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UConn WBB Weekly: The Huskies’ history with international players

Recapping the news of the past week and a look at the international players that have suited up for UConn.

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Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Welcome to the Weekly Roundup, a recap of everything that happened in the world of UConn women’s basketball the past week.

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Last Week’s Weekly:

If the ball ever goes up on UConn women’s basketball’s 2020-21 season, the Huskies will feature three international players: Anna Makurat from Poland, Aaliyah Edwards from Canada and Nika Muhl from Croatia. That ties a program record, matching the 2000-01 team.

Though there are concerns whether or not those players can enter the US due to travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Geno Auriemma sounded optimistic things will work out on a recent Instagram Live.

“Yeah, I hope so. I don’t see why not,” he said when asked if the players could get into the US. “I think if and when we’re able to get everyone in, we’re going to be okay.”

While UConn hasn’t brought in as many international players as some other programs, the Huskies have had their share over the last 30 years.

Kia Nurse — Hamilton, Ontario, Canada (2014-18)

A four-year starter for the Huskies, Nurse finished her career as the ultimate three-and-D player. She ranks 10th in made three-pointers and fourth in three-point percentage in program history. Defensively, she won the WBCA National Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2018.

Though she was never named an All-American, Nurse played a critical role on two national title teams and is generally regarded as one of the top defenders to come through UConn. She currently plays in the WNBA for the NY Liberty, who picked her 10th overall in the 2018 draft. She made the All-Star game in here second year.

Jessica McCormack — Auckland, New Zealand (2008-09)

McCormack had one of the most bizarre tenures at UConn. She transferred in after her freshman year at Washington and sat out the 2008-09 campaign due to transfer rules. That February, she returned home to New Zealand to have surgery on her right achilles tendon and the never came back.

While home, McCormack realized basketball no longer made her happy and she decided to stay in New Zealand to pursue a career playing netball.

Rashidat Sadiq — Lagos, Nigeria (2004-05)

Sadiq came to UConn as one of the top junior college players in the nation after she finished second in the NJCAA with 25 points per game, which earned her All-American honors. However, she never meshed in Auriemma’s system and after averaging just 2.3 points, 1.2 rebounds and 5.9 minutes in 26 games, Sadiq transferred to Oklahoma State for her final year of eligibility.

Svetlana Abrosimova — St. Petersburg, Russia (1997-2001)

Undoubtedly the best international player to come through UConn, Abrosimova is also one of the most overlooked stars in the program’s history. She was the school’s first three-time All-American and helped lead the Huskies to the 2000 national championship. If a foot injury in February didn’t prematurely end her season in 2001, UConn probably would’ve won back-to-back titles.

The St. Petersburg native went on to have an 11-year career in the WNBA that included a 2010 championship with the Minnesota Lynx. Now, Abrosimova serves as the general manager of the Russian National Team.

Christine Rigby — Victoria, British Columbia, Canada (1999-2001)

Rigby didn’t exactly have the background of a typical UConn player. She didn’t start playing basketball until eighth grade and sat the bench at her high school until breaking out as a senior. Rigby went to Santa Clara and became the school’s all-time leading shot blocker in two seasons, but wanted more.

So Rigby transferred across the country to UConn even though she knew her playing time would diminish. She joined the Huskies for the 1998-99 season but wasn’t eligible until the 1999-2000 campaign, where she was part of the team’s national championship squad. Though she averaged just 3.0 points per game over her UConn career, Rigby put up a career high 21 points on senior night in 2001.

Kelly Schumacher — Quyon, Quebec, Canada (1997-2001)

An American-born Canadian, Schumacher took full advantage of her career at UConn. After a mostly unremarkable career with the Huskies (outside an NCAA-record nine block performance in the 2000 national title game) in which she averaged just 5.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 13.9 minutes per game, she was selected in the first round (14th overall) in the WNBA Draft by the Indiana Fever.

From there, she spent nine years in the league and won back-to-back titles in 2007 and 2008 with two different teams before moving into coaching. The New York Liberty hired Schumacher (now Raimon) as an assistant coach this offseason after two years as an assistant with the Las Vegas Aces.

Tihana Abrlic — Zagreb, Crotia (1997-99)

UConn’s first Croatian guard, Abrlic came to Storrs via Central Florida Community College. Though she helped lead her team to the national title game the year before at Central Florida CC, Abrlic never found her groove with the Huskies and finished her career with just 1.5 points in 9.5 minutes per game over two years.

Orly Grossman — Tel Aviv, Israel (1990-91)

A year after Nadav Henefeld joined UConn men’s basketball from Israel, Grossman made her way to UConn after two years at University of Tel Aviv and played a key role on the Huskies’ first Final Four squad with 8.1 points and 3.6 rebounds in 32 games. Despite enjoying her time in Storrs, Grossman returned home after the Persian Gulf War broke out in order to be with her family during the crisis.

Samuelsons heading to Spain

When the Dallas Wings traded for Katie Lou Samuelson, it not only gave her a fresh start one year into her WNBA career, it also reunited her with her older sister, Karlie. However, the two never got the chance to become teammates as the Wings waived Karlie during roster cutdowns.

That won’t stop the Samuelsons from teaming up on the basketball court. On Friday, Katie Lou and Karlie announced they have both signed with Perfumerías Avenida in Salamanca, Spain.

Karlie played last season with the club, which won the Euroleague championship in 2011.

As for other former Huskies in Europe, Megan Walker and Gabby Williams will play with Sopron Basket in Hungary while Evelyn Adebayo signed with Phantoms Boom in Belgium.

Geno’s first love

Geno Auriemma went on “10 Minutes with T-Mac”, a short video show hosted by Philadelphia Phillies’ play-by-play announcer Tom McCarthy.

Auriemma shared his first sports memory in the United States and in doing so, revealed that baseball was his first love, not basketball.

“The kid next door to me, he was a little bit older than me — I was seven, he was probably 11 or so — he loved baseball,” Auriemma told McCarthy. “So every day, he took a liking to me, every day we’d go out and he’d teach me how to catch and throw and all this stuff and I just fell in love with it and I was just like ‘This is all I wanna do every single day.’ So every day, I’d get up in the morning, if it was raining, I was pissed because I needed to throw and catch and this just kept growing and growing and growing and we would play across the street, we had a wall, put a box on it, wall ball, stick, bam, trying to play baseball. Every day. Every day. And I didn’t know anything about anything else...

“When I was 10 so maybe two and a half years later, we moved to our own little house in another part of town which happened to be closer to where these fields were. You had to walk across the railroad tracks, across the creek and you get to the fields. And I find out there’s actually something called Little League and I end up trying out and I made the team so now I’m 11, I’m playing Little League and every day...I became this insatiable baseball fan — still am today — and the Phillies became my obsession.”

It’s an entertaining interview — it’s not often we see the side of Geno that’s just a fan like everyone else talking about some of his favorite memories of the Phillies growing up. It’s also fun to watch him perk up when he learns that Phillies’ manager Joe Girardi has a daughter in ninth grade who loves basketball.

It’s worth watching even for those not interested in baseball.

Stevens serving up

With her basketball career on hold, Azura Stevens opened a food truck, Same O Dame O’s, which serves “shrimp, fish and grits.”

Big birthdays

Thursday marked a pseudo-holiday in the women’s basketball world as Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore both celebrated their birthdays. Taurasi turned the ripe age of 38 while Moore is now 31. It’s pretty incredible and definitely not talked about enough that two of the greatest basketball players of all time were born on the same day.

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