UConn fans, your long, patient wait is about to end.
The 2013-14 preseason opens Friday – that’s tonight, right after the Nightly News with Brian Williams – at Gampel Pavilion at 7 p.m., against Gannon, a Division II Final Four team with all five starters returning.
You may also listen to Bob Joyce and Debbie Fiske on the UConn Radio Network, if that works out better for you.
Here is your viewer’s guide:
Freshman Saniya Chong says she is nervous and excited about making her debut.
The coaches are nervous and excited for her too, but for other reasons.
“Like most freshmen she looks really good some days and she looks lost some days,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “She picks things up really quickly and what she’s good at she’s really good at. What she’s not good at — defensively — she’s awful at. So when we have the ball she’s pretty good. When they have the ball, she’s not so good. She runs up the floor and if she doesn’t have a steal by the time she reached midcourt she loses interest. But over time that will change.
“She is a very good passer. There have been situations where you wonder [as coaches] if she sees the opportunity [to make a good pass] and then she’ll make it. You don’t necessarily expect that from freshmen. Not only is she a good passer, she wants to be the passer. But she also wants to score. And those are two qualities.”
Like most kids who scored at will in high school, it takes developing willpower to commit to playing defense at the level Auriemma demands. And Chong is trying, just as UConn assistant Shea Ralph did when she came to UConn after her prolific high school scoring career in North Carolina.
“Was I ready to play defense? No. How long did it take me? You need to ask coach. But it took a while, although they jolted me by putting me on Chamique Holdsclaw [the Tennessee All-American]. I fouled out. I do remember that.
“But you figure out pretty quickly that either you do [play defense] or you don’t play. That’s what’s so great about playing at UConn. In high school, and maybe in some other places [collegiately], if you score you don’t play defense. It doesn’t matter. But it matters here.”
Chong admits the process has been slower than she hoped for.
“You could say defense has been one of my struggles coming from high school,” Chong admitted. “The players here are faster, much more skilled. It’s a learning experience to keep them from going to the middle or just driving past me. To this point, it’s been one of my failures.”
Auriemma has really been impressed with Stefanie Dolson in the preseason. And that’s a very good sign about a player who became an All-American as a junior and may be the best post player in the country in the post-Brittney Griner era.
“There is more seriousness to Stefanie’s approach, although she is still Stefanie [in terms of her personality],” Auriemma said. “I can’t imagine there’s a better kid to coach in this country than her. I wouldn’t know who that would be, or where they might be playing, and that is not meant disrespectfully in terms of other players.
“I just can’t believe there is a better player and a better person to coach than her. She has the perfect personality. She is a great teammate, a phenomenal passer, she makes shots when we need them and she helps on defense by directing traffic. And she never comes to practice in a different state of mind. She comes to practice with the same mindset every single day. Nothing varies. I thought she was very good last year. She’s way better this season.”
There are new defensive rules in play this season that are bound to create a lot of confusion – and tension – until the coaches and players figure out how closely the officials will call them. Much of the change has to do with the level of hand-checking that will now be allowed.
“Eventually, the new defensive rules will be good, but initially the players and coaches are going to struggle with them,” Auriemma admitted. “We have a basketball culture in this country that encourages fouling. People take great pride in physicality and its going to take effort to move away from that.
“It’s a fine line. You are going to have officials who view the rules so literally that every contact will be a foul. We’re going to have to work through that until contact that actually impedes progress is what’s called. Until then, there will be a lot of incidental calls through hand-checking and that won’t be pretty.”
Watch Moriah Jefferson this season. The kid is playing with a lot of confidence, especially with the ball in her hands. If you were at Gampel Pavilion for the “First Night” intra-squad scrimmage, you saw some of her new “swag” on the dribble. She’s going to be exciting to watch.
According to blog reports on SNY and the Connecticut Post, two 2015 recruits will be making unofficial visits tonight.
Guard Kelly Jekot from Enola, Pa, impressed the UConn staff at USA Basketball’s U-16 national team trials last May. She wasn’t one of the 32 players invited. But she paid her own way and made it to the final cut. Also planning to be at Gampel is Haley Gorecki, a 6-0 junior guard from Palatine, Ill.
Jekot averaged 12 points and six rebounds in helping Cumberland Valley reach the PIAA Class AAAA final in March Gorecki averaged 18 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 4.2 assists as a sophomore at William Fremd High.
Reportedly, UConn will receive an official visit next week from Kia Nurse, a 6-0 senior guard from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.