Through just about three weeks of practice and with the beginning of the season coming up, the UConn women’s basketball team opened practice to the media. Freshman Christyn Williams impressed, sophomore Megan Walker showed exponential growth and the senior leadership of Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier have been invaluable.
The team was loud on the court, cheering on teammates and constantly picking them up. Walker said one thing is key to keeping the communication on point.
“It’s all about energy,” Walker said of the team’s intensity. “I think we feed off each other when we know everyone has each other's back and I feel like it makes us a better program.”
Freshmen handling practice
Out are Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams, in are freshmen Williams and Olivia Nelson-Ododa. Typically, it takes freshmen some time before they fully adapt to the UConn system. However, Williams made her presence felt early on, and she credits her teammates with helping her feel comfortable.
“The upperclassmen have helped me a lot,” Williams said. “That’s why I have acclimated so well because they give me advice every day. We are like really good friends, teammates and sisters.”
Williams said what she learned from Samuelson and Collier will not only help her now, but in the rest of her career.
“Just good leadership roles,” Williams said on what she learned from the seniors. “So that when I get older, I can do what they do and help the freshmen that’ll be here when I’m there.”
Despite the fact that practices are so difficult, Williams looks forward to each and every practice because of the invaluable lessons head coach Geno Auriemma, the assistant coaches and teammates teach her.
As for Nelson-Ododa, adjusting to the day-to-day life as a student athlete has been challenging, but she credits her teammates with helping her. And she said each day she walks into practice, it is like she is living out a dream.
“Sometimes it’s surreal just to be in this gym where so many great players have practiced,” Nelson-Ododa said. “You see the banners every single day- the All-Americans, Players of the Year, everything- it’s amazing. To have the opportunity to come here every single day to practice and coming here to work hard, it’s great.”
Once the team takes the court Sunday against Vanguard in Gampel Pavilion, Nelson-Ododa said she is willing to help the team in any way necessary.
Megan Walker’s Progression
At the American Conference Media Day in October, Auriemma raved about Walker’s progression and the “need” for her to become the next great UConn player. After practice Friday, Walker spoke about what she saw improve in her game.
“I feel like I can finish around the basket a lot more efficiently and my three-point shot has increased,” Walker said. “I still have to work on defense, but just turning that corner and feeling more comfortable on the court, I feel like I can accomplish a lot of things.”
Last season, she averaged 15.5 minutes and 5.8 points per game. Those numbers are anticipated to increase dramatically because she will likely be a starter.
Trip to West Point
On Thursday Oct. 25, UConn traveled to West Point to meet with members of the Army West Point women’s basketball team and to better understand the day-to-day lives of those who chose to serve the country.
“It was amazing,” Samuelson said. “It puts it into perspective how, you know, you feel like you’re sacrificing and you work hard everyday but they’re putting their lives on the line.”
Samuelson discussed what the trip taught her and how she hopes to apply those lessons to the basketball court.
“You have to really count on your teammates out there and if you’re not holding up your end of the bargain you’re going to get killed out there,” Samuelson said. “And that’s the biggest thing- they’re not afraid to take chances, they’re not afraid to fall down because they’re going to get back up… I think a lot of us took a lot out of it. I’m excited to hopefully use that as motivation [and] use that on the court as much as we can.”
Auriemma said the experience was eye opening for the team.
“I think the experience of being in an environment where so much is expected of you every minute of every day...they came away from there shaken to their bone,” Auriemma said. “[They] can’t believe how hard it must be for these guys, my age, to come out of high school right away and be in that environment and what the expectation level is.”
Both players and coach Auriemma said practice on the day of media availability went well but there is still a long way to go. The team has to make major adjustments and they understand success won’t happen overnight.
“This team is really different,” Samuelson said. “We have a lot of players that don’t necessarily have experience playing in games and close games and tough situations, so we have a lot to kind of makeup for.”
Because it is the beginning of the season, practices can be grueling, especially for young and inexperienced players.
“We’ve had our ups and downs like any team,” Samuelson said. “There’s always going to be ups and downs especially at the beginning of the year. Practices are tough and they’re tougher than they’re ever going to be.”
Overall, Samuelson displayed positivity for the team.
“I think we have a really good group that’s fighting every day,” Samuelson said.