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UConn WBB Weekly Mailbag: Azzi Fudd, life after Geno, status of the season and more

A mailbag edition of the Weekly.

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.

The Weekly is a newsletter! Subscribe to get it in your inbox every Thursday at 7 a.m. before it hits the site.

Top Links

From The UConn Blog and Storrs Central:

Last week’s Weekly:

Elsewhere

In The News

WNBA, other major sports leagues postpone games

It appeared to be a historic moment Wednesday night as players from numerous major American sports leagues opted to sit out their upcoming games in the wake of the events in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where police shot and killed Jason Blake, a 29-year-old unarmed Black man, Sunday night. On Tuesday night, a 17-year-old vigilante shot and killed two Wisconsin protesters. The WNBA, NBA, MLB and MLS all have postponed contests.

The movement began with the Milwaukee Bucks, who coordinated with the Orlando Magic to no-show for their playoff game. Soon after, other NBA teams and leagues began to follow suit.

The WNBA, often a leader in social messaging, released a statement in support of the players’ decision and stated its intention to run a “player-first agenda” while the Atlanta Dream’s Elizabeth Williams read a statement from all the league’s players.

“It’s not just the games that everyone was excited about being cancelled. Think about the pressure that’s gonna apply on the local government...The players are fed up because they’re not just the athletes,” Renee Montgomery told MSNBC.

“Black Lives Matter, the fight against racism, standing up for change, calling for justice — that always has been and always will be bigger than basketball,” Kia Nurse said on TSN.

Paige Bueckers also spoke out on Instagram:

Geno feeling disrespected

Caroline Ducharme, one of UConn’s 2021 commits, went on the Masketball podcast and offered some unique insight into how Geno Auriemma believes his program is viewed right now.

“[Auriemma was] just talking about how the respect that UConn women’s basketball has had over the years and the last four years, he feels like we haven’t had the respect we deserve so getting back to that level and having that chip on your shoulder (should be a goal of Ducharme’s at UConn),” she said.

Ducharme also touched on how she reacted when UConn first expressed interest, why she made sure to give all the schools that recruited her a fair shot and how she’s been staying sharp during quarantine. Listen to the full interview here.

Napheesa Collier’s “most prolific trash talking moment”

Sarah Collier, Napheesa’s mom, shared a hilarious story about the former UConn star on Twitter:

“Phee’s team was going into sixth grade and playing against a high school team. Her squad was super scrappy and annoying. Napheesa was being a pest, hands everywhere. On a loose ball, she and an opponent dove to the floor (for the ball), ending up in a jump ball.

“The other girl kicked, cursed and screamed at her and said ‘Get off me, b****!” Napheesa calmly got up, started to walk away. Stopped. She put her hand on her little hip, turned her head over her shoulder, looked back at the frustrated girl with a smile and said....

“‘Make me.’”

Legendary.


Mailbag

If Paige Bueckers holds the current title for the most hyped women’s basketball prospect of all-time, it may only take Azzi Fudd a year to take it from her. Of all the questions submitted for this mailbag, the most frequent inquiry was about Fudd. However, UConn fans are also feeling anxious over life after Geno and whether or not the season will happen.

Thanks to everyone who submitted a question. Some of them have been edited for clarity.

Let’s get into it:

Any idea when Azzi Fudd will commit? — @huskynation1
Why is Azzi Fudd’s commitment taking so long? When can we expect to hear whatever school she decides? — Rich
What are your thoughts on Azzi Fudd. Is she considered a UConn lean? If she is, why isn’t she committing? — Bill Zemina

I don’t know if anyone knows the answer to that question — Azzi included. She’s been tight-lipped about her entire recruiting process — she declined to tell Step2themic which schools she’s seriously considering — but she did say this:

“This decision is going to be really hard. I’m a terrible decision maker.”

Believe me, I am just as anxious for Fudd’s commitment as everyone else. When I’m not working or on my phone, there’s a constant fear in the back of my mind that she’ll commit and I won’t be around for it. Missing news is a general worry of mine, but with Azzi it’s multiplied by 100.

All in all, my guess is as good as yours about where she’ll go or when she’ll commit.

Who do you think will take over after Geno? — @daniela10_10
Any clues ever given if Chris Dailey will leave when Geno decides to step down or would she consider becoming the head coach? — Allan Reid

I wrote about this in more detail back during the 2018 NCAA Tournament and most of the points still hold true.

But let’s break it down into two parts. First: How much longer does Auriemma coach?

If he stays healthy, I don’t see Auriemma retiring any time soon. He’s said numerous times that when he can’t get the players he wants anymore, he’ll quit. Considering the Huskies brought in a five-player freshman class and already have three players committed for 2021. That’s definitely not an issue.

I think Auriemma has one last run in him. With the amount of talent coming to Storrs this year and over the next few seasons, it’s hard to imagine him finishing his career without adding more banners to Gampel Pavilion.

Now, who replaces him? Shea Ralph is the safe and easy answer. She’s been on his staff since 2008 and was selected as the assistant coach that will make the best head coach in an anonymous survey of 235 Division I coaches by High Posts Hoops in 2018. All signs point to her being the heir apparent.

As for some other possibilities, I don’t see the reigns getting handed over to Chris Dailey. If she’s still around after Auriemma, I think she’d be extremely valuable for the next head coach in her current position to help make the transition smoother. Jen Rizzotti gets mentioned a lot, but she hasn’t exactly dominated at Hartford and George Washington. If we’re talking dark-horse candidates, I’d look at BU head coach and former UConn assistant Marisa Moseley or Sue Bird.

Is the season going to be canceled? — David Ferrato
Will you play this season? Before fans? In a wubble? — Vince Robertson

To put the rumors to rest: No, I will not be suiting up for UConn women’s basketball this season.

In all seriousness, I feel pretty confident a season happens — I just don’t know when it’ll begin or what it’ll look like. I think it can get pushed back pretty far (say, January) and still play a full season if the NCAA Tournament gets moved.

I’d be really surprised if fans were allowed into games this season — especially in the beginning of the year. As for a bubble, Auriemma is pretty skeptical of the idea and more leagues (MLB, MLS, NWSL and USL) are playing in home markets, which gives the NCAA some models to work off.

Fox Sports is taking over TV rights for UConn in the Big East and season tickets holders lose two non-conference games with major schools like Baylor for Providence or Georgetown. Why is this a positive for promoting UConn nationally? — @KevinMcCaffrey7

I think this is an understandable concern for fans about UConn’s move to the Big East, but it’s not as bad as it seems. The two added conference games doesn’t mean UConn won’t have room to schedule Baylor (or other top programs). The Huskies rescheduled games with Cal and Oklahoma because of the move to the Big East. Even though Cal is a fringe top-25 team, those aren’t exactly marquee matchups. Also, UConn has had at least two Big East teams on its non-conference schedule the last two years, so those are now just conference matchups.

As for TV, losing ESPN certainly hurts. But Fox Sports is still national television and as long as UConn is still making the Final Four every season, its national relevancy won’t take a hit. Also, keep in mind that in the AAC, all the games that have been on SNY in years past would’ve moved behind the ESPN+ paywall. That would’ve hurt the Huskies’ relevancy way more than the move to Fox Sports.

do you go by daniel or dan. asking for a friend — @alexaphilippou

I actually go by Daniel, with a capital D and all.

Some background here: I always introduce myself as Daniel, have Daniel on all my social media platforms and always write my name as Daniel. Yet, for whatever reason, most people just start calling me Dan anyways. It’s not that big of a deal — most of my close friends call me Dan. But Alexa is pretty much the only person that’s picked up on the fact that I exclusively refer to myself as Daniel yet everyone else calls me Dan.

So to answer the question: I prefer Daniel but Dan is...fine. Just don’t call me Danny.

Which of the newbies will get key early minutes? — Swash

We talked about this in episode one of Chasing Perfection, so check that out if you want a more in-depth analysis of this. But here are my rankings for the most impactful freshmen to the least:

  1. Paige Bueckers
  2. Aaliyah Edwards
  3. Mir McLean
  4. Nika Muhl
  5. Piath Gabriel
  6. Autumn Chassion

Keep in mind, that’s just for how much of an impact they’ll have their freshmen year. The rankings would be different if we were ranking which players would have the best careers.

What sort of drills and ATO (for instance) the groups do? — Gordon Bryson

I can’t personally answer this question — we can only see a snapshot of practice when we’re allowed in — but if anyone can answer it, I’ll pass the info along.

Which player is Geno hardest on? — IanFromCT

I’m not sure there’s a clear No. 1 here because there are only four players that can even be discussed. Aubrey Griffin is definitely at the bottom of this list — the coaches always say it’s hard to get mad at her. He’s given it Anna Makurat, Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Christyn Williams pretty equally both in practices we’ve been allowed into as well as press conferences.

If I have to make a pick, I’ll go with Nelson-Ododa.

Will there be pod vs. pod scrimmages during the restricted practice sessions? Are men practice players involved with hybrid practices? — Jim (From the Land of Cheese Steaks)

If the team is allowed to have two pods practicing in the gym at the same time, I don’t think they’ll restrict scrimmages to those groups. As of now, the team is still practicing in pods, so it’s unlikely that the men’s practice players will join soon (if at all).

How is the team bonding as a whole in this strange and stressful time? Who is the team clown (prankster), who’s the mother hen when things need to be calmed down (not staff), and who’s going to be Geno’s spark plug when the team needs a quick uplift? — Chuck from Mystic

From what the players said, the pods have done a great job of facilitating strong relationships within the groups themselves. Team-wide, it doesn’t seem like chemistry will be an issue.

“Eventually, we’ll be able to be together,” Christyn Williams 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.”

Now for the superlatives. Anna Makurat is probably the team clown — she can be really funny in interviews. Team mom is definitely Evina Westbrook since both Autumn Chassion and Nika Muhl already call her the mom of their pod. As for spark plug? Assume they’re coming off the bench, I’ll take Mir McLean to fill Aubrey Griffin’s role from last year.


Best of social media

One of the most important holidays of the year was celebrated on Wednesday:

Diana Taurasi honored Kobe Bryant on his birthday by wearing his number eight and scoring 34 points.

Sue Bird getting in on the GOAT t-shirt game: