Just when you thought that there might be a changing of the guard in women’s college basketball, UConn Huskies’ head coach Geno Auriemma went out and recruited another incredible class of freshmen to add to an already stellar roster.
Despite losing Saniya Chong to graduation and the transfer of Natalie Butler to George Mason, the Huskies have a much deeper roster this season with the arrivals of four top-40 recruits in Megan Walker (No. 1), Mikayla Coombs (No. 14), Lexi Gordon (No. 29) and Andra Espinoza-Hunter (No. 37) along with the additions of Azura Stevens and Batouly Camara, who sat out last season as transfer students due to NCAA eligibility rules.
Stevens stands at 6’6” and was one of the best players in the nation during her time at Duke University and will surely slot into Auriemma’s starting five alongside the returning Kia Nurse, Gabby Williams, Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier, all of whom are expected to improve as upperclassmen. Camara, who was no slouch at Kentucky, will also add valuable front court depth to a team that lacked size last season.
Walker will likely get a lion’s share of minutes as a freshman guard/forward, contributing a fantastic offensive repertoire inside and outside of the arc and the length to play solid defense as well. Gordon is another wing player with the kind of positional versatility that Auriemma likes to see in his players. Coombs and Espinoza-Hunter are combo guards that can play either position in the backcourt and should be able to give the likes of Nurse and sophomore Crystal Dangerfield some rest for stretches within a game.
All of these new faces join a deeply-rooted winning culture at UConn with coach Auriemma at the helm. UConn’s returners have lost so few games over their collegiate careers that winning a championship had become the expectation. Anything less would be a disappointment.
When that disappointment rang true after last season’s stunning Final Four loss after a record 111-game win streak, the Huskies handled defeat in a most professional manner in every interview with the media and showed a great sense of sportsmanship in the public eye.
On the inside though, the loss meant that UConn now had something to prove. Not only to the world, but also to themselves. Perfection earned in the regular season means essentially nothing without a championship to back it up at the end of the year. Just ask the 2007 New England Patriots.
Now this Huskies team, which fought so hard to continue a winning streak after the graduation of Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck, has to come back and start another one. This season, they come back a stronger and more experienced team with a chip on their shoulder. Auriemma has re-loaded and brought depth to his roster, a team that could now go 13 players deep if he really wanted to (though he will likely stick to a core of eight players).
Most importantly, however, Auriemma still has the championship-winning mentality. A mentality that means defeats will only make him and his team hungrier for more. The likes of Samuelson and Collier now know the pain of defeat, having just experienced their first collegiate loss. With more experience under the belts and plenty of fresh faces joining the fray in Storrs, they might not feel that pain of defeat for quite some time.