The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
Fudd’s parents reflect on freshman season
For Katie Fudd, it finally sunk in when she saw her daughter Azzi run out of the players’ tunnel ahead of the UConn women’s basketball team’s season-opening game against Arkansas in November.
This is what Azzi had always wanted.
Katie and her husband Tim have poured themselves into supporting their daughter’s basketball career. They coached her and stood by her side when she tore her ACL her sophomore year in high school, and again when the COVID-19 pandemic robbed her of portions of both her junior and senior seasons.
The 5-foot-11 guard went through all that and more for the chance to play at UConn. And here she was, doing so in her first college game.
“We were watching in I don’t know what grade, watching them (UConn) practice and kinda trying to help her figure out where she belonged and what would be a good fit and that was such a long process and journey that that was kinda my, ‘Wow. She’s here. Wow. This is happening,’ ” Katie told Hearst Connecticut Media over the phone Tuesday.
Katie and Tim have been with Azzi through it all, including her freshman season at UConn. Though it was a year filled with injury and adversity while managing the growth of Azzi’s brand, the parents are most proud of their daughter’s commitment to stay true to herself in everything she did.
“It’s everything that she’s worked for, and we’re the backbone of her support system,” Tim said.
Tim and Katie went to 34 of UConn women’s basketball’s 36 games last season. The only two they missed were the Huskies’ games at Georgia Tech and Butler.
They traveled all the way across the country to Oregon in January and to Minnesota for the Final Four in April. They spent time becoming friends with the other parents, standing and cheering not only for Azzi but for her teammates.
The two even created fan-like superstitions. Katie always wore the same outfit to every game: a UConn hoodie and T-shirt and a
pair of sweats. She washed the set in between games. Tim rotated through a selection of UConn Tshirts. If the team lost or Azzi didn’t have a particularly good night, he’d put that specific shirt back in the corner of his drawer and rotate it out of the selection.
“We’ve coached for so long, it is really a fun experience to get to go and just be parents,” Katie said.
For home games, whether at Gampel Pavilion or the XL Center, the two spent the nights at Katie’s dad’s house near campus. Fudd’s grandparents bought a house in Storrs after she committed to UConn.
The house has become an escape for Azzi and her teammates. If they need a break from each other or just the constant stress of school and basketball, they come to the house for a home-cooked meal and peace.
Katie and Tim — both former college basketball players — provided as much support for their daughter’s teammates as they do for Azzi. Whether that’s opening their house for them or recognizing when a player is down and needs to be picked up.
“Dorka ( Juhász) doesn’t have her family here,” Katie said. “If she didn’t have a good game or she seems down like I can see her body language doesn’t look great or her eyes look down, I’ll be like, ‘Hey, let’s go to dinner.’ ”
It’s that sense of encouragement and support that has brought the Fudd family closer together this past season.
Katie and Tim both agree that Azzi has become more independent this past year. She’s learned how to advocate for what she believes in and stay true to herself throughout both her and the team’s adversity. She played the first four games of the season before a foot injury forced her to sit out for two months. Azzi was one of 10 players on the team to miss at least two games or more due to injury or illness.
“It was figuring out who she is in this whole thing,” said Katie, who played at Georgetown. “Your freshman year is eye-opening on you’re coming in, you’re competing with teammates but you’re competing for your teammates and figuring out how she can best help the team.
“But then being injured, figuring out how to selfadvocate with that and knowing that it is OK to say ‘I can’t go today.’ Like, ‘I’m injured, I’m not just hurting.’ She’ll play through anything, so she has to realize when it’s a detriment to what she’s doing versus she can just tough it out. That’s a big thing.”
But amid it all — recovering from her injury, adjusting to the heavy demands of college basketball and managing her brand — that’s when she and her parents got even closer.
“There’s a level of independence with a lot of the stuff that’s going on in young kids, especially student-athletes today, NIL opportunities, but for us, I think it brought us even closer as a family unit because we just found ourselves just pitching in and trying to help her as much as we could with her schedule, her NIL stuff, not necessarily getting deals, but just managing the day-today stuff,” Tim said.
On the court, Azzi was putting in the behind-thescenes work to get her body back to being healthy. She lifted. She biked. She worked on her ball-handling. She rehabbed her foot and spent practices shooting from a chair. The team doctors, coaches, and she and her parents came up with a timeline to get her back on the court as soon as possible.
On Jan. 25, a day before UConn’s game against DePaul, Azzi participated in the team’s full practice for the first time since November. She felt good and was cleared to play. She called her parents with the good news on their way to the airport ahead of their flight to Chicago.
“She called us after practice and was really happy, giddy, which brought joy to us because we hadn’t heard that,” Tim said. “You could just hear it, that sound in her voice told you a lot.”
Azzi played 23 minutes against DePaul, scoring 15 points and recording three steals, one assist and one rebound. She played in UConn’s final 20 games of the season, starting 17 of them.
“Our mantra to her was every day you just go do what you can do, like go be the best you possible, and then it’s out of your hands,” Katie said. “Do everything that you can in your power to get yourself ready to play. So when you’re back, you’re ready to go.
“She did a really good job of that because it’s easy to wallow in self-pity for anyone who gets injured in the season … It’s easy to be like, ‘Oh, this all sucks,’ and kinda just get down about it but she did a really good job just staying upbeat and staying positive and focusing on the end goal of being back on the court.”
While Azzi worked on the court, her parents provided help off it when it came to building her brand with NIL opportunities. They took calls and managed relationships alongside her agent and her two-person marketing team. The marketing agents are family friends, and Tim has known one for over 30 years.
“We’ve grown closer together because we’ve become, along with her reps and us, we’ve become this team, right?” Tim said. “This is a team that is constantly collaborating, not necessarily her, but just like we talk all the time with her agent and there’s a constant go-between for her which alleviates a lot of stress and responsibility that go into making her decisions.”
“It’s a lot that goes into it, but she probably sees 20 percent of it of what goes in because there’s a strong buffer there so that she’s not overwhelmed and her priorities are staying focused on the things that she needs to focus on: academics and basketball,” he added.
Katie and Tim field the calls and arrangements from brands while Azzi makes the ultimate decisions on who she signs with. The intimacy of her team allows the 19-year-old to feel comfortable finding just the right companies to partner with who align with her beliefs.
“It’s not like a scientific thing, it’s really just a feel for her,” Katie said. “Like, ‘I like these people. I like what they stand for. It feels like a place I would fit in. I like how the company puts themselves out there and that aligns with the stuff that I like and how I feel about myself. So let’s go for it.’ ”
Azzi, the No. 1 overall ranked recruit in the class of 2021, has signed NIL deals with Chipotle, American Eagle, Bartleby, TIAA, and BioSteel and was in a TikTok commercial with Allen Iverson. She also partnered with NBA star Stephen Curry’s personal brand, SC30 Inc., for a sponsorship deal and personal mentoring from Curry.
She has over 204,000 followers on Instagram and over 13,200 on Twitter.
Tim and Katie are most proud of their daughter for staying true to herself and remaining humble throughout not only all the attention and responsibility of becoming a high-profile athlete, but for also processing such an up-anddown freshman season.
“We all wished she would have played the whole season but having a chopped-up season like she had and then coming back and having a significant impact on the team’s success I think was tremendous growth for her and it points to exactly that, her staying grounded in who she is and working her way in and out of situations,” Tim said.
Said Katie, “She stuck it out. She’s never cared what other people think. She’s like, ‘I’m gonna do me. I’m gonna be the best me possible.’ She’s stayed true to who she is. She didn’t get enamored with the big lights and all the hype.”