Frustrated, maybe even a little annoyed with Brianna Banks’ tendency to pull up on her own reins, Geno Auriemma lost patience with her last season,.chalking up the inconsistency to the dilemma some players have when the spotlight first shines on them.
They are afraid to make mistakes.
“I would Shea [Ralph] has probably been Brianna’s biggest supporter, biggest fan. She works with her every day,” Auriemma said Wednesday after UConn’s 119-50 win over Holy Family at the ”Me, I just complain all the time how I want her to be more confident, more assertive with the ball.”
It appears Auriemma is finally getting a sense of what Banks’ can do. And the reason is that she now believes she is capable of it.
“I know what my role is on the team,” Banks said. “I know what it is and I know where to go, what to do, what places everybody needs to be at – to be a ball handler, a slasher to be a good defensive player.”
This apparent transformation made its debut with 23 impressive minutes against Holy Family, the nation’s 12th-ranked Division II program. Banks scored 20 points, shooting 8 of 9 from the field, including 4 of 4 from three.
“Is three-point shooting one of my strengths? Not yet, but I am getting there,” Banks said. “I’m trying to make it one of my strengths.”
Banks also contributed five defensive rebounds and five assists and played with the assertiveness and instinct that attracted the coaching staff to her when she was a high school star in Georgia.
That’s where Banks traveled this summer in hopes familiar ground would help her rediscover who she was as a player.
“From where she was last year to where she is now, it is not even close,” Auriemma said. “You watch her now, see how athletic and how explosive she is. And if you are making three-pointers, it’s going to be really difficult for anyone defending her to keep [Banks] in front [of the defender].”
Freshman Breanna Stewart led UConn with 21 points in 25 against Holy Family, noteworthy only because she missed practice time earlier this week with a sore right foot. She was one of seven Huskies to score double-figures in a game in which they made 18 threes and shot 43 of 74 from the floor.
The play of Banks is especially important to UConn this season.
Junior Bria Hartley, the WBCA All-American, didn’t play in the preseason and is very questionable for Sunday’s opener against the College of Charleston because of her sprained left ankle. And Caroline Doty, who excelled offensively Wednesday (11 points, 4 of 4 from three) will be limited, on occasion, by her chronically troublesome left knee.
Without Hartley, and considering Doty’s state, Auriemma may very well start freshman Moriah Jefferson at the point and give Banks more time to run the floor.
Banks credits Ralph for much of what’s going right now for her.
“She has always had my back,” Banks said. “She doesn’t just yell at me or bash me. He tells me what it is that I am doing wrong and tries to correct it.
“When I think back on it, I just think I was trying too hard and too afraid not to make mistakes, as most freshmen do. You don’t want to mess up on the court. I thought about [failure] too much and if you do that you are going to mess up. And it seemed last year that every time I messed up, it [the mistake] was followed by another and another.”
Auriemma has seen enough to feel great things lie ahead for Banks. And he’s not going to do anything to stunt her momentum, as long as she keeps her head in the game.
“She has the chance to play as much as she wants,” Auriemma said. “I will not be the one who will limit her time.”