Napheesa Collier could finish her career with numbers that would put her alongside some of the greats in UConn women’s basketball history.
But the senior forward believes some of the things she has done in her first three years are not good enough.
“There are a lot of things I want and need to improve on for next year,” Collier said. “My shooting, my outside shot, every aspect I want to improve.”
One of the things she has done is change the release on her jump shot. She’s been working with Alex Bazzell, an NBA/WNBA skills trainer with whom she has trained since her junior year at Incarnate Word Academy in St. Louis.
Collier shot 34.3 percent from 3-point land as a junior when she took as many shots from behind the arc (64) as she did her first two years combined. At 6-foot-1, she knows the 3 must be a part of her game in order to be effective in the WNBA.
In late May, Bazzell posted a video on Twitter of Collier making 20 treys in a row with former NBA great Kobe Bryant as a witness.
“Before my shot was above my head, and it would get messed up a lot because it would move a lot,” Collier said. “Now I’m trying to lower it so that it will be more consistent. When it was so high I was moving my arms a lot and it would be a different shot every time.”
Collier was named to the all-American Athletic Conference first team for the second straight year and was a third-team Associated Press All-American as a junior. She ranked in the AAC’s top 15 in scoring (ninth at 16.1 points), rebounds (seventh at 7.4), assists (15th at a career high 3.3), assist-to-turnover ratio (fifth at 2.2), field-goal percentage (fifth at 58.3), free-throw percentage (eighth at 78.6), steals (14th at 1.6) and blocks (third at 1.7).
In five NCAA Tournament games, she averaged 20.8 points on 67.7 percent shooting, 7.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists. Her 24-point effort in the overtime loss to Notre Dame in the national semifinals at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, earned her a spot on the all-Final Four team.
“Pheesa had a great year last year,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “The only problem was that the kind of year she had the year before was one of those magical years. So she set the bar pretty high.”
Collier has had a busy offseason.
In April she played in USA Basketball’s 3x3 national championship tournament in Colorado Springs, Colorado - one of her teammates was Notre Dame guard Arike Ogunbowale, who sank the shot that ended the Huskies’ season - and then traveled to Seattle to take part in a USA national team camp. She spent some time in Los Angeles working with Bazzell, then in the end of May, returned to campus for the five-week summer session that ended late last month.
“Being with the older girls at USA camp, it’s just so different,” Collier said. “Competing with them and seeing how physical and smart they are is something I can bring back to our team. It was a great learning experience.”
She’s also had some time to relax. A video Samuelson posted to Twitter of her falling awkwardly into the water while paddle boarding has more than 13,000 views.
“I’m good at it. That video was misleading because someone pushed the board,” Collier said with a shake of her head.
The Huskies are counting on her to stand tall as a senior.
She’ll enter her final season with 1,609 points on 61.8 percent shooting, 808 rebounds, 239 assists, 174 steals and 187 blocks. If she can reach 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 200 steals and 250 blocked shots, she’d join her former teammate, four-time Final Four Most Outstanding Player Breanna Stewart, as the only Huskies to reach those plateaus. No UConn player has 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 250 steals and 250 blocked shots. Collier’s career best in steals for a season is 64.
She’d be satisfied to win a second national championship to go with the one she was a part of as a freshman.
“It feels strange being a senior. It seems like yesterday that I was out here for the first time,” Collier said. “It’s gone by fast.”
But she’s not done yet.