Note: This was written prior to Mikayla Coombs’ decision to transfer from UConn.
Entering next season, UConn women’s basketball badly lacks depth. The Huskies have only used nine of their 15 scholarships next year, and while Geno Auriemma rarely utilizes his full complement of spots, that’s still a thin team. This past season, UConn began the year with 11 scholarship players but dropped to 10 after Lexi Gordon transferred at the end of the fall semester.
So how did the Huskies end up with so few players? There isn’t a blanket reason for it. But one trend that emerged is that the Huskies’ recent recruiting classes are boom or bust. Either UConn gets a top-five player which turns into a star or they get someone outside the top-10 that doesn’t see much playing time or transfers out.
UConn Women’s Basketball Recruiting
|Paige Bueckers||1||Eden Prairie, MN|
|Aubrey Griffin||33||Ossining, NY|
|Christyn Williams||1||Little Rock, AR|
|Olivia Nelson-Ododa||4||Winder, GA|
|Megan Walker||1||Chesterfield, VA|
|Mikayla Coombs||13||Buford, GA|
|Andra Espinoza-Hunter||16||Ossining, NY||Missisippi State|
|Lexi Gordon||29||Fort Worth, TX||Texas Tech|
|Crystal Dangerfield||3||Murfreesboro, TN|
|Molly Bent||N/R||Centerville, MA|
|Kyla Irwin||N/R||State College, PA|
|Batouly Camara||N/A||New York, NY||Kentucky|
Let’s look at it class by class. In 2016, UConn added point guard Crystal Dangerfield as the crown jewel of the class, who turned into a three-year starter. With some extra scholarships available, the Huskies also brought in three-star prospects Molly Bent and Kyla Irwin as good locker room additions with the hope that they could become solid role players off the bench in due time. So far, neither player has made much of an impact on the court with time running out as they enter their senior seasons.
That same year, UConn also brought in Kentucky transfer Batouly Camara with three years left. She came in with promise as a strong post player but suffered a knee injury before the her first season of eligibility and never really recovered. Unless things change drastically next season, injuries likely cost her a good career in Storrs.
In 2017, the Huskies brought in the top-rated recruiting class in the nation. The class featured No. 1 prospect Megan Walker, No. 13 Mikayla Coombs, No. 16 Andra Espinoza-Hunter and No. 29 Gordon. It was the type of class that should’ve set the foundation for the next age of the UConn dynasty.
But it looks much different two years later. Espinoza-Hunter transferred out midway through her freshman year and Gordon left after the fall semester this past season. Walker turned into a quality starter as a sophomore, but Coombs is still struggling for playing time.
Neither transfer is that big of a concern — Espinoza-Hunter didn’t fit in well with the team and Gordon knew she wouldn’t get much playing time. But to lose half the class certainly hurts.
The 2018 class looks strong after one season. Christyn Williams started every game during her first season in Storrs and Olivia Nelson-Ododa developed into a strong rebounder and shot-blocker by the end of the year. Both players should take a big leap entering their second season.
As for the incoming class, Aubrey Griffin is the sole member. Despite being rated as the No. 33 player in the class of 2019, Griffin is a McDonalds’ All-American. However, she is the only player (as of now), which doesn’t help with the depth problem.
Auriemma believes having two stars in a class makes for a healthy program, with the most recent examples being the last two graduating classes of Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson along with Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams.
“They say animals hunt in pairs, right?” Auriemma said ahead of Senior Day this past season. “If you look our best teams, our greatest teams, there were always at least a couple of them and always two going all the way back from our national championship teams to Jen [Rizzotti] and Jamelle [Elliot], Pam [Webber] and Rebecca [Lobo], classes that had two really good (players). Then you get really lucky and get Sue [Bird], Swin [Cash], Asjha [Jones] and Tamika [Williams]. You do find that when you have two players that complement each other really well that are both committed to the same thing and have a great relationship on and off the court, you hone together their careers being so similar.”
Nelson-Ododa and Williams fit the bill, but the other three class feature just one star player. Teams can still be great with four studs — just look at the 2016-17 team with Collier, Nurse, Samuelson and Gabby Williams — but UConn doesn’t have a middle class of the roster. The Huskies either have stars or players that only play in blowouts.
At the same time, over-recruiting can be a problem as well, just look at South Carolina. According to WBBBlog.com, the Gamecocks signed 16 players between 2014 and 2017. Nine of those players left before graduating, or 64%.
Is under-recruiting better than over-recruiting? It depends on who you ask, but neither is ideal. There’s a balance between the two that Auriemma and his staff have struggled to find over the past few recruiting cycles.
That issue can be hidden when UConn features five or six bonafide stars like this past season, but it leaves the Huskies without any margin of error. But entering 2019-20, UConn is down to just four legitimate starters unless Griffin can be a day-one starter or someone like Bent or Coombs makes an unexpected leap over the summer.
So what can the Huskies do to fill out the roster? We’ll look at that in part two.