Barring some big offseason additions, the 2019-2020 season projects to be a transition year for UConn women’s basketball. After the departure of Mikayla Coombs, the Huskies are down to just eight scholarship players.
While the three returning starters along with Olivia Nelson-Ododa give the team a strong core, UConn lacks dependability beyond them. Molly Bent is the only backup guard and Kyla Irwin is the top backup post player. While both players could have strong senior seasons, neither has shown enough through their first three seasons to expect as much.
Regardless of any additions UConn makes this offseason, the 2020 recruiting class is shaping up to be one of the most important classes in recent memory. The Huskies simply can’t afford another miss on the recruiting trail.
Unfortunately, recruiting is an inexact science. ESPN’s recruiting rankings are the most prominent rating for women’s basketball recruits, but those only mean so much. For example, Kia Nurse was ranked No. 33 in the class of 2014 and started from day one. She developed into one of the best defensive players in the nation and a strong shooter, which led to her being selected No. 10 overall in the 2018 WNBA Draft.
Meanwhile, Courtney Ekmark was ranked two spots higher than Nurse at No. 31 in that same class. Ekmark struggled to find much playing time in Storrs and eventually transferred to Arizona State. Recruiting rankings are better used as general guidance than as actual measurements of how successful a player will be in college.
That one caveat — at least in UConn’s case — is top-10 players. The Huskies consistently nail it when it comes to those players. Since 2006 when ESPN’s recruiting rankings came out, UConn has signed 15 top-10 players. All but two of them — Elena Delle Donne and Samarie Walker — went on to have (or are currently having) strong careers in Storrs.
With that in mind, UConn’s 2020 class is off to a strong start. Just before the Final Four, Paige Bueckers, the top player in the class, committed to the Huskies. The 5-foot-11 self-described combo guard is viewed as not only the top player in her class but one of the best players to come out of high school in recent memory. Even better, Bueckers doesn’t want to be the only good player on the team.
“I think of myself as a really unselfish player so that’s why players want to play with me and I want to play with great players,” Bueckers said at the Final Four. “I always put the team first and I like playing with players that can help win a championship and our team can be the best so I want to recruit great players to come play with me.”
Not long after Bueckers’ commitment, Croatian point guard Nika Muhl committed to the Huskies. While she isn’t rated by ESPN, you can read a great story about her here. The fact that the likes of Louisville and Oregon were also going after her is a good indication of the caliber of player Muhl is.
With two guards locked down, UConn can turn its focus to the wings and post players in the class. Historically, the Huskies have only had an incoming freshman class with five players twice (2000, 2010) but never more than that. Realistically, Auriemma and his staff will only sign a maximum of two or three more players. So who are some of the options?
According to WBBBlog.com, UConn is in the finalist lists for three uncommitted 2020 players at the moment. Point guard Sarah Andrews (No. 6 player) is unlikely to end up in Storrs because the Huskies already picked up commitments from two other guards.
UConn’s top post target is 6-foot-4 Hannah Gusters from Irving, TX, the No. 7 player and top post player in the 2020 class. Gusters included the Huskies in her list of 12 finalists back in August while Auriemma and Chris Dailey visited her home back in March.
On the wing, UConn is pursuing Angel Reese, the No. 5 player in the class and top wing out of Baltimore. The Huskies are one of eight finalists along with Maryland, Rutgers, South Carolina, Syracuse, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
The last time UConn had three top-10 players in a single recruiting class? 2012, when Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck all came to Storrs.
Expecting anything close to what that class did during its four years is unrealistic but UConn’s 2020 class will define the future trajectory of the program. While every team in the nation would take reaching the Final Four three years in a row, success at UConn is measured by national championships, and many are questioning if the Huskies can get back there. If they do, it has to start with an elite recruiting class in 2020.