Ca­mara de­ter­mined to con­tribute more as a ju­nior

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - SPORTS - By Doug Bon­jour dbon­jour@ct­post.com; @DougBon­jour

STORRS — Ba­touly Ca­mara has learned the art of pa­tience.

More than two years af­ter trans­fer­ring from Ken­tucky to UConn, Ca­mara is still wait­ing to show what she’s truly ca­pa­ble of. The 6-foot-2 ju­nior re­mains some­thing of a mys­tery — an ag­gres­sive, phys­i­cal, big-bod­ied for­ward who has been be­set by in­juries and er­ratic play.

“She’s def­i­nitely try­ing to fig­ure out where she fits in,” se­nior guard Katie Lou Sa­muel­son said re­cently. “When she comes in and she knows that she needs to get some­one open, she does the best job of any­one. She prob­a­bly sets the hard­est screens I’ve ever seen. She’s work­ing hard and try­ing to find a way that she fits in.”

Ca­mara sat out the 201617 sea­son per NCAA rules af­ter trans­fer­ring, then strug­gled to get on to the court last year. Ham­pered by a right knee in­jury, she made a min­i­mal im­pact, av­er­ag­ing just 1.3 points and 1.3 re­bounds over 4.8 min­utes per game.

“I re­ally had to lean on my team­mates to say, ‘You’re here, we need you, you’re a vi­tal part of our team. What can you do to help us?’ ” Ca­mara said.

Ca­mara has ap­proached this year with re­newed en­thu­si­asm, in­sist­ing that she’s over­come many phys­i­cal and men­tal hurdles as­so­ci­ated with the in­jury. It helps that she sees an op­por­tu­nity to carve out a more de­fined role, one that could ben­e­fit the Huskies greatly as they look to get back to the Fi­nal Four for the 12th straight sea­son.

“She’s re­ally strong,” Sa­muel­son said. “I think some­times she doesn’t un­der­stand how strong she is. If she can come in there, get re­bounds and be that phys­i­cal pres­ence, we could re­ally use her.”

The Huskies need more grit and mus­cle in the post. That’s been ap­par­ent since April, when Azurá Stevens told them that she in­tended to leave for the WNBA a year early.

“I think that’s some­thing that my team­mates have kind of re­it­er­ated to me, that, ‘Ba­touly, we need you to screen, we need you to re­bound and get good looks (at the bas­ket) and do the in­tan­gi­bles,’” Ca­mara said.

Geno Auriemma orig­i­nally re­cruited Ca­mara, a New York na­tive, out of Blair Academy in New Jersey, be­liev­ing she could de­velop into a player ca­pa­ble of han­dling all those needs. Though she spent her first sea­son at Ken­tucky — av­er­ag­ing 5.1 points and 4.3 re­bounds across 33 games, in­clud­ing 14 starts — she ended up trans­fer­ring to UConn.

Af­ter in­jur­ing her knee in prac­tice, Ca­mara missed the first seven games of last sea­son. She played spar­ingly in her re­turn, log­ging more than 10 min­utes just twice over the fi­nal four months.

The Huskies be­lieve Ca­mara can con­tribute to some level this sea­son — as­sum­ing, of course, she can stay healthy. In hopes of do­ing so, Ca­mara has stuck to a strict train­ing rou­tine, one that in­volves up to an hour of stretch­ing and core ex­er­cises.

“To be hon­est, I do have a lit­tle up and down, but I do feel bet­ter,” Ca­mara said of her re­cov­ery. “Ev­ery­one said I look bet­ter. I’m just try­ing to keep steady. I was here un­til July and Au­gust — I stayed the whole sum­mer just to re­hab and work on my body.”

Auriemma seemed to ease Ca­mara along in Sun­day’s ex­hi­bi­tion against Van­guard, play­ing her only six min­utes — tied for the fewest on the team — in a 96-30 vic­tory. She fin­ished with six points, three re­bounds and one block — a per­for­mance that earned a com­pli­ment from Auriemma.

“Ba­touly never has had a prob­lem play­ing hard,” Auriemma said. “That’s not an is­sue. It’s some­thing we’ve come to ex­pect. I’m never sur­prised that Ba­touly plays hard. She strug­gles a lot of times to get up and down the floor the way she used to. Things get a lit­tle side­ways some­times in the lane and in traf­fic, but Ba­touly’s ef­fort has never been a ques­tion. She plays hard. She com­petes re­ally hard.”

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