BY CARL ADAMEC
In his more than a quarter-century as the women’s basketball coach at the University of Connecticut, Geno Auriemma has seen it all.
So nothing has surprised him about his latest version of the Huskies through four days of practice.
“It’s been the same thing you see every year four days in,” Auriemma said Tuesday during UConn’s media day at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs. “There’s been some really good stuff from the group and some things that make you realize that you have to keep coming to practice every day.”
The Huskies return four starters and four more veterans from last season’s 33-5 club. They are also incorporating three freshmen into the mix — Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart, and Morgan Tuck.
Stewart was the nation’s No. 1 recruit as a senior at Cicero-North Syracuse (N.Y.) High.
“I’m definitely learning a lot,” Stewart said. “Kelly Faris and our other teammates showed us some of the drills before we started practice so we were more comfortable in what we were doing. That first practice I was nervous but I think I’m settling in.”
Stewart hasn’t had to wait long to hear some choice words from Auriemma.
“I wouldn’t say he yelled, it was more like constructive criticism,” Stewart said with a laugh. “It wasn’t about big things, but little things that he wanted to get me to do. And I’m going to do them.”
The Huskies play the first of their two exhibition games Nov. 2 against Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The regular season opener is Nov. 11 against College of Charleston.
As usual, expectations are high.
“If everyone expected us to go to the Final Four and contend for a national championship without Maya Moore, isn’t the expectation level this year to go undefeated and win every game by 100?” Auriemma said with just a hint of sarcasm.
“So, I might as well say, ‘Yeah, that’s what we’re going to do.’ ”
UConn guards Jefferson and All-American Bria Hartley did not practice Tuesday.
Hartley hurt her left ankle at the FIBA 3×3 world championships in Athens, Greece in late August. She had treatment and tried to play through any pain. But the pain began to increase last week and she’s been held out. The results of an MRI revealed no structural damage and Auriemma hopes to have his All-American back in a couple of days.
“When I was playing I was in a good amount of pain,” Hartley said. “They’re just a little worried because it’s been awhile and it hasn’t been getting better. So we’ll take a little bit of time off now.”
Hartley was wearing a boot Tuesday. She may be hurting a little but she still has her sense of humor.
“This is a fashion statement and I think it looks really good,” Hartley said with a smile.
Jefferson was held out due a groin injury suffered Monday. Auriemma hopes to have her back in action Thursday.
“It’s a little bit of a challenge right now,” Auriemma said “But other than that we’re pretty far along. It’s evident that you can see what’s possible. I wish we had everybody available right now so that we can move a little quicker. But we have a lot of time.”
The announcement Tuesday that UConn will be able to begin construction on the Basketball Development Center next to Gampel Pavilion was welcome news to Auriemma.
Then again, the Huskies have won seven national championships and been to 13 Final Fours without one.
“I haven’t heard yet what the date is that they’re starting the actual construction of the project,” Auriemma said. “But from a player’s standpoint it gives us a lot more flexibility. It gives us an opportunity to practice at times that are convenient for us, not when they’re convenient for the building, Gampel. We get a chance to maximize whatever talents our players have basketball-wise and academically.
“As far as anything else it’s just the wave of the future. That’s where everybody’s going. People do it for different reasons.
I just think that it would be a great addition for us because we need the space. We desperately need a place where we can practice whenever it works for us and our players and their schedules. It’s just a matter that it makes it easier for us.”
When he was asked if it would help in recruiting, Auriemma laughed and pointed out no high school player has asked about a practice facility the last 15 years.
“I’m not saying it’s not going to help,” Auriemma said. “But if kids went to a school because of practice facilities there’s a lot of schools around the country that would’ve won more championships because they have great practice facilities. They just don’t have great players.”
Completion of the facility is expected to take about 24 months once construction begins.