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UConn WBB Weekly: Which young Huskies would you build a WNBA team around?

Plus plenty of Crystal Dangerfield appreciation, a throwback look at Sue Bird and much more.

Minnesota Lynx v Seattle Storm - Game One Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

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.

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From The UConn Blog and Storrs Central:

Last week’s Weekly:


In The News

Kia Nurse joining TSN, Megan Walker off to Hungary

With the New York Liberty’s season over, a pair of former UConn stars are solidifying their offseason plans.

On Tuesday, TSN announced that Kia Nurse will join the network as a basketball analyst for the WNBA and NBA playoffs. Though she’s spent the last two WNBA offseasons playing in Australia, the WNBL isn’t allowing foreign players this season, so it’s unclear if Nurse will be signing elsewhere over the winter.

Meanwhile, Megan Walker is already in Hungary to gear up for her first offseason overseas with Sopron Basket, where she’ll play with fellow former Husky Gabby Williams.

Which young Huskies would you build a WNBA team around?

Megan Gauer, The UConn Blog’s resident WNBA expert, puts her GM hat on and picks the UConn stars drafted over the last six years that she would want to build a franchise around.

40 players drafted. 26 first-round picks. Five number one overall picks.

There’s no question that former UConn stars have been incredibly successful in the WNBA draft since the league started in 1998. The 2010’s, in particular, were a great decade for Huskies in the league, accounting for three of those top overall picks, all of whom have won a league MVP award.

Even with UConn’s historic success in the league, the dominance on draft night has really taken off in the last six years. Since 2014, UConn has produced 13 first round picks — an average of nearly two first round picks per year (it would be a perfect even-two had Dangerfield been selected in the first round this year). South Carolina and Notre Dame are tied for second with six first round picks apiece over the same window.

How those 13 first round picks (and two second/third round picks) from the past six years have performed in the league has varied widely, however. In some cases, like two-thirds of 2016’s big three, injuries have hampered the chance for success.

Still, it’s fair to say that some of UConn’s lottery picks from the past few seasons haven’t been the fast stars their teams were hoping for. Perhaps some of that has influenced the later-than-expected selections of Napheesa Collier and Crystal Dangerfield in the last two years.

Given a chance to draft players from a pool of UConn’s last six (2014-20) draft classes, some of those previous No. 2 and No. 3 overall picks don’t come close to the top of the list. From what we’ve seen from their performance in the WNBA so far, these are the players I’d want most to build a franchise around:

1. Breanna Stewart (2016, No. 1 Pick)

This one’s a no brainer. She’s already won league MVP and led the Seattle Storm to a WNBA championship in 2018. Despite being in her first season back from a torn achilles this year, Stewart is already in MVP-level form, finishing second in this year’s voting behind A’ja Wilson. Stewart likely has many MVP titles and league championships to come in her career.

2. Napheesa Collier (2019, No. 6 Pick)

How five teams passed on Collier will forever remain a mystery — just like how she somehow didn’t win any major Player of the Year awards in college. After just two years in the league, it’d be difficult to find five players in the league (let alone the 2019 draft class) better fit to build a franchise around. She’s currently anchoring the Minnesota Lynx in a legitimate playoff run, excelling on the defensive end and continuously expanding her offensive game. There’s multiple All-Star appearances, first team All-WNBA honors and maybe even an MVP trophy on Collier’s horizon.

3. Azura Stevens (2018, No. 6 pick)

Stevens has battled her fair share of injuries since heading to the league. She played in just nine games last season with the Dallas Wings and left the bubble with another knee injury this season, which will require surgery. While knees can be tricky, Stevens was excellent for the Chicago Sky this season and is still just scratching the surface of her ability.

4. Stefanie Dolson (2014, No. 6 pick)

Dolson has had the most successful career behind Stewart on this list so far. She’s a two-time All-Star (2015 and 2017) and has been a consistent starter since her second year in the league with both the Washington Mystics and Chicago Sky.

5. Kia Nurse (2018, No. 10 pick)

The 2020 season was rough for Kia Nurse. She went down with an ankle injury just two minutes into the season and while she made it back onto the court, She struggled with her shot. However, Nurse was an All-Star starter just last year and played on a New York Liberty team loaded with rookies in the bubble. As New York looks to find its identity over the next couple of seasons, Nurse’s stock will certainly be on the rise.

6. Crystal Dangerfield (2020, No. 16 pick)

Whatever doubts there were about how Dangerfield’s diminutive stature would translate to the league should be dispelled by now. If you need further proof, tune into the Lynx-Storm semifinals and watch her and — on the opposite side of the court — Jordin Canada. At the risk of putting too much weight on just 21 games, Dangerfield has the potential to grow into one of the best point guards in the league and add some more hardware to the trophy case alongside her Rookie of the Year award.

7. Bria Hartley (2014, No. 7 pick)

Two months ago, Hartley’s name would not have been this high on this list. But after a breakout season with the Phoenix Mercury, Hartley showed that she’s worth the max contract that she signed last off-season. If not for her ACL injury late in the season, she would have been in serious contention for this year’s Most Improved and Sixth Woman of the Year awards.

8. Gabby WIlliams (2018, No. 4 pick)

Williams’ WNBA career has been inconsistent thus far. She looked primed for a breakout year after a big season overseas this past year but that ultimately didn’t come to fruition. Still, Williams established herself as a piece of the Chicago Sky system and is still a player with plenty of upside.

9. Kiah Stokes (2015, No. 11 pick)

Stokes’ WNBA career has been far from flashy — her 6.9 points per game in 2016 remains her career best. But she’s established herself as a solid role player for New York and did enough to earn an extension, making her a part of whatever long term plan the organization is forming.

10. Moriah Jefferson (2016, No. 2 pick)

Jefferson has gotten a rough break with injuries in her professional career and I don’t think we’ve seen what she can do in the league yet. Jefferson’s rookie season was strong, but she has struggled to stay healthy long enough to make an impact on the court since.

11. Morgan Tuck (2016, No. 3 pick)

Similar to Jefferson, knee injuries have plagued Tuck’s career as well. With the Connecticut Sun last season, Tuck showed some bright moments. But now that she’s in Seattle, there’s not much of a role for her on a deep bench with the Storm.

12. Katie Lou Samuelson (2019, No. 4 pick)

Despite a shortened 2020 season, Dangerfield has already surpassed Samuelson for minutes played in the league even with the latter having a full season head start. While Samuelson’s ability to shoot can serve as an asset to any team in the league, she’s struggled to make the defensive adjustment at the next level. Until she can develop into more of a two-way player, she’ll likely slotted into a role as a three-point threat off the bench.

13. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (2015, No. 3 pick)

Though she holds the three-point record at UConn, Mosqueda-Lewis hasn’t really found her shot from deep in the league. She’s hit over 40 percent from beyond the arc in just one season (2018) and has seen limited minutes with Seattle in her first five seasons and Connecticut this year.

14. Megan Walker (2020, No. 9 pick)

Walker has plenty of time to move her way up on this list. But after an underwhelming rookie season where she averaged just 3.3 points per game on a young, bad New York Liberty team, what Walker can do at this next level remains to be seen. However, she’s already arrived in Hungary to play overseas during the WNBA offseason, which should help elevate her game for next year.

15. Saniya Chong (2017, No. 26 pick)

Chong played for the Dallas Wings throughout her rookie season but was waived after just five games in 2018. She hasn’t returned to the league since and given the over-saturation of talent, it will be difficult for her to find a place on a team moving forward.

Best of social media

The team seems pretty excited about the season:

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How we been feelin

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Who ya got?

I’m taking the 2015-16 squad — the greatest team in the history of the sport for my money. Every recruited scholarship player on that team was selected in the WNBA Draft except Courtney Ekmark. Napheesa Collier came off the bench. They could’ve played every single team in the country and nobody would’ve ever beaten them.

Another point in favor of the 2015-16 squad:

History Corner

Here’s a fun interview with a 17 year old Sue Bird.