Dorka Juhász wasn’t sure what her future held. From the moment she stepped on campus as a grad transfer from Ohio State, she was asked the same thing over and over again: Would she stay just one year at UConn or would she use her extra COVID season to stay two? When Juhász decided to participate in senior day, the questions came with increased frequency.
Juhász never had an answer, not because she was being coy but because she didn’t even know herself. She wanted to put all her attention on basketball and whenever the season finally ended, she’d sit down and make her decision.
“I was planning to not think much about it during the tournament just to focus on the games like, ‘We’ll see how it goes,’” Juhász said on Tuesday. “I just kept talking to the coaches so it’s not gonna be a surprise to them if I actually leave or stay. But I’d been thinking for a long time...I was just trying to keep it private and just kind of see what’s best for my future.”
That all changed in the second quarter of the Elite Eight. Juhász drove towards the basket and got fouled from behind, went sent her falling to the floor. She landed on her left wrist and when her teammates came over, it became clear that something serious occurred.
“At that moment, I don’t really know if I felt pain necessarily. I was kind of in a shock,” Juhász said. “I was trying to get up and I was like, ‘Oh, something is wrong.’ And then I looked at it, I was like, ‘Hm, it doesn’t really look like a wrist.’ But then I remember it was Evina (Westbrook) that came to me, holding me. She looked at it, I looked at her face and she was like, ‘Don’t look at it, don’t look at it so I looked at it and I was like, ‘Oh, okay.’
“That was the moment when I was like, ‘Wow, my season has ended.’”
The diagnosis was grim: A dislocated and fractured wrist, bringing her season to an abrupt conclusion. Juhász went to the emergency room to have the wrist put back in and from there, had the option to go where she wanted, whether it be back to Storrs, to the locker room or back to the bench. She chose the latter and didn’t think twice about it.
“I just wanna go back on the court and I wanna be on the bench with my teammates,” Juhász said. “That’s the only thing I was thinking. That was the crazy part. Not even just like, how long [I’ll be out] or whatever. It’s just like, I want to be with them.”
There, she watched UConn triumph over NC State in double overtime to advance to the program’s 14th straight Final Four and celebrated with her teammates on the floor. It was a bittersweet moment for Juhász: She was thrilled the team won but was simultaneously devastated that she couldn’t play in Minneapolis. At that point, Juhász had her decision.
“After [the injury], it was not a question. I definitely wanted to come back and there’s just so much emptiness from not being able to play,” she said.
“I don’t know if I was fully ready to leave yet,” Juhász added later. “Obviously, just having this team and just the whole season was ups and downs and all the injuries, it wasn’t really satisfying for me as a person and as a player.”
When she spoke on Tuesday, Juhász didn’t want to delve into hypotheticals about whether she would’ve come to a different conclusion had the fractured wrist not prematurely ended her season. But reading between the lines, it’s hard to imagine her ever leaving because whenever she did think about her choices, she often landed back at the same place.
“One thing about it was that I would not mind coming back,” Juhász said. “I really love this team, I love this coaching staff and I was always trying to see what is best for me.”
Now that she’s back, Juhász is excited for what her second season at UConn holds. After three All-Big Ten First Team selections at Ohio State, last year was an extended learning experience at a new program with a new coaching staff and new teammates. Now that she’s been through it all once, she has the confidence to step up as one of the team’s vocal leaders and expects herself to become the Huskies’ top option in the paint.
“Last year was just learning and I didn’t really know my role most of the time. It was just kind of fluctuating,” Juhász said. “I feel like that’s out of the window. I have one year of experience with these coaches, with these players. I think I can really step that up and just take that leadership role that maybe last year wasn’t really there.”
First, she needs to get healthy, though. Juhász’s wrist has progressed enough that she no longer needs to wear a cast and is hoping to get good news from the doctor during her next appointment.
“I’m going back to the doctor in two weeks so that’s gonna be my three-month follow-up,” she said. “Hopefully he has some good news for me, maybe even clearing me to start playing.”
But being cleared is different than being back to 100 percent. Juhász will return home to Hungary on July 5 after UConn’s summer workouts end and she’ll continue to do strength exercises throughout the summer. She also has to recover mentally to regain trust and confidence in her left wrist again.
“I don’t think it’s gonna be right away going into live play and getting fouled and stuff like that,” Juhász said. “I will have to nicely build it and work through it and by the time I come back in August, I will be ready to go.”
Once all the boxes are checked off and preseason begins, Juhász can start working towards her ultimate goal and why she came to UConn: To play in a Final Four and win a national championship.
“Obviously winning a championship was a really big part of why I’m here and not being able to play in the Final Four and then sitting on the bench and watching the championship game without being there to help was like something that really hurt me,” she said. “Coming back, I knew I want to win a national championship.”