Napheesa Collier: The Quiet, But Deadly, Superstar
Geno Auriemma sat in front of a UConn and Dunkin’ branded backdrop, his usual jovial self after AAC routs, answering various questions after his team’s 118-55 win over ECU.
The final question of the session was regarding Napheesa Collier’s performance. She had 21 points on 10-10 shooting. For any other player, this type of performance would be the lead in every game story. But because it was Collier -- to quote Auriemma -- “That’s just Pheesa.”
“It’s like talking about the sun came up,” Auriemma said. “There’s no more guarantee than what you get from Pheesa every day at practice and every night. No matter how many minutes she plays, no matter who we play, no matter who she’s playing against, she just is at a different space than everybody else.”
This season, Collier has reached double-digit scoring in every game. She’s scored below 15 points just three times. And over the last seven games, she’s reached at least 20 points.
Not only is Collier putting the ball in the hoop, she’s doing so efficiently. The senior made over half her shots in all but one game this season and ranks in the top 20* in the nation with a .605 field goal percentage.
“It’s a mentality of being as aggressive as I can and knowing if I get the ball in a certain position, I’m going to score,” Collier said from the same podium, before quickly turning to deflect credit to her teammates. “Then Crystal does such a good job of getting the ball to me in the post. Her no-look passes, as everyone knows, are crazy so just a combination of those things.”
Auriemma has a simpler explanation.
“I don’t think there’s any blood in Pheesa. Just wires. She’s a machine,” he said after the win over Central Florida earlier this season.
But because of how good she always is now, it’s easy to forget things weren’t always going this well for Collier.
As a sophomore, Collier and the rest of the Huskies were given the impossible task of replacing Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck. Collier shattered even the highest expectations that season, averaging 20.4 points per game on .678 percent shooting along with 9.1 rebounds per game.
She was a critical part in turning the season from what was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Huskies into yet another undefeated regular season. For her performance, Collier won the co-AAC Player of the Year and was named a First Team All-American by three major organizations. Auriemma said it was “one of the all-time great seasons ever.”
But then UConn was stunned by Mississippi State in the Final Four. Nobody on the Huskies played well, and Collier scored just 11 points.
Then came her junior season. Her points per game averaged dropped to 16.1, her rebounds dropped to 7.4 per game and she only shot .583. In a vacuum, those are still very good numbers. But they fell well below the high bar Collier set for herself the year before.
Maybe it was teams paying extra attention to her. Maybe it was the presence of an extra post player in Azura Stevens. Maybe some complacency crept in. But Collier holds herself responsible.
“I caught myself getting in a rut, especially when I had a down slump,” Collier said. “I caught myself saying ‘Oh we have another practice’ instead of coming in with ‘I need to get better today.’”
Collier altered her process to keep it from happening this year.
“I actually say this to myself before every practice: ‘I need to work as hard as I can today,’’ she said. “Because I’m a strong believer that if your shots aren’t going in, you can always control how hard you’re working and other things like steals, hustle plays, deflections or stuff like that.”
It seems that because Collier is so consistent, people miss the standard she's set. But her coach knows just how good she is and wants her to get some more national recognition.
“I’m sure people have already made up their mind who the best player in the country is and who the national player of the year is, whatever, any of that,” Auriemma said. “I just don’t know if there’s anyone on every single night that does all the things that Pheesa does.”
While Collier was happy to earn the endorsement from her coach, she didn’t take long to bring it back to her teammates.
“It feels really good,” she said. That’s something that I’ve always tried to do since I’ve been here...just be as consistent as I can throughout the board because the most important thing is my teammates trust me everyday and they know what they’re going to get from me every day.”
Collier doesn’t care for individual accolades. If someone informs her of the latest record she’s reached, she’ll respond by saying she didn’t even know about it. She’d rather have her teammates get the credit for her own success.
That’s just Pheesa.