As an undergraduate student during her playing days at Gardner-Webb and Murray State, Evelyn Adebayo majored in finance. And when she committed to UConn as a graduate transfer this past summer, she enrolled in the school’s Sport Management program. However, over Adebayo’s five years in college across three different schools, her most valuable education hasn’t come in the classroom, but on the basketball court.
Though the London native has only played in 15 games this season, she’s had a front row seat to watch how the best coaching staff in the country operates. Adebayo always thought about going into coaching once her playing days ended as a way to stay around the game. But after coming to UConn and spending a year with Geno Auriemma, Adebayo’s interest grew tenfold.
“I was interested in coaching beforehand because I’ve been around the game for so long and I want to stay in it even after I’m done playing,” Adebayo said. “[The coaches] impact our lives every day. Just to see them do that, that’s something I want to do for the next generation of kids growing up too. Pass it on.”
Adebayo hasn’t just sat back and watched passively, though. Auriemma noted her curiosity mentioned how she’s always asking him and the rest of the staff questions about coaching. Adebayo will also get a taste of coaching at the “So You Think You Can Coach?” clinic, an introductory coaching program put on by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association at the Final Four.
Unlike most of her teammates, Adebayo spent the majority of her career elsewhere instead of at UConn. But even compared to the Huskies’ two other transfers — Batouly Camara (Kentucky) and Evina Westbrook (Tennessee) — Adebayo didn’t play for a high major program. Instead, she competed in the Big South and Ohio Valley Conferences.
Moving from that level of play to the best program in the country was a big adjustment for Adebayo, especially since she knew she’d only have one year with UConn. But more than anything, the leap highlighted what sets Auriemma apart from nearly all other coaches.
“Everything he says, I keep listening because it’s good stuff,” Adebayo said. “Not every player gets to know this growing up because they don’t have good coaches like that, you know? There’s a lot of stuff he’s told me this year, I’ve never heard it before because nobody told me the stuff he’s told me and I can pass it onto the next generation of kids and get better players so it’s honestly great.”
Specifically, Adebayo said Auriemma and his staff highlight the little things, such as footwork, tweaks to her shot and passing the ball a certain way. But above all else, the players learn to push themselves past their perceived limits.
“Even when you think you can’t take one more stride or one more step, take it,” Adebayo said. “That’s something that CD says a lot.”
That’s part of what makes Auriemma and his staff notoriously hard to play for and why many players don’t last at UConn. But even though Adebayo’s contributions on the court have been limited, she doesn’t resent the coaches’ constant harping and prodding. Instead, she understands that they’re just trying to draw every drop of potential out of her and all her teammates.
“The coaches are so supportive, they’re great, they want the best from me and they expect that from me and they won’t let you settle for less. CD is always on me in practice, Coach (Auriemma) is always on me in practice, everyone’s always on me in practice because we need everyone to be at their best,” she said.
Adebayo also pulled back the curtain on the coaches, revealing a side to them that isn’t often seen by the public.
“CD is the most friendly, loving, nurturing teacher and coach. She’s honestly a great coach,” Adebayo said. “She makes sure you understand and get something and same thing with Coach Auriemma. He really tries to make sure you understand and learn. He wants the best for you and Coach Shea [Ralph] and Coach Jamelle [Elliot], everyone’s so nurturing and loving.”
Statistically, this has been Adebayo’s worst year. She’s averaging just 5.8 minutes per game and has recorded just 15 points and 29 rebounds total. It would’ve been easy for the former First Team All-OVC selection to get down on herself. Instead, Adebayo spent the entire conversation with an impossibly wide smile on her face while talking about her time with the Huskies.
“The whole environment, atmosphere is amazing. It’s just different. You won’t ever get this anywhere else, the whole culture and everything,” she said. “Honestly, this year, no matter what, I think this might’ve been my best year ever. I really loved this year because I really learned so much as a player and a person.”
Though she’ll spend just one season here, Adebayo’s time at UConn will leave an indelible mark on her.
“It’s crazy but it’s great. I love it here. I’m really going to miss it,” she said. “Best program ever. It’s true.”