While UConn and Georgetown transfer Natalie Butler decide whether they are right for each other, her high school coach at Lake Braddock in Fairfax Countym Virginia, John Giannelli, believes she would fit perfectly with the Huskies nine-time national champion.
“I am a big UConn fan having played high school basketball at Sacred Heart of Waterbury and Post College for two seasons,” Giannelli said Wednesday. “I coached basketball at Watertown High [his players included Rico Brogna, the former major league baseball player].
“And I was surprised that UConn did not come down to see Natalie play as a senior. I knew she could play there. I’ve followed UConn and the Big East my entire life. I knew her work ethic would allow her to get better, and that it most certainly would happen within a great program with a great staff. I know she can play there and I know she can make a difference.”
Butler, a 6-5 center who was the Big East’s freshman of the year at Georgetown last year, was in Storrs last weekend visiting the Huskies and will reportedly choose either UConn or Virginia. She has been released from her scholarship by the Hoyas.
“I’m pushing and pushing her to go to UConn, but I know a lot of has to do with the academics that go along with basketball. She is a very smart young woman. And her family is very tight,” Giannelli said. “Going to see her play at UConn would not be as easy for them as it was going to Georgetown or going to Virginia would be. But I would love to see her at UConn.”
Giannelli said UConn would be getting a hard-working kid, one who seems to never tire.
“UConn would get one committed kid,” Giannelli said. “She chases excellence on and off the court. She is smart and she truly loves basketball. She plays and trains year-round. She works at it. She came to practice early and worked. She stayed 30 minutes after and worked.
“Before practice she’d already be soaked with sweat. I’d kid her, ‘Natalie, why are you wet, it’s not raining out?’ It’s because she had already run the steps in our football stadium before a three-hour practice. She worked with medicine balls. She’s not afraid to bump or push and when she plays rough she plays better.”
Giannelli said a big influence in her life is her father, Vernon, a former teammate at Navy of David Robinson. They both played on the Midshipmen’s Elite Eight team in the 1980s.
“I’d come into the gym early at times and she would be there with her dad working out. And I don’t mean just with a ball; I mean conditioning, low post moves, her jump shot. Same thing after practice. Her dad works her hard. She was a perfect example to the other players; you want to play Division I, you need to work hard
“She is very good around the basket and she’s worked hard on her 15-foot jumper. For a big girl, she handles the ball well and she runs the floor. She gets rebounds, fires off an outlet and she’s running up the court. She also looks for the missed layup on the fast break [on offense] She runs baseline to baseline.
“If she doesn’t go [to UConn], I would blame it on the distance. To me, that would be the only reason she would not go there. But knowing Vern, I would think the decision would come sooner than later because he’ll want to get her ready for whatever conference she will play.”