If he really wanted to, Geno Auriemma could have taken advantage of a new NCAA provision allowing formal practices to begin 42 days before the first game of the season. That would have been way back at the end of Septemeber.
UConn’s men did just that. But Auriemma decided it wasn’t necessary and his reason seemed understandable.
“With this program, it’s likely we’ll be playing until April, as it is,” he said.
He waited until Wednesday, the day after the American Athletic Conference held its media day at Mohegan Sun Arena, to begin the real work.
But junior guard Brianna Banks still has not been cleared to return. She suffered a severe knee injury on Feb. 2 in a game at St. John’s and still isn’t quite ready.
“Brianna has been doing a great job getting herself ready,” Stefanie Dolson said. “She’s been here all summer attending to her rehabilitation work. And she’s made a lot of progress. We look forward to having her back in practice. She’s so quick. Her three-point shooting is so improved and we know she can take the ball to the basket. And she is such a good defender. We can’t wait to have her back.”
Banks is expected to be ready for the start of the season, Nov. 9 against Hartford.
Aside from freshman Saniya Chong, the Huskies also introduced their two new non-scholarship walk-on players, freshman guard Tierney Lawlor from Ansonia and sophomore guard Brianna Pulido of Miami, Fla.
The two made the team after essentially working out for assistant coaches Shea Ralph and Marisa Moseley.
“I generally don’t get involved in that stuff,” Auriemma said. “Briana worked out first and Tierney came in much later. They have qualities that our other players look for and none of them have to do with how many points they are likely to score.”
Lawlor averaged 12.2 points in her final two seasons in high school; Pulido also does track and field at UConn.
Since UConn already has a Bria (Hartley), Breanna (Stewart) and Brianna (Banks), the team has decided to call Pulido “Polly” to avoid any more confusion.
The weekend surrounding First Night remains the traditional time for the official visits of UConn’s top-flight high school recruits.
Guards Sadie Edwards, Gabby Williams and Courtney Ekmark, all verbally committed to the program as juniors, were in attendance on Friday.
So was 6-5 center A’ja Wilson of South Carolina, who represents the most pressing need of the team with the graduation of Dolson.
Wilson is generally ranked in Top 5 players in the senior class by all the recruiting services and is still undecided. In fact, Wilson has said on numerous occasions that she does not plan to announce her selection until the spring.
“So excited to get a chance to hang out with the coaches and players at UConn as I take my first official visit there,” Wilson tweeted on Thursday.
Wilson spent a portion of the summer playing for USA Basketball’s U-19 team that not only won FIBA gold but featured current UConn sophomores Stewart and Morgan Tuck.
Before the formal part of the night, the players gathered in the hallway outside the arena to design pillowcases. It’s sort of a tradition.
“Every year it’s something different that we do,” senior Bria Hartley said.
Among the players in the Class of 2014 still high of UConn’s list is another guard, Kia Nurse, of Hamilton, Ontario. She is sister of a first-round NHL Draft pick and the niece of former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb.
UConn has made a home visit with Nurse and Auriemma traveled to Mexico to see Nurse play in the FIBA Americas Championship for Women.
New day, new rules
Friday was the last day members of the UConn women’s team are allowed to post on Twitter until the end of the season. The players also had to remove any nail polish they still had on. It’s all part of the UConn way … Auriemma’s radio show, “The UConn Women’s Basketball Coach’s Show Presented by Webster Bank,” with Bob Joyce, will debut on Oct. 29 and be broadcast live from Geno’s Grille, just off the campus in Storrs. Future shows are planned for Nov. 7, 19 and 27, Dec. 3 and 19, again, with more shows TBA. Fans are also welcome to come and watch these shows live.
Lobo anxious to see competition
Rebecca Lobo and Kara Lawson were at Gampel Friday to cover the event for ESPN3. Lobo says she is anxious to see what programs come forward to give UConn’s defending national champions a challenge.
“I am eager to see Maryland, now that its team is healthy again. I am also excited to see what Duke looks like when Chelsea Gray [its senior guard] comes back from her knee injury. Tennessee has a lot of nice pieces, plus [freshman] Mercedes Russell,” Lobo said.