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UConn WBB Weekly: Summer workouts represent the unofficial start to the 2022-23 season

The Huskies returned to campus to start summer school over Memorial Day Weekend.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

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Summer workouts represent the unofficial start to UConn’s 2022-23 season

Over the weekend, UConn women’s basketball reconvened in Storrs to unofficially kick off the 2022-23 season. The Huskies began summer school on Tuesday with basketball workouts following shortly afterwards.

This time of year is a mini-camp, as Geno Auriemma likes to call it. It’s essentially a crash-course to teach the newcomers everything they need to know about both the school and the program.

“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 last year. “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.”

While there’s not a ton of news or information that comes out of the summer — the media isn’t allowed in to watch practice and there’s usually only one opportunity to speak with the players — the little that we do learn often serves as a precursor to the regular season. You just need to parse through the cliches — this player’s in the best shape of their life, everyone is just trying to get better — to find it.

The best and most recent example is Caroline Ducharme last summer. She admitted that she struggled in the early workouts but by the end of the month, Auriemma called her “the most improved player.” Later, the coach proclaimed Ducharme would “surprise a lot of people.” Meanwhile, Christyn Williams noted the freshman was “deceivingly long,” which allowed her to block shots.

Ducharme’s regular season followed a similar script. She didn’t show much early on and didn’t even see the court in UConn’s loss to South Carolina in the Bahamas. However, when Paige Bueckers, Nika Mühl and Azzi Fudd all went down with injuries, Ducharme emerged as the team’s leading scorer for a stretch and proved herself to be an apt shot-blocker.

The early reports on Dorka Juhász also lined up with how she played during the regular season.

“Just need to calm her down a little bit,” Auriemma said of the then-Ohio State transfer. “She’s so excited about playing, being here.”

Throughout the season, Juhász dealt with inconsistency in her play — often as a result of playing too fast and hurried. She dominated in an exhibition against Division II Fort Hays State with 15 points and eight rebounds but then didn’t reach double-figure scoring until the eighth game of the regular season. Even in the NCAA Tournament, Juhász had 10 points and 10 rebounds in the first round but then totaled five points and one rebound over the next three contests.

In 2020, when summer workouts were canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the team instead returned in late July for an extended preseason, the then-freshmen quickly made an impression. Especially Paige Bueckers.

“So how good is she?” Auriemma said of Bueckers back in August 2020. “I’ll put it this way: I’m glad we have her. There’s some things that she does that other players wish they could do.”

“Paige is really good. She’s special,” Williams said in October of that year.

Of course, Bueckers went on to become the first freshman to win a national player of the year award while also being named a consensus All-American, Big East Player of the Year and Nancy Lieberman Award winner. If that season taught us anything, it’s that Bueckers is a special player who can do things other players can’t even dream of.

That same preseason, the team also got a glimpse of Nika Mühl’s passing abilities as well.

“Nika’s passes are crazy good,” Williams said.

The first scouting reports on Aaliyah Edwards were only partially accurate, though. Her strength, physicality and toughness in the paint were identified right away. The rest was a bit off-base — at least through two years of her career.

“Aaliyah is very tough. Extremely tough. Someone that we need down there on the post,” Williams said. “She’s very versatile. She’s kind of like Phee (Napheesa Collier). She can play on the outside as well but on the inside is where she flourishes more. She’s very tough. She’s a competitor so she competes.”

As good as Edwards has been, she’s a completely different player than Collier. She also hasn’t shown much from the outside offensively, either.

Sometimes, it doesn’t take long for Auriemma to completely nail down what a player will be once they step on campus. Aubrey Griffin is the perfect example of that.

“She is athletic as s—t,” the coach said back in 2019. “That kid goes and goes and goes. I don’t know what position she is — she’s a guard, she’s a forward, I don’t know — but that sucker rebounds the ball. She plays defense.”

While injuries prevented Griffin from ever seeing the floor this past season, that’s exactly the type of player she was through the first two years of her career: An ultra-athletic contributor who excelled on the glass and defensively.

Summer workouts aren’t the end all, be all. There’s still plenty that can change between now and November and especially between now and March. Not everything we hear comes true — after all, I wrote a story that Anna Makurat was primed for a breakout sophomore season in 2020 — but there’e plenty of good information gleaned from the summer. Even if it’s early.

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