When freshmen join the 11x champion UConn women’s basketball team, it’s not often that they make a considerable impact from day one. It takes a certain type of player to change the structure and attitude of a team from the moment they set foot on campus. But KK Arnold, the most energetic person at the media tables at Big East Media Day in Madison Square Garden, is clearly not a normal freshman.
She changes the way the Huskies function in a number of ways, starting with her persona and energy. With the amount of laudation she’s received from those around the program, it should surprise nobody if she makes a considerable impact this year.
For her work so far on the court, Arnold has garnered high praise from head coach Geno Auriemma, something that’s rare.
“KK gives us an element in the backcourt that we haven’t had these past couple of years,” Auriemma continued. “That changes our dynamic…We haven’t had that kind of quickness and that kind of electricity in our backcourt. Nika [Mühl] has it, but when the two of them are in there together, it’s double. She speeds things up, offensively and defensively. She doesn’t have the experience that Nika does, but if you can believe it, she’s more aggressive than Nika, which is hard to do. That’s what I love about that kid.”
It may be hard to believe that anyone can deliver more aggression than Mühl, widely regarded as one of the top effort players in the nation. But Mühl sees a lot of herself in Arnold and has even played a large role in mentoring the freshman.
“She’s amazing,” Mühl said of Arnold. “She reminds me of me when I came here so much. I try to take her under my wing and try to tell her advice that I’ve been hearing every day since I came here. She’s honestly a little burst of energy, a little social butterfly and she brings such a great, positive energy.”
Mühl’s praise for the Germantown, Wisconsin-native stretches onto the court too.
“She definitely adds a lot of energy,” the senior noted. “She’s an amazing defensive player. But offensively, too, she’s so smart, reads the floor so well, asks questions and is curious. Ever since day one, she’s been improving herself and bringing the same things every single day.”
Also sharing Mühl’s sentiment is 2021 National POTY Paige Bueckers, who has been impressed with Arnold.
“KK is a joy to play with,” Bueckers mentioned. “The energetic person you see up on this stage [at MSG] is who she is as a basketball player as well. [She’s] extremely fast, extremely quick, extremely aggressive, offensively and defensively. She creates a lot of havoc…and is really fun to play with.”
Part of what has helped Arnold make such a splash is how welcoming her teammates were from the get-go.
“When I first came in, they were super open, which made me feel a sense of comfortability around them,” Arnold said of the team. “It makes me feel more comfortable to do stuff and be myself.”
As for getting up to speed to the college level, a tall task for any freshman, it certainly helps to have such seasoned veterans to look up to.
“It’s been a pretty good adjustment,” noted Arnold. “Having upperclassmen to learn from, it’s a relief for me that I can step back and learn the game of college basketball.”
A person in particular who has helped Arnold has been Mühl, her mentor. Perhaps more than anything, there’s the excitement of sharing the floor with a player who matches her passion and fire.
“We [Arnold and Mühl] bring a lot of energy, and it’s very exciting to be on the court at the same time as her,” said Arnold. “It’s the defensive energy, knowing we can maybe get a steal or help our team get on offense faster.”
Another key part of being a freshman is overcoming making mistakes and understanding that dwelling on them isn’t beneficial in the short term. Arnold evidently has the mindset to not let this issue impact her.
“Of course [mistakes] bother me, but I don’t let that affect my next plays,” she noted. “We all make mistakes, we’re all going to make mistakes, especially with me being a freshman this year, but I can’t let that affect me or affect the next play.”
Along with the contributions Arnold has provided on the court, she’s been doing her part in contributing to championship-level chemistry.
“It’s been pretty good,” Arnold said of the team’s chemistry so far. “I’m a goofy person off the court, so I do a lot of tiktoking and everything; I open them up a bit. It’s been super fun on and off the court.”
Among those that she’s helped open up are a few of her fellow freshmen.
“Definitely Ashlynn [Shade] or Qadence [Samuels],” Arnold noted on those with who she’s gotten involved. “Qadence got out of her shell – we do a lot of tiktoks that help us, but Ashlynn’s way more out of her shell.”
In culmination, her early efforts on and off the floor have set her apart from the pack in a big way.
“There are certain freshmen who come in, and they set themselves apart immediately,” Auriemma posed. “For different reasons, it could be competitiveness, energy level, high level of talent, maturity level. We’ve had our share of them over the years. I do think she’s capable of being one of those freshmen.”
With the season just a few days away, the world will get the chance to see just how much Arnold brings to this Husky squad that is hungry for their first championship in nearly a decade. If they’re going to accomplish their goals, Arnold will need to be a key figure in some capacity, a role she is more than capable of filling.