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UConn WBB Weekly: What life’s like inside the Huskies’ pods

The Huskies are employing a unique setup to keep the players safe in their return to campus.

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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

Iriafen picks Stanford

One of UConn’s 2021 targets is headed out west. Kiki Iriafen, a wing rated as the No. 9 player in the class, committed to Stanford over UConn, Baylor, Notre Dame, and UCLA.

Her decision doesn’t come as a huge surprise considering the Huskies are projected to have 13 players on scholarship for the 2021-22 season along with a deep group of wings that includes Aubrey Griffin, Aaliyah Edwards, and Mir McLean.

UConn is still waiting on a decision from Azzi Fudd, who is the top player in the class and a close friend of Paige Bueckers.


Life in the Pods

UConn women’s basketball is employing a unique method to keep its players safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Huskies are utilizing a pod system where they’ve split the team into small groups of 3-4 players and have each pod living and working out separate from the other groups.

It’s a different setup than UConn normally uses — the freshmen typically live together in dorms while the upperclassmen are in apartments — but such are the times. To this point, a UConn athlete on-campus hasn’t tested positive for the virus. But the Huskies are taking no chances, which means the players are under rigid orders to stay amongst their own pod.

“We’re only allowed to be together. We can’t intermingle the groups. There’s so many rules. Just so many rules,” Christyn Williams said. “We’re not even allowed to go into each other’s apartments. That’s how strict it is.”

Each of the pods is headed by one of the captains. Group one has Williams along with Aubrey Griffin, Paige Bueckers, and Piath Gabriel. Group two is Evina Westbrook with Autumn Chassion and Nika Muhl, while group three includes Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Anna Makurat, Aaliyah Edwards, and Mir McLean.

Even with the strict rules, the players are making the most of the circumstances as the pods received positive reviews across the board. It’s a unique bonding experience since there’s little to no interaction outside the pods, one that’s been particularly helpful to the freshmen.

“At first, when I meet new people I’m like quiet and stuff and I don’t really talk that much,” Gabriel said. “As I got to know them, we are living with each other so it’s good. Christyn, she talks a lot so it’s good to have a lot of people who talk. Paige talks a lot too so it kind of got me out of my shell.”

“I think it’s a really smart idea, just getting to know a couple of people at a time,” McLean later added. “It’s really been good to bond with a couple of people at a time and I think it’ll help later down the road when we build team chemistry.”

When they’re not playing basketball, each pod passes the time in a different way. The Williams/Griffin/Bueckers/Gabriel apartment has a projector hooked up in the living room which they use to watch the WNBA, NBA, and movies, while Nelson-Ododa’s group decorated their apartment and generally tries to use their down time to keep their minds off basketball.

“Even though we do love playing basketball, there’s that period of time where we need to take a mental break,” Edwards explained.

Meanwhile in group two, Chassion and Muhl have already claimed Westbrook’s room as their own. But she’s okay with it.

“If I go to the store, I come back and they’re both laying in my bed watching NBA games or WNBA games and they’re like ‘Hey!’” Westbrook said with a smile.

At first, the redshirt junior wasn’t sure what to expect when she found out she’d be living with two freshmen. However, it didn’t take them long to win her over.

“It has been really, really, really great...I have a 12-year old brother at home, it’s like I have two little sisters to watch after,” Westbrook said. “If there’s a problem it’s like ‘Oh, we’ll just call E.’ So it’s been really fun having them two around. They are so energetic, both of them, and I really love having them around.”

The feeling is certainly mutual.

“We always joke about how Evina is like our mom in our pod,” Muhl said. “She’s been taking very good care of us.”

“They’re like my sisters, all of them. Especially Evina, she’s like a mom to all of us in the pod,” Chassion echoed. “It’s just me and Nika but she’s the oldest on the team. She’s like a mom, she takes care of us, anything we need, she’s there. All the time.”

There have also been team-wide activities, such as Zoom calls, outdoor meet-ups with proper social distancing, a race to see which pod could finish a puzzle first, and other games.

Though there’s no clear-cut rhyme or reason for why a player got assigned to a certain pod, there do seem to be some intentional choices. For example, Westbrook, Chassion, and Muhl all play a similar position.

Pairing Bueckers and Williams also makes sense as both were No. 1 players coming out of high school. Because of that, Williams is prepared to help the highly-touted freshmen through the ups and downs of her first year.

“I’m going to be there to help here because I went through some of the same stuff and just tell her it’s going to get hard but you have your older vets on the team to help you get through so continue to talk to them like me,” Williams said. “[Katie Lou Samuelson] was there for my freshman year, [Napheesa Collier] was there for me freshman year so that’s the biggest advice I have because it is going to get hard, it always gets hard.”

On some teams, there would be a concern that the pods could be a breeding ground for cliques. But Williams isn’t worried about that happening.

“Eventually, we’ll be able to be together,” she said. “But I don’t think it’s messing with our chemistry. It’s just a great group of girls. Very fun, very goofy, very excited to learn. I don’t think it’s going to affect our chemistry at all.”


Best of social media

Your first official look at the 2020-21 UConn women’s basketball team:

It hasn’t taken new walk-on Autumn Chassion much time to make an impression on Renee Montgomery:

No caption necessary:

Moriah Jefferson and Katie Lou Samuelson are finding a connection as teammates once again:

In case you forgot what the rafters at Gampel Pavilion looked like (or how ugly the roof was before the repairs):


Quotables

Geno, out of context: “Even my mother doesn’t trust me.”

“I haven’t felt this explosive since high school. I’ve been working hard and I’m excited for y’all to see. It’s about damn time.” - Christyn Williams on getting in better shape over the offseason.

History Corner

After we took a look at some of the most notable walk-ons in program history last week, the Manchester JI’s Carl Adamec highlighted another walk-on from early in Auriemma’s career:

UConn lost that game, 56-47.