Geno's freshmen fueled by competitive fire
There’s safety in numbers – and UConn women’s basketball’s freshman class have figured that out pretty quickly. The first year in Geno Auriemma’s program can be mentally and physically tough, so they’re sticking together to get through it. Literally.
“The freshmen travel in a pack, the six of them,” Evina Westbrook said. “If you see one of them, you’re going to see the five coming not too far behind.”
That camaraderie only exists outside of the gym, however. Once the freshmen step onto the court, they’re ready to get after each other and their teammates.
“They’re super competitive, even with each other. Going at each other, which I love,” Westbrook said. “I say ‘If we’re playing against each other, we’re enemies. Once we’re off the court, it’s all cool.’ We go at each other, we’re at each other’s neck and we’re like ‘Okay. Okay freshman.’
That tenacity hasn’t gone unnoticed, either. Auriemma’s pleased with the way his team is competing in practice. To his view, that starts with the freshmen.
“I’m really impressed with how competitive we are. Our incoming players are extremely competitive. Extremely competitive,” he said. “That in and of itself, is going to add a lot to this team. They don’t back down to anybody, our freshmen...There may be different levels of competitiveness but that competitive spirit is really, really high among those new kids. That’s something that I’m excited about building on.”
The fact that the youngest members of the squad are impressing on the court shouldn’t be a huge surprise, though. After all, the Huskies brought in the second-best freshman class in the nation, according to ESPN. Where they’ve really impressed their head coach is off the court.
So far, the freshmen’s college experience has been far from typical. They arrived on campus later than expected and even though some of the student body is also back, the team is restricted in what they can do. Essentially, they are limited to interacting with their coaches and teammates. Despite being dealt a tough hand, Auriemma said the freshmen have taken it all in stride.
“I think they’re handling it great. They have no choice, right? It’s not like they can choose to handle it poorly,” he said. “They always have to be on their best behavior, on guard. They always have to be around just each other. So after a while, you know how that can get. Between school and study hall and all this stuff that they’re being asked to do, we’re trying to fill their days up. But their spirits have been remarkably high.”
Though UConn’s freshman class came to Storrs with plenty of acclaim, we still don’t know much about it. Because of the pandemic, the media isn’t allowed to observe practice, First Night is canceled, and there won’t be any exhibitions. That means we won’t get to watch the freshmen play until the first game of the season.
One person who has seen UConn’s newest additions in action is junior guard Christyn Williams, who shared the following scouting report on her first-year teammates:
Paige Bueckers: “Paige is really good. She’s special...First of all, she’s a very consistent shooter and she can see the floor really well. She’s one of those passers that it shocks you because you didn’t even see them open and she saw them and then it’s an open shot. She’s a floor general. I’m really excited to play alongside her. Like today, we did transition drills and I love it. I’m running and she just throws the ball. I love it.”
Aaliyah Edwards: “Aaliyah is very tough. Extremely tough. Someone that we need down there on the post...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. On the defensive end, she’s very mature for her age. It’s like she’s done this before. I know she’s played with Canada before. You can tell just by the way she talks and her leadership skills. She brings a lot to the table.”
Mir McLean: “Mir is very springy. She can jump out of the gym. She’s very athletic like Aubrey. Now we have two Aubreys.”
Piath Gabriel: “Piath is great. She has a lot to work on but once she can have her footwork and stuff down, you know, the regular freshman stuff, she’ll be really good. She’s been watching Liv, Liv’s been mentoring her, basically. She’s been doing a lot of work with CD.”
Nika Muhl: “Nika’s passes are crazy good.”
Autumn Chassion: “Autumn can shoot. She can shoot lights-out.”