Since 2010, there have been hundreds of amazing, talented and hardworking athletes that encapsulated everything a UConn Husky is supposed to be. People outside of the state often think of Connecticut for its state university’s greatness in athletics, with basketball as the obvious headliner. For this list, I’ve decided to select the student athletes that defined UConn’s athletic success over the course of the last decade.
It wouldn’t be possible to start this list with any other Husky than Stewie. Her accolades all speak for themselves. Four Final Four Most Outstanding Player awards, three Naismith awards, three AP Player of the Year awards, three Conference Player of the Year awards, two Wooden Awards and the list goes on. She’s second on UConn’s all-time scoring list, fourth in rebounds and first in blocks. Perhaps her most impressive statistic is the team’s 151-5 record and whopping four National Championships.
For as dominant of an individual player as Stewart was, it was the success of the team as a whole that was really important. UConn women’s basketball was labeled as “unfair” or “bad for the sport” because they were so dominant that it didn’t seem like other teams even had a chance. That all started with how unstoppable Stewart was on the court.
Off the court, Stewart has been just as impactful. She has advocated for women’s abortion rights, wage equality for women’s athletes and is the face of the #MeToo movement in sports. Her website, breannastewart.com is dedicated to her advocacy. What she has done inside and outside of the world of basketball makes me proud to say that I attended the same university as Breanna Stewart.
Phee and Lou
Much like Stewart, Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson defined an era of UConn women’s basketball. They won a National Championship in 2016 during their freshman and Stewart’s senior year, and then led the Huskies to three straight Final Fours. They also made a tremendous impact on UConn’s record books. Collier finished her UConn career third in points, fourth in rebounds, seventh in blocks and recorded the most rebounds by a Husky in a single season. Samuelson finished fifth in points and second in 3-pointers made while maintaining an awesome 41.5 3-point percentage, then went on to win WNBA Rookie of the Year after being selected fourth overall.
Collier and Samuelson’s time here resulted in just the one title their freshman year, and then three straight Final Four exits. Though their UConn legacy may not be leading teams to National Championships, it is still one of many great successes. With the departure of Stewart, Geno Auriemma had to find new star players, and those stars were Collier and Samuelson. When most sports teams lose an all-time great player like Stewart, they aren’t supposed to be contenders the next year. Collier and Samuelson were able to keep the Huskies relevant at the end of the Stewart era, and that in itself is an extremely important accomplishment.
Auriemma’s Role Players
Calling the likes of Morgan Tuck, Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams “role players” doesn’t speak to the loads and loads of talent those players had. They played on the same teams as Stewart, Collier and Samuelson, so naturally they had to settle into a different type of role than they may have had on other teams. Tuck, Nurse and Williams would’ve been the focal points of any other women’s basketball program in the country, which speaks to just how stacked UConn has been.
Tuck was the complementary piece to Stewart in her time at UConn. Her first two seasons were plagued by injury, but in her last two she was top three on the Huskies in scoring and rebounding, and by her senior year was top three in assists. She was drafted third overall by Connecticut’s own CT Sun.
Nurse was the epitome of the UConn point guard. She kept the ball moving, pushed the pace and punished teams that crashed on the bigs with lights out 3-point shooting. By her senior year, she was shooting threes at a remarkable 46.2% rate.
Williams, like Tuck, was a do-all forward, but her most valuable asset was her lock-up defense. In 2017, she was the Women’s Basketball Coaches Associations’ Defensive Player of the Year as well as Conference Defensive Player of the Year. She also led the team in assists, was third in points and recorded the fifth triple-double in UConn history.
The Legendary Guards of UConn Men’s Basketball
Looking back through the decade, the men’s basketball teams have always been led by dynamic scoring guards. Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, Jalen Adams and now with Christian Vital and Alterique Gilbert. Walker deserves the very first mention for obvious reasons. That 11-game run his junior year in 2011 had the most magical moments I’ve ever witnessed in sports. Lamb and Napier, both freshmen, made major contributions too, but this team was obviously Walker’s. The stepback against Pitt, the overtime victory over Syracuse and taking down the Goliath known as Louisville in the Big East Championship just started the remarkable run. In the NCAA Tournament, he kept willing his team past great foes such as Cincinnati, San Diego State, Arizona, Kentucky and his current NBA coach Brad Stevens’ Butler team. The Huskies started the season unranked and then won it all. All thanks to Kemba.
Then three years later, Napier took what he learned from Walker about leading the way to a National Championship. Like Walker, he had his clutch moment with a crazy bank-shot buzzer beater over Florida on one of the more chaotic final sequences I’ve ever seen. Napier’s game thrived in chaos. Napier and Boatright made up a dangerous backcourt that could score in bunches. They led yet another improbable UConn team to the title, which was Napier’s second as a Husky.
Adams, Vital and Gilbert are UConn’s more recent great guards. While they didn’t find the same success as the ones before them, Vital and Gilbert have the Huskies off to a hot start this year. Adams was immortalized by his freshman year thanks to a near-full court shot to force yet another overtime against Cincinnati in the conference quarterfinal game. UConn won that game in four overtimes, then went on to win the conference championship.
Charlotte Veitner and the Field Hockey Class of 2017
UConn is much more than just a basketball school. Nancy Stevens has made UConn a field hockey powerhouse, winning three National Championships this decade. Two of those titles are in large part due to Veitner. Her 118 goals, 62 assists and 298 points are all at the top of UConn field hockey’s loaded record book. She saw the legendary standard set by UConn field hockey and was somehow able to elevate it. The 2017 National Championship capped off an undefeated season during Veitner’s senior year.
Veitner also had a lot of help from other very talented players in her class. Maureen Schott, Karlie Heistand, Casey Umstead and goalkeeper Nina Klein were among some of the best players in the entire country, and they were all on the same team for four years. They lost only six games over those years, winning four Big East and two National Championships.
Springer is the pride and joy of UConn baseball. He led them to two straight Big East Championship games in 2010 and 2011 but fell short in both. In 2011, he led them on an impressive run through the NCAA Clemson Regional Tournament to qualify the Huskies for their first ever Super Regionals. They were bounced in the first round by No. 4 South Carolina.
Besides leading the Huskies the deepest they’ve ever been in postseason play, he also left a huge mark on the record books: 2011 Big East Player of the Year, First Team All-American, broke the UConn records in runs scored and home runs, is second all-time in total bases, stolen bases, RBIs and hits and ranks third in doubles, triples and walks. He went on to be the highest drafted UConn baseball player ever at 11th overall by the Houston Astros, where he won a World Series MVP in 2017.