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May 15—Azzi Fudd was looking to work on her defense as the trials for USA Basketball’s U-19 national team opened Friday at Metro State University in Denver.

The UConn incoming freshman guard didn’t take the easy way out. Fudd matched up with her 2017 U-16 teammate Caitlin Clark, who only led the country in scoring and was second in assists as a freshman at Iowa this past season on her way to earning All-American honors.

“I thought I did pretty well going back and forth with her and trying to mess with her and getting into her head,” Fudd said after the morning workout. “She’s great, and it’s great to be around players who have that college experience, especially someone like Caitlin who had a huge role on her team and performed so well. I’ll watch her and see how she plays because she’s used to that next level so it’s a great learning tool for me as I start my freshman year.”

Fudd — a 5-foot-11 guard from Arlington, Virginia — is among 25 candidates for the 12-player team that will take part in the FIBA U-19 World Cup scheduled for Aug. 7-15 in Debrecen, Hungary.

The top recruit in the Class of 2021 has won two gold medals with USA Basketball, but is looking to represent her country for the first time since 2018 when she helped the Americans win gold at the FIBA U-17 World Cup. She missed out in 2019 after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in a 3×3 tournament in Colorado Springs and all USAB events scheduled for the summer of 2020 were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

She was just finishing up eighth grade when she earned her first USA spot.

“It does seem like forever ago that I made that U-16 team,” Fudd said. “But then it does seem like yesterday that we were playing and going to Argentina. Looking back, it’s just crazy.

“I’ve changed since, but even from my first year to my second year I changed. Four years later I’m trying to be a leader and communicate better. I was so quiet then and the coaches would get on me about it. So I try to be vocal and a leader on any team that I play for.”

Fudd, who turns 19 in November, is playing with her age group for the first time. Fifteen of the candidates have a year of college experience under their belt. Only two — including UConn Class of 2022 commit Ayanna Patterson — have high school eligibility left.

Clark is the only former USAB teammate of hers at the trials.

“It was just the first practice and we’re still getting our legs under us, but it felt great to be out there again with top players and great coaches I can learn from,” Fudd said.

Fudd capped off her scholastic career by being named a McDonald’s All-American and the 2021 Morgan Wooten Girls Player of the Year. She was honored even though her school, St. John’s College Prep in Washington, D.C., did not have a season due to the pandemic.

It was that kind of senior year for her.

“It was kind of under-whelming, obviously,” Fudd said. “We had a hybrid option but I did virtual because of the commute I have to school and, they put us in groups, and none of my friends were in my group. Plus doing virtual, I’m able to work out in the morning, or during breaks, or after school so I can get ready for UConn.

“The one positive was I did get to spend a lot more time with my family. It’s starting to hit hard that I’m going to miss my brothers, my parents, and my dog. So any time I spend with them is special.”

Fudd plans to arrive in Storrs during Memorial Day weekend for the start of summer-school classes and the opportunity to meet and bond with her new teammates.

The Huskies have one of her old USA Basketball teammates — reigning Big East and national Player of the Year Paige Bueckers.

“Paige would call me and tell how practices were and how Coach Auriemma would get on them,” Fudd said. “That helps. I totally expect to go in and come out and get my butt kicked a little, but it’s all good.

“I’m excited and I can’t wait to get there. But I’m also nervous because it is UConn. I’m excited about being able to learn from the coaches and getting to know my teammates and competing and playing with them. I haven’t really done that for two years so to be able to get in the gym and get into that routine is exciting.”

The Huskies return their starting lineup and welcome one of the top recruiting classes in the country with Fudd, fellow U-19 candidate Amari DeBerry, and Caroline Ducharme from their 28-2 Final Four team.

The Class of 2021 was at UConn’s national semifinal loss to Arizona at the Alamodome in San Antonio. For Fudd, it’s motivation looking ahead.

“I kept waiting for them to make a shot or two and go on a run and it just never happened,” Fudd said. “We were so close to the bench and it was tough since there was nothing we could do to help them. I’m excited for next year so we can help them get back there and be a part of it.”

For coverage of all sports in the JI’s 18-town coverage area, plus updates on the UConn women’s basketball team and head coach Geno Auriemma, follow Carl Adamec on Twitter: @CarlAdamec, Facebook: Carl Adamec, and Instagram: @CarlAdamec.