New recruiting class has Auriemma ecstatic about UConn women's basketball's future

Published on Sunday, 15 November 2020 14:16
Written by CARL ADAMEC

JOURNAL INQUIRER

In recent years when Geno Auriemma is asked when he is going to retire as the UConn women’s basketball coach, he often responds with a question of his own.

What kind of kids are we going to get?

If his first comments Thursday about his newest recruiting class are an indication, no one should be filling out any resumes and sending them to Storrs till at least 2025.

On Wednesday, the Huskies signed what may be the top class in the country in Saylor Poffenbarger (6-2 wing, Middletown, Maryland), Caroline Ducharme (6-2 guard, Milton, Massachusetts), Amari DeBerry (6-5 forward, Buffalo, New York), and Azzi Fudd (5-10 guard, Arlington, Virginia). with Fudd - the consensus No. 1 recruit - making her choice public Wednesday morning.

“We were on the list of having a real good recruiting class before yesterday’s announcement,” Auriemma said. “What that meant is we had gotten commitments from three players we needed to get in our program, the three kind of kids we needed to get.

“A kid like Saylor, we needed someone who could play a lot of positions and had a feel for the game that we needed to get in here. Getting someone like Amari, yeah, we needed another post player that’s skilled. That was going to be a big help coming in. Getting Caroline, we needed another big wing who could shoot the ball and play multiple positions because we love those kind of players.

“Getting those players and then adding Azzi just gives us a lot of the versatility that I like, the options I like of putting players in different spots on the floor and not being hamstrung by saying, ‘This kid can only play here. This kid can only play there. This kid can only do this.’ It’s a combination of kids that I love.”

Yes, the Hall of Fame coach is high on what his four high school standouts can do on the basketball court.

But what impresses him more is what they are off the court.

“I love them as kids, I love them as people,” Auriemma said. “They are really, really exceptional human beings. And you don’t know these things a lot of times because you don’t get to spend time with them like you could back in the day when recruiting was different. In the amount of time you’re allowed in this day and age, we got four exceptional people, as exceptional as any group of players I’ve ever brought in, ever, in my 35 years.”

Poffenbarger (rated No. 30 in the class by ESPNHoopgurlz after missing much of the summer following hip surgery) was the first to commit in July 2019. DeBerry (rated No. 15 by ESPN) committed four months later, with Ducharme (rated No. 5 by ESPN) making her choice last April.

But the big news came with Fudd, who chose UConn over UCLA, Louisville, and Maryland and became the 13th No. 1 recruit overall and the fifth in the last seven seasons to sign with the Huskies.

“It’s the way she plays the game in a way that’s not rushed, not hurried,” Auriemma said. “Azzi plays in a way that allows her to take advantage of the fact she knows the game really well and she’s a phenomenal shooter of the basketball. Anyone who’s seen her play will tell you that is something that stands out, even among great shooters.

“We’ve been fortunate to get in the last couple of recruiting classes, especially with last year’s and this year’s specifically, and Azzi is indicative of this. She absolutely loves and lives for the game. That’s somewhat rare. She studies the game, thinks the game, and enjoys playing the game. She loves the game of basketball, and I would too if every time I shot it the ball went in the basket. If I did that, ‘When are we playing again?’ ”

Ducharme, DeBerry, and Fudd were together in Colorado Springs, Colorado at the 2018 USA Basketball U-17 national team trials. Ducharme, who was coming back from knee surgery, and DeBerry, then 15, made it to the final cut. Fudd joined current UConn freshman Paige Bueckers in representing their country for the second straight year and, as the starting backcourt, led Team USA to the FIBA World Cup gold medal in Belarus.

Fudd told Bueckers of her decision about two weeks before her announcement Wednesday, as Bueckers had told Fudd about her commitment in 2019 well before it became public.

“She told me, ‘Paige, I’m committing to UConn,’ ” Bueckers said. “Then she said, ‘No, I’m just kidding,’ My face just dropped. She had to do some mighty convincing to convince me that she did. It was just overwhelming happiness.

“I’m really excited that Azzi’s coming to school here. Obviously I’d try to tell her nobody knows her game as well as I do and if she goes to another team she’s going to have to play against me and I already know her game. It was definitely that part and just the fun off the court.”

With the back-to-back No. 1 recruits set to be teammates, Auriemma may be making the Huskies bad for basketball but was quick to note that there are no guarantees.

“This perception that Paige and Azzi are the two greatest high school players ever to play high school basketball in the history of high school basketball … “Do you know how many Hall of Famers I’ve coached?” Auriemma said. “We’re talking about two kids that have never won a college game in their life.

“But there’s a pretty good chance that we'll be pretty good.”

For at least four more years.



Posted in Newington Town Crier, UConn on Sunday, 15 November 2020 14:16. Updated: Sunday, 15 November 2020 14:18.