As UConn women’s basketball’s 2020-21 season reached its conclusion, Evina Westbrook had a major decision to make. As a redshirt junior, she was eligible for the 2021 WNBA Draft and had the option of leaving school to go pro.
“It was definitely on my mind, whether or not to stay or leave,” she said.
Though Westbrook was projected by some to be a first-round pick, she said that didn’t ultimately factor into her decision. Once the season came to an end with a loss to Arizona in the Final Four, Westbrook realized she needed to run it back.
“I kind of just knew like, ‘Mmm, nah, I think I’m gonna stay,’” she said.
“After the tournament in my hotel room, I talked to my parents [and said] ‘I don’t feel like it’s time for me to leave.’”
Westbrook also thought about her close connections with her teammates. After a difficult year in which they were essentially only allowed to be either in the gym or in their apartments, the team had grown inseparable. Much of that togetherness was the work of Westbrook, the off-the-court leader who came to be known as “Momma E.” The younger players did their best to guilt her into staying, too.
“They were asking me like ‘Hey E, just making sure’ like ‘Okay I’ll let you guys know,’” Westbrook said. “They’re like ‘You’re staying, right?’”
When Westbrook finally announced she’d be returning, she did it with a two-word caption on Instagram: Unfinished business.
Even after the Huskies reconvened on campus in early June, nearly two months after their loss to Arizona in the Final Four, Westbrook admitted there was still a feeling of “What if?” that lingered throughout.
“I think it was weird coming back. The energy was still like dang, we should’ve had it,” she said.
But after the players spent some time together, they realized it was time to turn the page, not only on the loss but on everything that happened last season.
“We’re not gonna walk around here hanging our heads, being sad,” she said. “We kind of just moved on from that, we came back and it was time to regroup. We knew what we had to do, grind it out as we have been for the past month or so.”
Eight days after returning home from the Arizona loss, the players all went their separate ways for the next two months.
Westbrook found time to mix rest and relaxation with some workouts. She managed to get much-needed family time back home in Oregon while also doing Zumba with her mom.
“I love Zumba. I think Zumba’s a great workout,” she said. “It’s another opportunity for me to spend time with my mom and my brother, we got my little brother to join... I got all the moves down. I remember all the moves when I get back home. I got it down.”
When the team breaks on Friday at the end of the summer session, Westbrook plans on getting right back into her Zumba routine.
“First of all, it’s no joke. It’s high fitness,” she said. “It’s no joke. It’s a real workout.”
The Huskies will return to Storrs for good on Aug. 28 ahead of the new semester, which begins two days later. Soon after, they’ll begin preseason when Westbrook’s quest to take care of her “unfinished business” will truly begin.
“Obviously we didn’t come up with a national championship, that’s what we all wanted,” she said. “So that’s first and foremost on my list.”