Caroline Doty says she will not approach her fifth and final season as the UConn basketball player with a particular sentimental mindset.
Of course, she could if she wanted to. When every step you take, every practice you work, every game you play and every city you visit brings your college career a step closer to the end, it’s hard for some not to reflect.
“I’m not really into things such as, ‘Oh, this is the last time I’ll practice,” Doty said. “I’m just into trying to live and do things to my fullest capacity. If I go into something feeling sentimental, I know my mind will be focused on that and not where it should be, like trying to win the next play or trying to prepare for the next game. I still feel inside like I still have three or four more years left to play here so I am intent on trying to improve.”
Since the days of Shea Ralph, now Doty’s position coach with the Huskies, there hasn’t been a UConn player whose physical challenges and emotional responses have been so closely monitored.
Three major knee injuries, the first when she was a high school senior, and many other bumps and belts have conspired to turn Doty’s career into an obstacle course.
But here she comes again, now a graduate student, ready to finish the race just as strong and positive as she began it five years ago.
“I am still amazed by Caroline, every single day, about how she has taken care of herself,” Kelly Faris said. “She’s had so many issues to deal with and I say more power to her. I don’t know how I would have dealt with it. She’s stayed positive the entire time and works constantly.
“She is never willing to give up and that is a very cool thing to see because there aren’t many athletes like that. Many times, players experience one bump in the road and they give up. But he’s an old-school type of kid. She keeps coming back, she’s very hardcore when it comes to dedication and passion. It’s all about the team with her and you can tell that.”
After playing an abbreviated freshman season (knee injury No. 2) and missing the entire 2010-11 season (knee injury No. 3), Doty’s chance to participate in a fifth straight Final Four is something no UConn player but her and Heather Buck, also a grad student, have had.
But Doty’s roles have changed along the way, partly because of the physical limitations that have resulted, partly because of the new players that have come to the program. So it will be again this season.
“She has settled so much better into her role now,” Ralph said. “I think she is comfortable with where her body is, comfortable with her mind set about how she wants to approach the year.
“She’s been a great leader for us. Her mentality has been different in a great way. We all want her to have a really great year and enjoy it because she has been through so much. She deserves this and I am very excited for her. She is in a really good place, one I don’t think she’s been in for a very long time.”
Doty started 37 of UConn’s 38 games last season, just as he started 38 of 39 in the national championship season of 2009-10 as a sophomore.
What her specific role will be this season, with so many options for Geno Auriemma to chose from, will likely ebb and flow. But she’s not concerned.
“I wouldn’t say I feel above the fray. There is always room for improvement,” Doty said. “I may have been here for five years, but I’ve only been on the floor for four. It’s different actually being on the floor to interact with teammates, as opposed to being on the bench, an entirely different learning experience that not everyone can have. I benefitted from that, certainly. But I still make mistakes. I don’t think I know any more than anyone else and I am grateful for anything the coaches want to say to help me be better.”
But like college should be, her UConn career has been a learning experience that should serve her well in life.
“It’s an advantage for life to understand that if anything is going to try and pull you down, the important thing is how you will respond,” Doty said. “I learned the right way and the wrong way. You can fold up and hide or you work to not let it affect you.
“If I were to give advice to anyone who will be forced to experience what I have, it would be to win every day. Even if you just have a sprained ankle that forces you into the trainer’s room for 10 days, just try to win each day. Don’t do too much, but don’t do too little. You will end up being fine at the end with opportunities you would have never imagined you could have. You will see the big picture and it will all be worth it.”