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UConn women’s basketball signs versatile, ‘exceptional’ 2021 recruiting class

The members of the Huskies’ top-ranked recruiting class sent in their letters of intent on Wednesday.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

On Wednesday, UConn women’s basketball officially announced its 2021 signing class. Four players sent in their National Letter of Intent, a group that is almost certainly the top recruiting class in the nation, highlighted by the Signing Day commitment announcement of top-ranked player Azzi Fudd.

This is the second consecutive year UConn has brought in a large, highly-rated class after signing five players for 2020. But it’s not as if the Huskies’ staff has suddenly changed their methods after 30+ years.

“We recruit the same way basically every year and some years you just get luckier than others,” he said.

However, the coach did hint at the fact that the Huskies’ recent teams — and by association, their recruiting — have strayed away from the program’s identity. A hallmark of great UConn squads is versatility which allows the team to play largely positionless basketball. Though the talent level has remained on par, the Huskies haven’t been as flexible as Auriemma would like.

“If somebody said, ‘What’s the what’s the difference? What have you seen in the last couple of years?’ I would say we’ve lacked the ability to move people around and put them in a lot of different spots,” he said. “We’ve been kind of pigeonholed into ‘This kid has to do this, this kid has to do that, this kid has to do this, this kid has to do that.’”

This year’s class — even before Fudd came into the mix — is a step in the right direction towards UConn re-finding that identity.

“We had gotten commitments from three players that we needed to get in our program. Three kinds of kids that we needed to get,” Auriemma said. “We’re slowly but surely getting back to what our comfort level is, which is players that can play multiple positions that are versatile and can be used in any which way that we really need at that particular time.”

Though Auriemma can’t judge the signees as players any better now compared to when her first offered them a scholarship, he already feels like this is one of his best classes in another regard.

“It’s a combination of kids that I love. I love them as kids, I love them as people because they are really, really exceptional human beings,” he said. “You don’t get a chance to spend time with kids anymore like you could back in the day when recruiting was different. But in the amount of time that you’re allowed to have in today’s day and age, we got four exceptional people. As exceptional as any group of players I’ve ever brought in — ever — in my 35 years.”

Now that the players have signed and are officially on-board, Auriemma and all other members of the program can finally comment on the class:

Saylor Poffenbarger

Position: Guard
Height: 6-foot-2
Hometown: Middletown, MD (Middletown HS)
ESPN Ranking: 30

UConn’s first 2021 commitment, Poffenbarger is regarded as a versatile guard with a defensive motor. She won gold with Team USA at the 2019 FIBA Americas U16 Championship and reached the semifinals of the state tournament with her high school team this past year before COVID put an end to the season.

Poffenbarger was named Ms. Maryland Basketball as a junior and also took home Area Player of the Year in 2019. According to the Frederick News Post, she plans to major in mortuary studies (Saylor Coffinbarger, anyone?) and has already interned at a local funeral home.

Auriemma: “A kid like Saylor: We needed somebody that could play a lot of different positions and had a feel for the game that we really needed to get in here.”

Amari DeBerry

Position: Post
Height: 6-foot-5
Hometown: Williamsville, NY (Williamsville South HS)
ESPN Ranking: 15

The heir apparent to Olivia Nelson-Ododa in UConn’s frontcourt, DeBerry has already played alongside Poffenbarger on the aforementioned 2019 FIBA Americas U16 Championship Team USA squad that took home the gold medal.

Listed at 6-foot-5, DeBerry is an athletic big that can alter shots on the defensive end but can also get out and stretch the floor with three point range on offense.

DeBerry was actually a Baylor fan until middle school — in large part thanks to Brittney Griner — but “then I found out who UConn was and from there, that’s where I wanted to go,” she told WIVB in Buffalo. She’s also close with Breanna Stewart, who also grew up in upstate New York, and the two keep in touch often.

Auriemma: “Getting somebody like Amari, we need another post player that’s skilled. So that was going to be a big help coming in.”

Caroline Ducharme

Position: Guard
Height: 6-foot-2
Hometown: Milton, MA (Noble & Greenough School)
ESPN Ranking: 5

With AAU basketball mostly canceled this summer, Ducharme traveled out to Las Vegas to train with the Las Vegas Aces’ Kelsey Plum, the all-time leading scorer in Division I women’s basketball.

If her high school season ever gets underway, Ducharme will be looking to repeat as the Gatorade Player of the Year in Massachusetts. After an injury-plagued start to her high school career, she was finally healthy as a junior and began to draw interest from a host of top programs, including the Huskies. Though she is a life-long UConn fan, she took her time with her decision before she eventually committed to the Huskies in April.

Ducharme has drawn a handful of comparisons to Katie Lou Samuelson while Auriemma said she’s the exact type of player that UConn wanted.

“Getting Caroline, we needed another big wing who could shoot the ball and play multiple positions because we love those kinds of players,” he said.

Azzi Fudd

Position: Guard
Height: 5-foot-11
Hometown: Arlington, VA (St. John’s College HS)
ESPN Ranking: 1

The crown jewel and final player in UConn’s class, Fudd announced her decision on Wednesday at the start of the early signing period. The Huskies didn’t necessarily need Fudd — they already had a strong class without her. But the sky’s the limit with her in the mix.

Fudd is the consensus top prospect in the class and is regarded as one of the top high school players in recent memory. Two-time NBA MVP Steph Curry likened her jump shot to Ray Allen and Klay Thompson — which happens to be the part of Fudd’s game that impresses Auriemma the most.

“She’s a phenomenal shooter of the basketball,” he said. “I think anybody that’s seen her play will tell you that’s something that stands out, even among all the really, really great shooters. She’s a kid that when she shoots the ball, it goes into the basket. Period.”

Auriemma also highlighted Fudd’s calm demeanor on the court as well as her love for the game as other aspects that stand out about the highly-touted guard.

“I would say that for me, it’s her sense of herself and how she is on the court,” he said. “The way she plays the game, in a way that’s not not rushed, not hurried not Helter Skelter. She plays in a way that allows her to take advantage of the fact that she knows the game really well.”

“She absolutely loves and lives for the game,” he added later. “And I think that’s somewhat rare, but she studies the game, thinks the game and enjoys playing the game. Not just play the game because it’s cool. She loves the game of basketball.”