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UConn WBB Weekly: State of the Huskies’ roster

Breaking down UConn’s roster as the program enters a new era.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

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

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From The UConn Blog and Storrs Central:

Last week’s Weekly:

Elsewhere

In The News

Makurat, Edwards arrive in Storrs; Muhl on her way

When Geno Auriemma announced July 26 as the date his team would reconvene at UConn for summer workouts, it came with a caveat — he wasn’t sure if the Huskies’ three international players would be able to enter the United States due to travel restrictions with COVID-19.

However, it appears those problems have been worked out. Anna Makurat and Aaliyah Edwards have both officially arrived in Storrs from Poland and Canada, respectively, while Croatian guard Nika Muhl was at the airport on Wednesday morning to fly to the US. The UConn Blog also learned that top recruit Paige Bueckers is also on campus.

As of Wednesday night, Bueckers, Edwards, Makurat, Evina Westbrook and Christyn Williams were confirmed on-campus while Westbrook’s Instagram story indicated that at least eight players are in Storrs, though she said she couldn’t show anyone’s face.

Collier heading to Turkey

Napheesa Collier is off to Turkey for the WNBA offseason. The Minnesota Lynx star signed with Hatay Büyükşehir Belediyespor, a team located in Antakya, a city in the south of the country. Collier is the second former Husky to sign in Turkey, joining Bria Hartley (Galatasaray Basketbol), and the seventh to ink a deal in Europe along with Batouly Camara (CB Bembibre, Spain), Katie Lou Samuelson (CB Avenida, Spain), Megan Walker and Gabby Williams (Sopron Basket, Hungary) and Evelyn Adebayo (Phantoms Boom, Belgium).


State of the roster

At the conclusion of the 2018-19 campaign, we broke down UConn women’s basketball’s roster during a three-part seriesWhy the Huskies’ lacked depth, what they could do to fix the problem and how the class of 2020 would decide the direction of the program for years to come.

So with the team back on campus, let’s look at the state of the roster for 2020 and beyond.

How UConn built its roster

Last year, the effects of two thin recruiting classes for UConn were laid bare. The Huskies had just two upperclassmen it could rely on — Crystal Dangerfield and Megan Walker — which forced them to thrust sophomores Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Christyn Williams into roles they weren’t necessarily ready for.

In other words:

“It’s more of a function of two recruiting classes we had sucked,” Geno Auriemma said back in December.

In 2016, UConn added four players but only Dangerfield was a consistent starter while Kyla Irwin saw action as a role player as a senior. Molly Bent and Batouly Camara rarely contributed much aside from a few moments.

UConn followed that up by signing the No. 1 class in 2017 — well, No. 1 on paper. By last season, three of the four players transferred out without making any noticeable impact. Megan Walker, the top player in the class, had one good season and one great season before leaving for the WNBA.

In back-to-back classes, the Huskies got just three players who started more than five games. That was bound to catch up to them at some point.

But since then, it’s been a different story for Auriemma and his staff on the recruiting trail. In 2018, UConn landed Williams (No. 1 in the class) and Nelson-Ododa (No. 5) — both of whom have shown the talent to be future All-Americans.

Last year, the Huskies brought in Aubrey Griffin and Anna Makurat, who both had strong freshmen years despite getting overlooked in the recruiting rankings.

Though UConn has utilized the transfer pool somewhat frequently in recent years, the Huskies’ only player that didn’t sign as a freshman is Evina Westbrook, an experienced transfer from Tennessee who sat out last season due to the NCAA’s transfer rules.

Finally, we get to the all-important class of 2020. On paper, it looks great with high school superstar Paige Bueckers, two top-25 athletic wings in Aaliyah Edwards (23rd in the class) and Mir McLean (25th), highly-touted Croatian point guard Nika Muhl and the raw, 6-foot-5 big Piath Gabriel.

Overall, UConn restocked its talent with its 2018 and 2019 recruiting classes. Now, with five freshmen coming in, the Huskies are building depth for the upcoming campaign.

UConn women’s basketball recruiting (2016-2020)

Name Rank Pos. Hometown
Name Rank Pos. Hometown
2020
Paige Bueckers 1 Guard Eden Prairie, MN
Aaliyah Edwards 23 Wing Kingston, ON
Mir McLean 25 Wing Owings Mills, MD
Nika Muhl N/R Guard Croatia
Piath Gabriel N/R Post Manchester, NH
2019
Aubrey Griffin 33 Wing Ossining, NY
Anna Makurat N/R Guard Poland
Evelyn Adebayo N/A Post London, England
Evina Westbrook N/A Guard Salem, OR
2018
Christyn Williams 1 Guard Little Rock, AR
Olivia Nelson-Ododa 4 Post Winder, GA
2017
Megan Walker 1 Chesterfield, VA
Mikayla Coombs 13 Guard Buford, GA
Andra Espinoza-Hunter 16 Guard Ossining, NY
Lexi Gordon 29 Wing Fort Worth, TX
2016
Crystal Dangerfield 3 Guard Murfreesboro, TN
Molly Bent N/R Guard Centerville, MA
Kyla Irwin N/R Post State College, PA
Batouly Camara N/A Post New York, NY
Azura Stevens N/A Wing Raleigh, NC

Note: Italics indicates player transferred from UConn. Bold indicates player transferred in to UConn.

Roster breakdown

Like last year, UConn’s four returners will drive the bus — Nelson-Ododa, Williams, Griffin and Makurat. Westbrook should also have a major role but is tougher to project since she’s yet to see the court as a Husky. With a strong group of veterans, that should allow the coaches to ease the freshmen in and limit the pressure on them early on.

In terms of roster construction, UConn has a nice blend of experience and youth at nearly every position on the roster.

In the backcourt, UConn is well stocked with an abundance of guards, albeit without an obvious replacement for Dangerfield at the point. It’s easy to pencil in either Bueckers or Westbrook for floor general duties, but in all likelihood, it’ll be point guard by committee with all the guards tasked with bringing the ball up at some point.

Out on the wing, Griffin should be more consistent in her second year after a strong freshman season. Mir McLean seems like a logical replacement for Griffin’s role from last season as an athletic spark plug off the bench. Edwards is tougher to project since she comes in as a wing but her size (6-foot-3) could prompt the staff to try her in more of a post role.

The big question mark facing the team is down low. While Nelson-Ododa is primed to break out after an up-and-down sophomore campaign, there isn’t much depth behind her. The only other true post player on the roster is Gabriel, who Auriemma admitted is raw and might not be ready for significant minutes early in her career.

When Nelson-Ododa found herself either in foul trouble or the doghouse last season, Auriemma typically deployed a small-ball lineup with Griffin at the five. Unless Gabriel surprises, that trend will likely continue into the upcoming campaign.

Looking ahead

With no seniors on the roster, UConn could bring back everyone in 2021-22 while adding an elite recruiting class — though Westbrook will be eligible for the WNBA Draft.

The Huskies have already made significant progress with their 2021 class as well with three players verbally committed — forward/center Amari DeBerry (No. 5), guard Saylor Poffenbarger (No. 17) and Caroline Ducharme (No. 37).

UConn has two scholarships open for the 2021-22 season at the moment. One of those is certainly earmarked for Azzi Fudd, the No. 1 player in the class who is still undecided. UConn appears to be the frontrunner — especially since she’s best friends with Bueckers — but there isn’t any timeframe for her commitment. The Huskies are also in the top five for Kiki Iriafen, a 6-foot-2 forward rated as the No. 9 player in the class.

As for 2022, UConn already has a commitment from Isuneh “Ice” Brady, the No. 2 player in the class. A 6-foot-3 post player, Brady will add even more height to a program that will already have Gabriel and DeBerry when she arrives — both of whom are 6-foot-5. It’s quite a remarkable turnaround considering the lack of size the Huskies have struggle with since the end of the Breanna Stewart Era.

For the rest of the 2022 class, UConn will almost certainly be in on Lauren Betts, the top player in the class, along with KK Bransford (No. 9 in the class), who came to practice the day before the Oregon matchup as well as the game itself.

After a stretch of leans years on the recruiting trail — both talent-wise and in terms of volume — UConn is setting itself up well to build the foundation of its next dynasty. It has a top-five player committed each of the next three seasons (including 2020) — and the Huskies don’t miss on those elite prospects.

UConn has also set itself up well with eight players committed over the next two years (with more possibly to come). Though recruiting is an inexact science, the Huskies historically hit far more than they miss.

So what does it all mean? Well, UConn may be in the midst of a four-year title drought — an eternity in Storrs — but Auriemma and his staff have set the program up to continue to be the team to beat for the foreseeable future.

UConn’s scholarship grid.
Daniel Connolly - The UConn Blog

Best of social media

This might be @UConnWBB’s best tweet ever:

...which the Stanford Tree seems to agree with.

This is a pretty incredible graphic with every former UConn player in the WNBA this year, one that would be even more amazing if it included Maya Moore, Tina Charles, Renee Montgomery and Tiffany Hayes, who all chose to sit out the season for various reasons.

Add this to the list of mind-blowing stats about Auriemma and the Huskies:

History Corner

Geno Auriemma has brought in a five-player freshman class six times in program history. All but one of those classes have featured at least one player that ended up in the Huskies of Honor.

Bold = In the Huskies of Honor

2010

Stefanie Dolson
Lauren Engeln
Bria Hartley
Michala Johnson
Samarie Walker

2000

Ashley Battle
Maria Conlon
Jessica Moore
Diana Taurasi
Morgan Valley

1998

Sue Bird
Swin Cash
Asjha Jones
Keirsten Walters
Tamika Williams

1997

Svetlana Abrosimova
Jean Clark
Marci Czel
Marci Glenney
Kelly Schumacher

1993

Carla Berube
Missy Rose
Kara Wolters
Shea Matlock
Sue Mayo

1988

Debby Baer
Wendy Davis
Pamela Rothfuss
Shannon Saunders
Stacy Wetzel