Jul. 2—STORRS — It’s been since the Breanna Stewart era of four national championships, UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma was saying Thursday, that the Huskies have had this much of a competitive vibe.
“Everybody comes every day knowing that ‘Whatever it is that I want, I’m going to have to work for it every day,'” Auriemma said in his first in-person media session post-COVID. “You have to perform at a real high level every day if you want what they all want. They want to have an impact.
“If you don’t compete, you stick out.”
UConn finished last season 28-2 with a trip to its unprecedented 13th Final Four, and did so despite having seven freshmen on the roster. The Huskies fell in the national semifinals to Arizona, 69-59.
Now, in the midst of summer workouts, the Huskies have even more depth and more fire.
They lost no one to graduation while bringing in national high school player of the year Azzi Fudd and the second-ranked recruiting class in the nation with Fudd, No. 5 Caroline Ducharme, No. 15 Amari DeBerry and No. 30 Saylor Poffenbarger. Poffenbarger enrolled early at UConn for the second semester and gained valuable experience.
UConn also gained graduate transfer Dorka Juhasz, who last played at Ohio State.
Fudd’s arrival gives UConn three former national high school players of the year, joining senior Christyn Williams and sophomore Paige Bueckers, who was the first freshman a year ago to be named Naismith Player of the Year.
“I’ve already had a couple of them say to me, ‘Look, coach, obviously we know that some of of us are not going to play the same amount of minutes we played last year,” Auriemma said. “… The improvement from June 1 to today has been significant. You can see it in pretty much every play. It’s only going to get better provided they stick with it.
“It’s a much more competitive situation than we’ve had the last couple years. People are going to have to earn their way and I’m anxious to see how they go about it and how it shakes out. Just because you were something last year doesn’t mean you’re going to be the exact same thing this year and that part is exciting.”
Bueckers, who had surgery on her right ankle in May, is anxious to return to the court, Auriemma said. She shed her crutches, has been jogging in the pool and is telling him she will be 100% by the time school starts Aug. 30 — “according to her, so take it with a grain of salt,” he said with a laugh.
Auriemma praised Fudd’s near-perfect footwork and said the 5-foot-11 freshman guard is quiet but confident.
“Azzi walks around like she’s good,” Auriemma said.
Meanwhile, he said Williams, who captains the team along with fellow seniors Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Evina Westbrook, is playing harder than he’s ever seen her.
Auriemma was asked if this was one of those teams for which he can merely “roll out the ball and win.”
“I wish that every team that I coached was ‘roll the ball out and win,'” he said. “Unfortunately, that’s boring.
“Some teams, we’ve had to work harder than we’ve ever worked in our lives and we’ve come up short. Some teams everything just came together so quickly and meshed so well and we won championships. It remains to be seen what this team is going to need from the coaching staff. It’s going to take us awhile to figure that out.
“It’s already evident in every competitive situation that we have out there, it’s a different vibe. So far, I like what I see. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s different.”