teammates through exhibition play and the regular season’s first two games.
“She hasn’t played in a long time,” Auriemma said after the Huskies beat Cal. “She sat a whole year and now here she is with a whole new team that she’s playing with for the very first time. It takes a little bit of an adjustment period.
“(But) it’s not gonna take long. She’ll catch up quickly.”
She’ll need to now that Katie Lou Samuelson, the Huskies’ leading scorer from last season, left the Cal game with a foot injury. Samuelson is now “week-to-week,” so Stevens has moved into an extended stay in a starting role. She logged her first start as a Husky against No. 15 Maryland at the XL Center.
Stevens dominated, putting up 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting while pulling down 12 rebounds. She was an adept rebounder, showed nice touch with the ball, and had a strong defensive performance, forcing at least two turnovers with a block as well. If forced to make a pro comparison for her, I would say Anthony Davis or a taller Breanna Stewart.
Geno may be trying to downplay it, but Stevens can be a star this year. She still needs time to fully shake off the rust and adjust to her new surroundings, but she has immense talent and clearly already is capable of contributing significantly. Few in the country can match Stevens’ wide range of skills or her size, at 6-foot-6. Auriemma says she needs to play with a more confident mindset to fully reach her potential, but she’s well on her way.
For the rest of the country, it should be horrifying to find out this UConn team has upside. If Azura Stevens has another level, we could be in line for some more axis-breaking dominant years and another 1-2-3 showing for UConn in the 2019 WNBA Draft.