On Wednesday, the first day of the early signing period, KK Arnold, Jana El Alfy, Qadence Samuels, and Ashlynn Shade signed their letters of intent to play for UConn women’s basketball, securing their commitment and allowing the team to comment on them.
It’s a balanced group with a point guard (Arnold), wing (Samuels), big (El Alfy), and a versatile, positionless player (Shade). Each year, head coach Geno Auriemma talks about the program’s goal with its recruiting class. Since UConn didn’t need to address any obvious holes next season, Geno’s goal was to bolster the roster as much as possible.
“We’re excited as can be about our class,” he said in a release. “There were needs that we felt we needed to address, and we feel that we addressed each and every one of them. We wanted to get quicker in the back court, we wanted to get longer on the wing, we wanted to physically get a little tougher and we wanted to add more athleticism and skill up front. I think we accomplished all those things.”
While each player’s basketball skill is an important part of the equation, Auriemma also felt the group was “not hard to recruit.” They all wanted to play at UConn and made that fact known throughout the process.
“More importantly though, each member of this class really expressed an interest in coming here. They kept basketball at the forefront of why they wanted to be here. They kept going back to ‘I want to play basketball at UConn, I want to go to UConn because I think that’s where I can reach my full potential.’ We feel like we’re getting a great group and they’re all coming here for the right reasons.”
Position: Point guard
Hometown: Germantown, Wisconsin
ESPN ranking: 6
A lifelong UConn fan, Arnold was the first 2023 recruit to commit to the Huskies. Though she’s not necessarily the tallest player at 5-foot-9, she has a strong frame and uses it well as one of the toughest players on the floor.
Arnold is at her best when she’s playing downhill — especially when driving to the basket. She has an explosive first step and a strong handle that she uses to blow by perimeter defenders. She doesn’t zero in on the basket, either. If the defense collapses on her, Arnold will kick it outside to an open teammate. She’s good at initiating contact and getting to the free-throw line — which will be a welcome addition for a UConn team that struggled with that last season.
As a fan of the Huskies, Arnold idolized Moriah Jefferson.
“She’s one of the smaller players being a point guard so I looked up to her,” she said. “Heart over size.”
As it happens, that’s exactly the comparison Auriemma saw.
“KK’s probably the first point guard since Moriah [Jefferson] that plays at that pace and is a little bit stronger,” he said. “She can push the tempo for us. Watching her play this summer, it was especially noticeable how aggressive she was getting into the lane, and defensively being disruptive. She’s a terrific leader and her teammates respond to her leadership. We think of all the point guards that are coming out of high school, she fit us better than anyone else.”
Position: “Really good basketball player”
Hometown: Noblesville, Indiana
ESPN ranking: 15
Following in the footsteps of Ayanna Patterson, Shade will be the second Indiana native to join the Huskies in as many years. She earned the 2022 Indiana Gatorade Player of the Year award this past season as she led Noblesville to its first state championship since 1987. She dropped 31 points in the final, tying a 4A championship game record.
Although she’s listed as a guard and only stands at 5-foot-10, Shade played in a different spot in the championship game. From the IndyStar:
Noblesville coach Donna Buckley put Shade in the high post and ran the offense through her there. The Millers were feeding Shade in the lane, and she was hitting turnaround jump shots or fadeaways or just muscling through contact for three-point plays, the old-fashioned kind. One such move left her defender from Franklin clutching her sore jaw, tears trickling down her cheeks, nodding and telling the referee who asked: “I’m OK.”
Unsurprisingly, that versatility caught UConn’s eye. Auriemma refused to even call her a guard in the school’s release.
“When I talk about getting tougher, getting physically tougher, and getting more athletic, I don’t think there’s anyone like Ashlynn who’s physically tougher and who’s that athletic and has that kind of midrange and is that competitive defensively,” Auriemma said. “I think in Ashlynn we’re getting the definition of an old-school, really good basketball player. You can’t even pigeonhole her into a position, you can just say she’s just a really good basketball player.”
Hometown: Forestville, Maryland
ESPN ranking: 41
A staple of UConn’s rosters over the years has been long, athletic wings. This year, the Huskies have Caroline Ducharme and Lou Lopez Sénéchal, while Katie Lou Samuelson is a prime example in the past. Samuels fits that mold as a self-described “big guard.”
“Qadence addresses our desire to get more athletic, to get longer. She’s one of those kids that is deceptively competitive. When you look at her on the court, you just think it’s smooth and skillful. But she has this edge to her that’s really dynamic,” Auriemma said. “I think she’s one of the better shooters coming out of this class. She’s a really impressive shooter and she’s not averse to mixing it up and she wants to take big shots. Qadence is a tremendous teammate and comes from a family with a lot of players who have competed at the college level. She understands exactly what this is all about.”
Samuels’ length and athleticism are reminiscent of Aubrey Griffin, though the signee plays more like a guard while the current Husky is closer to a forward. Still, Samuels should provide an additional boost of athleticism to a UConn team that isn’t lacking in that regard with Griffin and Ayanna Patterson.
Jana El Alfy
Hometown: Cairo, Egypt
ESPN ranking: N/A
While the prior three players had all committed to UConn before the start of the early signing period, El Alfy was a surprise addition to the class. She has impressed on the international stage with Egypt at the 2022 FIBA U17 World Cup and 2022 FIBA U18 African Championships. She also participated in Basketball Without Borders, put on by the NBA and FIBA, where was taken first overall in the draft by Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr and earned MVP honors.
“I think the skills Jana has are skills that translate well into the way basketball is played today. She’s a big kid who’s athletic and can play on the perimeter. She can score, she can rebound,” Auriemma said. “She’s played a lot of basketball growing up. Her father is the national team coach, so she really understands the game. There’s an understanding from everyone of where Jana wants to go and what Jana wants to be. She wants to set an example for all the young girls not just in Egypt but in all of Africa.”
Auriemma believes El Alfy, who will be UConn’s first player from Egypt, has the potential to play at the next level, too.
“She’ll be the first, I think, Arabic-speaking woman to ever play in the WNBA,” he said during the 97.9 ESPN Coaches’ Show on Wednesday.