This weekend, the 2021-22 UConn women’s basketball team will come together for the first time when the players head to campus for the start of summer classes and summer workouts. Last year, the pandemic threw a wrench in the Huskies’ offseason and prevented them from convening until late July.
While Geno Auriemma has often described summer workouts as a “mini-camp” in the past, it also serves as a way to acclimate the newcomers into both the program and college life. The latter is particularly important since all the players took online classes last year, meaning the rising sophomores don’t know anything besides Zoom University.
“We want to get them acclimated to getting up in the morning and going to class,” Auriemma said. “One: Unlike last summer, we didn’t even have this session. Two: They are actually going to be in a classroom so for our for sophomores, that’s kind of a big difference.”
In terms of basketball, the summer serves as an introductory course to the basics of the program and helps the incoming players — particularly the freshmen — learn how the Huskies do things.
“We get them acclimated to our basketball culture — what’s it like in the weight room, what’s it like conditioning, what’s practice’s like, what’s an individual instruction session look like, what’s watching film look like,” Auriemma said. “So the other stuff. What drills are we running? What kind of offensive concepts are we putting in? Those things are kind of secondary, I think. But at the same time, they’re important.”
Another big change compared to last year will be less restrictive protocols. According to Auriemma, “all but a couple” players will be fully vaccinated by the time they step on campus and hinted that those that aren’t are at least close to reaching that threshold. Because of that, the team will be able to jump right in instead of needing to start in smaller pods like last summer.
“We’ll be able to come here and get started as opposed to, you know, two guys are allowed in the gym, there’s chairs set up over here,” Auriemma said. “Don’t touch this, don’t touch that — all the things that we thought were part of the protocol.”
UConn likely won’t have its full roster together at any point this summer, though. Aaliyah Edwards is currently with the Canadian national team which will keeper her away from the team for all of June — and maybe even longer if Canada makes the Olympics.
“I hope she’s not around all of July either because she’s in Tokyo,” Auriemma said.
Similarly, Azzi Fudd will head off in July with the US U19 World Cup Team while Amari DeBerry is also one of five finalists for the last three roster spots on that squad. Sophomore Nika Mühl had an opportunity to train with the Croatian national team, but she turned it down to come to Storrs with her team, Auriemma said. Either way, the coach doesn’t have any problem with players missing time to play with their respective national teams.
“I think USA Basketball is great. I think playing for your national team is amazing and it’s a great opportunity for any kid and one that you should never pass up unless you have specific reasons to,” he said. “(Players are) being coached by different people, being in different systems, learning different ways to play. Competing against older, more experienced players can only make you a better player so I’ve always thought that that’s a huge positive for our players.”
A pair of players will also be with in the team in Storrs but unable to participate in any on-court activities. Paige Bueckers is expected to miss the entire summer after undergoing an operation on her right ankle to repair an osteochondral defect in late April, but should be ready to go by September. Last season, Auriemma felt Bueckers handled the issue well but admitted that it bothered her at times.
“I think after the Tennessee game when she aggravated it, you can see there were times when it was a little bit tender and ginger and it would pop up,” he said. “But overall she dealt with it pretty well. She’s terrible at going into training room and doing her rehab so I think she learned from that and she’s smarter now.”
Piath Gabriel will also miss the entire summer due to an operation, though Auriemma declined to get into specifics.
“It was non-basketball related, so it was something that she had needed to take care of,” he said. “It’s been with her for a while now, since high school and she just thought it’d be best to get it out of the way and take care of it ... It’s more precautionary. She didn’t have to have it but at some point in her life she was going to have to have it. So get it over with now.”
While the procedure will benefit Gabriel in the long run, it’ll be a temporary speed bump in her development.
“I’m going to miss not having Piath because I think she took a big step forward and she really, really improved even though a lot of people didn’t get a chance to see it,” Auriemma said. “So, I wish she was part of this but she’s not.”
Other notes from Auriemma’s Zoom call
- Auriemma on adding Ohio State grad transfer Dorka Juhász: “Dorka’s a good fit because she’s a skilled player. She does the things that good basketball players do. We like multi-dimensional players, so you get a 6-3, 6-4 kid that can pass that can get to the basket, that can make shots, knows how to play. You’re getting a versatile player who was First Team All-Big Ten. So it’s not like you’re getting someone who’s untested and unproven.”
- When asked about Caroline Ducharme, Auriemma said she reminds him of a shorter Ann Strother: “She has a lot of the characteristics that Ann had: Being able to play a lot of different positions, being able to score a lot of different ways and picking things up really quickly.”
- Shea Ralph apparently almost became the head coach at Vanderbilt back half a decade earlier. According to Auriemma, she was “in the mix” for the Commodores’ job back in 2016 before they eventually hired Stephanie White.
- Auriemma called UConn baseball coach Jim Penders “maybe the best baseball coach in America and the best coach at the University of Connecticut.”