Saturday afternoon was not the prototypical senior day for the UConn women’s basketball program as they honored Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier in front of a sold-out crowd that included former Los Angeles Laker and UConn superfan Kobe Bryant. They also did something that they have never done before - retire a number.
Rebecca Lobo’s number 50 was erected at Gampel Pavilion and will never be worn again by another UConn Husky. It is something that she has looked forward to, but did not expect to happen.
“I didn’t think that they ever would retire our jerseys because there wouldn’t be very many left,” Lobo, who scored 2,133 points at UConn, said before the ceremony. “Because of all the accomplishments of so many people … I know it’s going to be fun over the next 10 to 15 years to watch all of the other numbers that are going to get retired as well.”
It is fitting that Lobo is the first player to have her number retired at UConn. After all, she led the storied program to its first undefeated season and national championship in 1995. Head coach Geno Auriemma said Lobo put UConn on the map nationally, but Auriemma said if they did not have some success before her, he is not sure she would have come to Storrs.
“If Kerry (Bascom) had never come here, we may not have been in position to ever make Rebecca feel like, ‘I think they can do it,’” Auriemma said. “Because she was our first nationally recognized recruit, so everybody in the country went, ‘she’s going where?’ People were shocked, ‘she’s going to Connecticut?’ That kind of put us in a different ball park that we had been operating in before.”
There have been too many remarkable talents to come through Storrs to count. Thus, the requirement to have your number retired, is to make it into the Hall of Fame, which Lobo was inducted into in Apr. 2017.
Auriemma said that Lobo has become a terrific ambassador for the UConn women’s basketball program during and after her time as a Husky. She has built an outstanding career commentating women’s basketball games on ESPN. But she has not let the fame get to her. She was taking pictures with fans during the third quarter for close to a half an hour.
“How ever many boxes a full life consists of, she’s checked them all,” Auriemma said of her accomplishments. “You name it and she’s done it, in a way that she continues to be where she started. She’s in the spotlight. She’s having to handle media attention. She’s giving interviews, she’s interviewing, she’s doing what she did when she was here. She’s allowing everybody to see, ‘yeah, you know basketball players are pretty intelligent people.’ They are not just guys who run up and down the floor and score and then go watch soap operas or whatever they did back then when she was playing.”
The entire team stayed during the halftime ceremony as Lobo’s number was retired. Crystal Dangerfield said that it was special for her to take in the moment.
“(Lobo) said she couldn’t see herself in another uniform here,” Dangerfield said. “That’s kind of big in my eyes because that’s the same thing I’ve said. When you come to Connecticut, you know you are supposed to be here. She had a great career and she’s somebody I love talking to. She’s great, I’m happy for her.”
Former teammate Carla Berube said she would have loved to be here, but she is coaching Tufts University on its quest for a national championship. Berube said the mark she left on UConn is unlike any other.
“She just changed things at UConn as far as big-time players just wanted to come there when she was there,” Berube said. “But she was a great teammate. She was a great friend. She was a great captain. She was a great role model. You wanted to play hard for her and she was the star, but also very unselfish.”
Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson added to “Huskies of Honor”
Collier and Samuelson’s names were added to the “Huskies of Honor” prior to the game Saturday afternoon due to their remarkable careers. During their time in Storrs, the duo have combined for the most points (4,457) between classmates.
Auriemma said that they are not only special players, but special people who have made each other better as their careers have gone on.
“You can sit down and talk to them about whatever it is you want to talk to them about and they get it, they see it,” Auriemma said. “They are able to interact with everybody on the team. They are great with people that they meet. Everybody that they meet falls in love with them because the way that they are with them. They are the kind of kids you want to bring home with you.”
Samuelson has scored 2,259 points during her career at UConn, which is good for fourth all-time. The California-native has been known for her 3-point prowess, but she has become more well rounded as her career has gone on.
“I’ve developed more as a basketball player than I could have ever imagined coming here,” Samuelson said. “ I’ve been able to do things that I didn’t know were possible.”
Collier, who is certainly a candidate for the National Player of the Year, has the fifth-most points (2,198) and rebounds (1,110) of all time in a Husky uniform. Collier said playing for UConn has exceeded all of her expectations.
“Going through an experience like this, it really brings you together because you’re all pretty much suffering together,” Collier said. “Especially at the beginning where practices are hard and coach is getting on you or you’re not having a good game or even a good season or something like that. That kind of struggle really brings people together. So the relationships that you form here are definitely different, I think, than anywhere else or any other aspect of your life.”
Michael Logan is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.