BUMPS AND BRUISES
competitive this year,” Williams said. “It was competitive last year, but it’s really competitive this year. So that’s something that we needed.”
UConn will debut its squad next Friday at the annual First Night celebration, performing in front of a crowd of students and media. The team will also play a closed scrimmage against a undisclosed Division I opponent sometime between First Night and its exhibition game with Fort Hayes State on Nov. 7 at Gampel Pavilion.
The Huskies open the season hosting Arkansas on Nov. 14 at the XL Center.
What did we learn from the first day of practice?
Auriemma said a handful of players are still recovering from minor injuries over the summer and are limited for practice.
While Williams said she feels “100%” after undergoing ulnar nerve transposition surgery in July, some players are still healing: Redshirt freshman Saylor Poffenbarger (back), Juhasz (quad/leg), Paige Bueckers (wrist), Aubrey Griffin (back) and Mir McLean (knee tendinitis).
AZZI FUDD, HUSKY GUARD AND CHIPOTLE AMBASSADOR
Fudd said she was excited to be back with teammates after last seeing everyone early in the summer for conditioning. After winning a gold medal with the U19 Team USA at the World Cup, Fudd said there is some nervousness as she starts her collegiate career, but she is excited to do it alongside her fellow freshmen.
“I don’t really feel any pressure. I think I’m nervous just to perform well but those are like intrinsic nerves, if that makes sense,” She said. “But I don’t really feel any pressure from anyone or anyone else, it’s just I want to do well.”
As for her endorsement deal with Chipotle — UConn’s most high-profile name, image and likeness activity — Fudd says her current go-to order is either steak or chicken tacos although she is normally “a bowl kinda girl.” The 18year-old has a card with the chain that allows her to get free food whenever she wants.
One drawback? The closest location is in Manchester, almost a 30-minute drive from Storrs.
“I like Chipotle so I thought that would be a really cool deal,” Fudd said. “I’m really excited with what’s happening with them.”
PAIGE BUECKERS, YEAR 2
Auriemma said while Bueckers has gotten bigger and stronger over the summer, she’s the same player and person she as a freshman. She’s just more comfortable.
“She’s still the same annoying person that she was last year,” Auriemma said jokingly. “She’s never fouled anybody, she’s never made a mistake, she’s never thrown the ball away. She’s never missed the shot where she didn’t get fouled. She’s never fouled anybody. So she hasn’t changed. She hasn’t changed one iota.”
But he added, “She’s a little bigger. She’s a little stronger, her body is starting to mature a little bit. And there’s a little bit of a comfort level that she has walking around. It’s like, I don’t know that she feels like she has to prove anything to anybody. So I think that’s the maturity that the growth that she’s made.”
Bueckers didn’t get a lot of time to train and practice this summer because she was recovering from her ankle surgery following last year’s postseason. She also had some wrist pain during the summer.
But Auriemma said despite her lack of practice time, she remains one of the hardest working players on the court.
“She hasn’t had the full offseason that, you would think, is when kids make the most progress,” Auriemma said. “So she might still not be exactly where she’s going to be come December 1 . ... Now, people don’t realize how hard she works. She might work harder than anybody on the team.”
DEPTH ON PAPER AND ON THE COURT
With Westbook deciding to stay back for her fifth year of eligibility and the addition of a deeply talented freshmen class, the Huskies have plenty of talent from the front to the back of the roster. Both Auriemma and Westbrook said the extra depth has heightened intensity and competition at workouts, with players knowing minutes will be earned and not given this season.
“But that’s why we’re so close. I can cuss out whoever and go at whoever and they’re going to do the same to me but afterwards we’re, ‘Hey, what’s for dinner?’ ” Westbrook said. “We’re at each other’s throats because we know that’s what’s going to make us better. We’re arguing out there and a couple hours later, once everyone cools down, it’s like, ‘We’re going to Olive Garden tonight or we’re going to hibachi? Which one?’ ”
Like Westbrook, Juhasz brings experience and maturity to the team after spending the past four years with Ohio State.
“Dorka’s great. She’s a great teammate. She’s a great kid,” Auriemma said. “She wants to be really, really good. She’s longer than I thought. She’s more skilled than I thought . .... I’m really, really, really glad that she’s here. She could be like the difference that puts us right into that other level.”
Outside of Fudd, UConn’s freshmen class — Caroline Ducharme and Amari DeBerry — will also look to challenge veteran players and compete for minutes.
“Amari, she’s huge, so obviously she will add really good arm space down low and rebounding and defending,” Fudd said. “Caroline is a sneaky player who ... does a lot of stuff that people don’t realize — shooting, rebounding.”