Geno Auriemma often likes to compare summer workouts to a mini-camp, a way of giving new players an introduction to UConn women’s basketball both on and off the court. The Huskies arrived in Storrs on June 1 for the start of the summer session, giving them a month under their belt so far.
This time of year is mostly about learning (especially for the younger players) and development, so a lot can change between now and the start of the season in November. Even still, Auriemma gave his thoughts on where every player on the roster (aside from Aaliyah Edwards, who isn’t on campus yet, Nika Mühl and Evina Westbrook) stands at this point in the calendar.
For much of her junior season, Williams struggled with the same inconsistency that plagued her throughout her sophomore campaign. She scored more than 20 points seven times through the year but failed to cracked double-digits four times — including a pair of scoreless nights.
That finally changed in the NCAA Tournament, especially in the Sweet Sixteen against Iowa when Williams dropped 27 points while playing a key role in slowing down Caitlin Clark on defense. She followed that up with a 21 point effort against Baylor and did all she could in the loss to Arizona with a team-high 20 points.
So far, Williams has continued that level of play into the summer.
“I think Christyn came out of that NCAA Tournament with a different mindset,” Auriemma said. “This has been probably the hardest I’ve seen her go in all the time that she’s been here.”
After being the clear, No. 1 option in the post for UConn each of the last two seasons, Nelson-Ododa actually has some competition with Ohio State grad transfer Dorka Juhász (and eventually Aaliyah Edwards, though she’s away with the Canadian national team at the moment). Instead of shying away from the added pressure, Nelson-Ododa has embraced it.
“Liv playing every day, working out with CD and Jamelle (Elliott), some great one on one battles with Dorka and with some of our practice guys and Aubrey (Griffin), it’s just been really, really good,” he said. “It actually has given Liv a real jolt of confidence. She plays with so much more confidence right now. So hopefully we can build on that the rest of the summer and in the fall.”
When Juhász committed to UConn after spending the previous three seasons at Ohio State, Auriemma knew he’d be getting a “multi-dimension,” proven big. But even though Juhász was listed at 6-foot-4, he didn’t expect her to be so big.
“First, she’s bigger than I thought,” Auriemma said. “First time I’ve ever seen a big kid that they undersized her. You know usually ‘Hey, this kid’s 6-3’, they show up, I go ‘What kind of shoes were you wearing?’ They said this kid (Dorka) was 6-3, 6-4, she’s all of 6-5 and she’s long and aggressive as hell.”
Note: For the record, UConn lists Juhász at 6-foot-5.
To this point, she’s met Auriemma’s expectations in terms of what she brings on the court, and the coach just wants her to slow things down.
“She’s fitting in nicely in a lot of ways,” he said. “She can shoot the hell out of it and she’s really highly skilled. Just need to calm her down a little bit. She’s so excited about playing, being here. But I love her personality. I love that she brings a old school work ethic.”
Entering her third year at UConn, Griffin has still mostly been the same player we’ve seen over her first two seasons.
“Aubrey, you know — Aubrey’s Aubrey. When she’s good, she’s great,” he said.
Since this is the time of year for development, Auriemma has been pushing Griffin to shoot the ball more.
“I’m trying a new tactic with her: ‘If you don’t shoot it, you’re coming out.’ As opposed to last year, ‘If you shoot that you’ll never play again’ because she didn’t believe in it,” Auriemma said. “So it was like, ‘Should I? should I not? Okay, I’ll throw it up there.’ So now we’re working on it every day. When you catch it and you don’t shoot the shot, you’re coming out. Not if you miss it. If you don’t shoot it, you’re coming out. And that’s given her a little bit of ‘My job is just to shoot it.’
“So with her, just shoot it. We’ll work on it going in at a later date — and she makes a bunch.”
After undergoing right ankle surgery in late April, Bueckers hasn’t been able to fully participate with the team this summer. Auriemma noted that she’s off crutches and is out of the walking boot, which allowed her to jog in the pool on Thursday.
Here’s one minute and 38 seconds of Paige mic’d up.— UConn Women’s Basketball (@UConnWBB) July 2, 2021
“According to her — just take that with a grain of salt — when we get back to school, [which] should be August 30, she’ll be 100%,” Auriemma said.
For now, Bueckers can stand and shoot or rebound for someone, though she’s always trying to push her limits.
“She just just wants to play so bad,” he said. “I’m always checking with our athletic training and she’ll go, ‘[no].’ Now, it’s another argument [about] why you’re not allowed to do this.”
Gabriel underwent surgery after the season for a non-basketball injury, “something that she had needed to take care of” that she’d been dealing with since high school, Auriemma said in May. Gabriel is beginning to get back on the court, albeit in a very limited capacity.
“She’s just starting to do some individual work but we got to take it slow,” Auriemma said. “But she’s come back with a different mindset.”
McLean has also been limited during workouts while dealing with tendinitis.
“Mir’s had some tendinitis that she’s had forever so she’s got to go at some pace,” Auriemma said.
Last June, Poffenbarger underwent surgery on a torn labrum in her left hip — the result of hurting her right labrum during her freshman year. Though it’s been almost a year since the operation, Poffenbarger tweaked the same hip, which in turn affected her back.
“She aggravated it a little bit and it got into her back,” Auriemma said.
Though there are a handful of “nagging” injuries, as the coach put it, he didn’t sound overly concerned about anyone.
“This is the time to get it all squared away, get it all fixed,” he said.
Despite Fudd being one of the most hyped and anticipated high school prospects ever, there haven’t been many surprises with her — at least in Auriemma’s mind.
“I think most of it is what I expected,” Auriemma said. “She’s very quiet, very much, introverted, really doesn’t say a whole lot. But her game is much older than her age. Her footwork is the kind of footwork that you would expect from someone going into the pros — someone who has spent three or four years perfecting that. That’s how good her footwork is. And her ability to to get shots off and the way the shot comes off every single time, the exact same way, I mean I knew it, but when you watch it on a regular basis, it’s pretty amazing.”
Auriemma did note that Fudd’s strength has impressed him.
“She’s a lot stronger than than I realized because I never spent that much time that close,” he said.
Through one month in Storrs, no player has made bigger strides than Ducharme.
“f you were to ask [Andrea] Hudy in the weight room and the conditioning and even the coaches on the floor, ‘who’s the most improved player since June 1?’ They would say Ducharme. She’s got a huge chip on her shoulder about a lot of things, which I like,” Auriemma said.
“She’s gonna surprise a lot of people,” he added later. “She reminds me a lot of Carla Berube, Amy Duran. She’s got a little bit of a little bit of those two players. She’s not afraid. She works on her game constantly. She’s competitive as hell. And they don’t know how she does it but she beats their ass. But they don’t know how she does it. They just walk away shaking their head.”
So far, the biggest adjustment for DeBerry has been getting used to playing with other skilled bigs. In high school, she was almost always the biggest player on the court. Now, she has to contend with the likes of Nelson-Ododa and Juhász in the post. According to Auriemma, DeBerry is still learning to deal with the increased physicality
“Amari is moving but for every one step forward, there’s a little half step backward because she’ll get nicked, nicked there. So it’s always fighting through but she doesn’t stop. And she’s another 6-5 kid that is skilled around the basket and shooting the ball. But we’ve got to get her up to speed at playing our pace.”