Megan Walker is ready to make the leap
During one of UConn women’s basketball’s summer workouts on Monday morning, one teammate got on another for not going hard enough in a drill.
That isn’t unusual: the Huskies routinely police each other. Instead, it was who voiced their displeasure that surprised head coach Geno Auriemma: Rising junior Megan Walker.
“I almost spilled my coffee,” he joked. “She made a comment the other day when she saw someone working, she said ‘That was me two years ago.’ So it shows you how far she’s come.”
This isn’t the same Walker that some fans prematurely declared a bust after her lackluster freshman season. It isn’t even the same Walker that started nearly every game last season and played a crucial part down the stretch in the NCAA Tournament. This is a new Megan Walker -- and she’s ready to become one of the best players in the country.
Last season, with Napheesa Collier, Crystal Dangerfield and Katie Lou Samuelson shouldering the bulk of the scoring, Walker didn’t need to be a go-to player for the Huskies. She took what the defense gave her and played her role as a small-ball forward and rebounder superbly.
But now Collier and Samuelson are off the WNBA, leaving Storrs as the two highest-scoring teammates in program history. That leaves a major void for the Huskies, one that Walker will be expected to help fill. But that’s not a concern for her -- as the former No. 1 recruit in the country, she didn’t come to UConn to be a role player.
“We’re going to miss [Collier and Samuelson] and what they brought to the program but everyone’s excited, it’s our time,” Walker said. “It’s finally on our shoulders and I think me [sic], Crystal, Christyn and Liv, we’ve been waiting for this opportunity, so we’re excited to go out there and give it all we got.”
But when Walker needed to score, she did. She put together four performances of 20 points or more, including a 34-point explosion against Tulane. Those games gave her confidence and helped prove to herself that she was capable of scoring in droves. Now, Walker is hoping to do that on a nightly basis.
“It was an amazing amount of confidence for me just knowing I can go out there and do it every night,” she said. “Carrying that over into this year, I feel it will be good having those breakout games [last season] knowing I can get it done every night [this season].”
But Walker isn’t just talking a big game. Auriemma has watched her put in the work throughout the summer in order to elevate her play to the next level.
“She’s in the best shape she’s ever been in and she’s doing what kids at that level at this point in their college career at UConn are supposed to be doing. Going from here to here, then from here to here the following year,” he said, moving his hand up in steps. “I’m excited for her, I think she’s going to have a great year.”
Talent has never been the issue for Walker. After freshman year, she figured out the mental side of the game. As a sophomore, Auriemma told Walker to emulate Collier’s motor, which she can check off. And now that she’s in top shape, fatigue can’t hold her back either.
“Her ceiling is way high,” Auriemma said. “A lot of times when people get to college, they don’t understand the value of conditioning. I said to her two weeks ago, ‘You lost 10-12 pounds, do you understand last year you played with a 10-pound weight tied inside your jersey?’ and they look at you like ‘What?’ You’re carrying ten extra pounds, that’s what it feels like. Then when you’re not, you feel like a new person. The fact that she’s in phenomenal shape and is able to do things she couldn’t last year is a game-changer for her.”