UConn women’s basketball finally has a date to return to campus. On a call with reporters Wednesday, Geno Auriemma revealed the team is planning to come back on Sunday, July 26 for summer workouts.
The NCAA recently approved a framework to allow teams to get back on campus and start in-person activities on July 20. Though the the Huskies could’ve returned sooner, Auriemma didn’t think it was necessary.
“I don’t want to be up here any earlier,” he said. “We can’t work with the players until July 20 anyway so why bring them in in June?”
When players arrive, they’ll be tested for COVID-19 and will have to quarantine until the results come back. Assuming everyone tests negative, the coaches will then be allowed to work with the team in small groups of no greater than four.
Auriemma said none of his players have expressed any reservations about returning to campus but they did have questions about what the summer workouts will look like with the pandemic and what precautions they’ll have to undertake when back on campus. Recently, the team held a Zoom meeting with players and their parents to attempt to answer those questions and alleviate any concerns.
“We’ve had roughly a thousand students here on campus since March that couldn’t go home. Through testing and quarantine, we’ve not had one positive case on our Storrs campus so this is a really safe place to be right now,” Auriemma said. “We tried to explain that to the parents... The players are all pretty comfortable with it and they’re (saying) ‘Hey, if this is what we’re going to do as a team, that’s what we’re going to do.’”
Getting the players to Storrs, though, is a different story.
The Huskies have 10 players on their roster for next season. Auriemma is confident that all seven American players will make it to campus by July 26 even with the current travel restrictions in place. But as for UConn’s three international players — Aaliyah Edwards (Canada), Anna Makurat (Poland) and Nika Muhl (Croatia) — their coach is much less certain.
“You would think something as simple as ‘Go to the Canadian border and drive across,’ well those days are over. That’s an issue,” Auriemma said. “Nika needs to fly over from Zagreb. Well, the U.S. Embassy hasn’t been open so getting a visa has become a real problem. They’re not letting international flights come into the U.S. except for citizens of the United States, so Anna’s not going to have an easy time. So those issues are really, really difficult to overcome. We’ve got some people working on it but that’s the way the world works.”
However, there is optimism from the fact that this isn’t just a problem facing UConn. The Huskies are far from the only program in the country with international players. There’s plenty of motivation to figure out a solution from all sides.
“You’ve got women’s basketball players, men’s ice hockey players, women’s ice hockey players, field hockey players, soccer players from all over the world,” Auriemma said. “And not just at UConn. I’m talking about some high-profile players at high-profile schools. We’ve got some really good people in Washington working on it and hopefully we can work with the NCAA and say ‘Okay, how do we get this done?’”
Though the team already lost its first summer session from late May to the first week of July, it’ll still be valuable to get the team back together on-campus. Summer workouts ease the freshmen into college because they get a taste of taking classes, working out and living on their own. It’s also an important time to build chemistry — something that can’t be done over the internet.
From a basketball perspective, Auriemma bemoaned the NCAA’s strict rules that limits how much coaches can work with their players during the offseason.
“The same thing we do every summer. You get workout programs set up for them and then you have to fight through all the NCAA nonsense,” Auriemma said. “...Look, you can talk to your kids but if they want help, you can’t really help them. If they don’t know what to do, you can help them but you can’t really show them and you can’t say ‘Hey I think you should do this three times a week.’ They really are on their own as if they don’t have enough problems. So it’s been very difficult.”
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With UConn losing five players to graduation and Megan Walker to the WNBA, the Huskies are short on experience. There are no seniors but five of the team’s 10 players are freshmen while seven of those 10 are underclassmen. That leaves the three juniors — Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Evina Westbrook and Christyn Williams — as UConn’s leadership core.
“We meet with Evina, Liv and Christyn once a week and we have been doing that since they went home,” Auriemma said. “So this has been really, really good because we’ve been trying to teach them how to do the things we’ve talked about with their teammates and what we’re going to need from them when they do get here.”