Auriemma Feels Something Special With This Group

Storrs — UConn's entire 2007 recruiting class, including the No. 1 high school player in the nation in Elena Delle Donne of Ursuline Academy in Wilmington, Del., was in the building Friday to watch UConn Present meet the fans for the first time this season at “First Night” festivities.

The recruits, in the spirit of fun for which the night is intended, even wore blue and white balloons on their heads.

“Who the hell put those things on their heads?” UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma said, asked for a reaction. “Beats me, I have no idea.”

“It's always a lot of fun,” said UConn senior Mel Thomas of the First Night activities. “Then we realized we had to go to real practice (today).”

Thomas led all UConn scorers with nine points, hitting three 3-pointers, as the Huskies played a 10-minute intrasquad scrimmage before approximately 6,500 fans, first being introduced and dancing their way to center court under the glare of strobe lights.

The White Team, consisting of Charde Houston, Meghan Gardler, Kalana Greene, Ketia Swanier, Tina Charles, Tahirah Williams and Lorin Dixon, beat the Blue Team 18-15 despite the effort by Thomas.

Thomas and UConn student Mike Amaranti of Middlefield also defeated Houston and her partner in a two-ball championship prior to the scrimmage 35-15, receiving points for each shot made. There was a relay race won by Cassie Kerns, Maya Moore, Kalana Greene and students Elana Garcia of Wallingford and Kristen Kottum of Storrs.

“Some years it's more than a great year, it's something really special,” said Auriemma, addressing the crowd prior to the scrimmage. “You can feel it, you can sense it.”

Auriemma went on to say that with this team he can sense that something special.

The Huskies were 32-4 last season with a Big East regular-season championship and a Final Eight berth, losing one step shy of the Final Four.

This year, UConn adds Moore, the two-time Naismith Player of the Year for Collins Hill High School in Lawrenceville, Ga., as well as Dixon, a former teammate of Tina Charles at Christ the King in New York where they earned two No. 1 rankings nationally.

Auriemma said later that because Moore and Dixon are accustomed to winning, he thinks they'll fit in nicely as they approach their first collegiate practice.

“They understand what goes into winning,” said Auriemma, who already expressed surprise at how well Dixon conditioned herself before arriving at UConn. “They don't just show up on game day ... we got some kids that win in practice leading up to games.”

Among the things Auriemma lik2ed Friday was the play of the seniors, with Swanier continuing to run the floor at a sprint and Brittany Hunter appearing unimpeded by the right knee that has proved troublesome throughout her career.

Sophomore forward Kaili McLaren, who spent a great deal of conditioning in the offseason, was noticably smoother.

“All the ingredients are there,” Auriemma said. “I think it's a good blend.”

All the ingredients are there for the future, too.

Delle Donne, a 6-foot-5 guard, is joined in the highly touted UConn Class of 2012 by 6-4 center Heather Buck of Stonington, 5-11 guard Caroline Doty of Germantown (Pa.) Academy and 6-0 forward/guard Tiffany Hayes of Winter Haven, Fla.

Also in attendance were Chelsey Lee, a 6-1 forward from Parkway Academy in Mirimar, Fla., and Kerri Shields, a 5-10 guard at Archbishop Carroll in Radnor, Pa.

Now back to the present.

Will UConn get to touch a basketball today or will the whole day consist of running.

“I hope we get to touch it,” Thomas said with a laugh.

The Huskies open the season Nov. 11 against Stony Brook at Gampel Pavilion.

v.fulkerson@theday.com or 701-4392
Article UID=21c4d8b9-ca67-4783-b590-3fdaa483677a

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