On Thursday, UConn women’s basketball head coach Geno Auriemma and members of the team talked to the media for the first time since early August—and more importantly, for the first time since the NCAA announced that the men’s and women’s college basketball seasons can start on Nov. 25.
The theme of the day: excitement.
“It was definitely very exciting,” junior center Olivia Nelson-Ododa said about the announcement. “Just to have that concrete date, to know this is when it starts, and something to look forward to was really good news to hear.”
“We’ve been here since July, and we didn’t know if we were going to have a season or not,” junior guard Christyn Williams added. “So just to have that date was very exciting for us. It was like a sense of relief.”
Auriemma said that it was really tough to set any type of goals for the team going into the season because they had no idea whether the season was even going to happen. But after getting the start date for games and the Oct. 14 date when full practices can begin, he and the coaching staff were able to start making plans to truly prepare for the season.
“[The NCAA announcement] gave us an opportunity to build our calendar,” Auriemma said. “So far, leading up to the 14th — 13 days from today — we have a pretty good idea of where we want to go, what we want to do and how we want to do it.”
‘Ok, we got a plan now. Now it’s definite.’
He said it’s definitely going to be a challenge with seven players on the roster who have never played a game for UConn before. But he knows there’s plenty of time to prepare, and he really likes this group.
“We’re not going to be as good at as many things as we were in past years, but at a few things, we’ll be just as good as we’ve ever been,” Auriemma said.
One of those things, he said, is competitiveness. According to Auriemma, the six freshmen and Tennessee transfer Evina Westbrook are “extremely competitive” players who “don’t back down to anybody.”
As far as the schedule goes, nobody knows the exact dates of games yet, where those games will be played or the circumstances under which they will be played (a bubble, no fans, etc.). But Auriemma said as of right now, he knows there are going to be 20 Big East games. And as far as he’s heard, the big non-conference games against Notre Dame, Baylor, South Carolina and Tennessee are still on as well.
The how and the when are secondary questions, though. Just the fact that the NCAA officially came out and said there was going to be a season was huge for the spirit of the team.
“[Our players] kept hearing that there’s going to be a season, but they didn’t know when,” Auriemma said. “And then when you see fall sports being canceled … it does start to make you wonder, ‘Is basketball going to be the next shoe to drop?’ So when that date came out, there was a sense of bounce in their step, like, ‘Ok, we got a plan now. Now it’s definite.’ … The feeling was very noticeable, upbeat.”
Perhaps no player is more excited to get on the court this season than Westbrook, who had to sit out last season due to transfer rules and had to rehab a knee injury along the way. For her, getting that confirmation of a season meant so much.
“I haven’t played for like two years, going through my surgery, sitting out, watching,” Westbrook said. “So I’m really, really eager to get out there. But at the same time, I’m taking practices as if they’re games. I know my first game is going to be a really big game for me, but I also have to be there for my teammates. I have to lead for my teammates … For me, once I heard that date, I’m like, ‘Ok, it’s getting real.’”
It’s getting real for everyone. College basketball is coming at the end of November, and the anticipation from coaches, players and fans is through the roof.