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UConn WBB Weekly: Amari DeBerry staying ready for her opportunity

The sophomore hasn’t let limited playing time slow her progress this season.

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Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

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Amari DeBerry staying ready for her opportunity despite limited playing time

Although UConn’s frontcourt has been thinned out by a season-ending knee injury to Ice Brady and a broken thumb to Dorka Juhász, sophomore big Amari DeBerry has struggled to break into the lineup. She’s averaged just 6.2 minutes per game — all of which have come after the game’s been decided.

DeBerry has shown potential in her limited action, though. On Sunday at Notre Dame, she drained a 3-pointer on her first touch and finished with five points — fourth-most on the team. The sophomore also had six points against both Northeastern and Providence — the only two times she’s played more than five minutes — and hauled in seven rebounds against the Friars.

By all accounts, DeBerry has made significant progress compared to her freshman year.

“You can’t even measure [her growth from last year to this year] because last year she had difficulty finishing practice,” associate head coach Chris Dailey said. “This year, she’s able to do and she understands (much more). She’s a skilled post player and we just have to keep building on that.”

So why the lack of playing time?

First, DeBerry needs to improve in two key areas: Physicality and pace-of-play. While Geno Auriemma has described her as one of the most skilled post players to come through the program, that alone isn’t enough to get her on the floor.

“She has to become more physical. The game is not a finesse game. It’s a physical (game),” Dailey said. “You saw Notre Dame for one, you look at the Texas post players, you look at post players across the country, it’s physical. That’s something that we have to get better at. Amari has to embrace the physicality of the game of this level.”

The sophomore has made strides in that direction. She spent the entire summer on campus focused on strength training.

“I worked with (Andrea) Hudy like every day during the summer [doing] heavy lifting,” DeBerry said on Thursday. “Definitely just to build up my strength. I’m not like the biggest forward but learning how to use it and learning how to just be more resilient on the court, second effort, just not giving up when it comes to working against people who realistically are stronger than me.”

She also needs to get better at playing at a faster, college-style pace, though Dailey believes DeBerry’s made progress in that regard, too.

“The pace at this level and the pace that we want to play at is different,” Dailey said. “It’s really hard. It’s a hard adjustment for high school kids to come into college and do that and I think that’s maybe Amari’s biggest growth. She’s starting to understand the pace.”

While DeBerry those are both key areas of improvement for her to focus on — and doing so will help get her more playing time — the coach offered a much simpler explanation when asked why the sophomore hasn’t seen much action.

“Honestly, sometimes it’s not only what you do, it’s the people in front of you are playing really well so you don’t have as much opportunity,” Dailey said.

To DeBerry’s credit, she hasn’t gotten down on herself. Despite such little playing time, she’s kept her head up and kept working to take advantage of the opportunity when it finally presents itself.

“Coach (Auriemma) brought me here for a reason and that’s just to do whatever he needs me to do,” DeBerry said. “We need another body right now. I’ll step up. I’ll be ready to help with whatever.”

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