By Carl Adamec
WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — Geno Auriemma heard the talk and read the stories about how his duties as the United States women’s senior national team coach would only hurt the University of Connecticut.
That was April, 2009.
“USA Basketball is going to be the demise of our recruiting. I just hope it keeps hurting us like it has the last three or four years,” Auriemma said with full sarcasm Monday.
Three of the Huskies’ four incoming freshmen — Sadie Edwards, Courtney Ekmark, and Gabby Williams — did volunteer work at Auriemma’s Fore the Kids fundraising tournament at Hartford Golf Club Monday. Edwards and Williams were 2014 McDonald’s All-Americans. Ekmark, the 2013 Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year, probably would have been if she had played high school ball her final year instead of being home schooled. UConn’s fourth incoming freshman, Kia Nurse, figures to be on the roster for the Canadian senior national team this fall at the FIBA world championships.
A source confirmed on Tuesday that Nurse and Team Canada will take on Team USA in an exhibition game Sept. 15 at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn.
Looking ahead, UConn has already received oral commitments from three of the top 10 players in ESPN Hoopgurlz Class of 2015 rankings: No. 1 Katie Lou Samuelson (6-foot-3 wing, Huntington Beach, Calif.), No. 5 Napheesa Collier (6-1 forward, O’Fallon, Mo.), and No. 10 De’Janae Boykin (6-2 forward, Springdale, Md.).
Auriemma cannot comment on a specific recruit until she has signed a letter of intent. But the Hall of Fame coach did note the Huskies’ staff did as much work as ever in targeting players in the Class of 2015 and Class of 2016 since he will be with Team USA from the start of training camp in Annapolis, Md., on Sept. 7 until the end of the world championships in Turkey on Oct. 5.
“We did a lot during the spring and it paid off. We did a lot last winter and it paid off,” Auriemma said. “The kids know that I’m not going to be around in September. When I get back that first week of October we’ll pick up right from there.”
A new NCAA rule allowing high school juniors to take official recruiting visits starting April 1 of their junior year came in at a perfect time for UConn. The coaching staff pinpointed four top recruits it believed would be willing to commit early and had them in for visits the weekend of April 18-20.
Collier announced her decision on April 20 and Boykin made hers public on May 4, her 17th birthday. Samuelson announced she would attend UConn on May 19. The fourth recruit, guard Haley Gorecki, made an oral commitment to Duke on April 22.
“Some people took advantage of it and some people didn’t,” Auriemma said of the rule change. “Some people thought it was a great idea and some people didn’t think it was a great idea.
“To me, the biggest advantage of the rule change is that you can have contact with the kids earlier. You can find out at an earlier age whether there’s an interest or not. You’re not wasting all this time recruiting someone then find out at the last minute that it was for nothing. Now you find out right away — I want this kid or I don’t, or this kid wants us or doesn’t want us.”
Since a recruit can take only one official visit to a particular school, UConn may have gambled a bit by having four top targets on campus early in the process. The Huskies don’t feel that way though because they feel that they did their homework.
“We’ve always been pretty good at identifying who we think we can get and then working really hard to get them up to school and get them involved here,” Auriemma said. “For us, once we get them on campus and once they’ve spent enough time around our players the rest is not that difficult.”
Landing Georgetown transfer Natalie Butler (6-5 sophomore center, Fairfax Station, Va.) significantly helped the recruiting landscape as it filled UConn’s need for a post presence. Butler, the 2014 Big East Freshman of the Year with the Hoyas, will have three years of eligibility beginning in the 2014-15 season.
The list of UConn’s Class of 2015 targets appears to be down to two — Asia Durr (5-10 guard, Douglasville, Ga.) and Arike Ogunbowale (5-9 guard, Milwaukee, Wisc.). Durr and Ogunbowale are in the Czech Republic this week with the USA U-17 national team taking part in the world championships alongside Samuelson and Boykin. Ogunbowale will also join the three UConn commits for the U-18 3×3 championships to be held as part of the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, Aug. 16-28.
If the Huskies do not add to the Class of 2015, they will have at least five scholarships available for the Class of 2016. They are known to have interest in U-17 team members Lauren Cox (6-4 center, Flower Mound, Texas), Sabrina Ionescu (5-11 guard, Walnut Creek, Calif.), Natalie Chou (6-1 guard/forward, Plano, Texas), and Nancy Mulkey (6-9 center, Cypress, Texas), as well as U-17 trials participants Crystal Dangerfield (5-4 guard, Murfreesboro, Tenn.), Erin Boley (6-2 forward, Elizabethtown, Ky.), Tori McCoy (6-4 center, Champaign, Ill.) and Jackie Young (6-1 forward, Princeton, Ind.) among others.
As far as Auriemma’s USA duties hurting UConn? In the five seasons (2010-14) since Auriemma was named the national team coach the Huskies are 183-11 with three national championships and five Final Four appearances. In the previous five seasons (2005-09), the Huskies were 164-19 with one national championship and two Final Four berths.