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UConn women's freshman class forced to play the waiting game, too

On a normal Memorial Day weekend, the incoming freshmen for the UConn women’s basketball team would make their way to Storrs for the university’s first summer school session.

For six weeks, they’d take a couple of classes, meet and bond with their new teammates, play pick-up games, work out, and get an experience and feel for what it will be like when the fall semester begins.

But nothing is normal in a pandemic world. So the Huskies’ five incoming freshmen — Paige Bueckers, Aaliyah Edwards, Piath Gabriel, Mir McLean, and Nika Muhl — are in a wait-and-see mode with more questions about the near future than answers.

“We’re in the same boat with everyone else with Zoom calls and text messages, the same way everyone else is to keep in touch with their freshmen,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “We want to be connected with them and we want them to be connected with each other. Anything we can do to stay in touch is what we’re doing.

“Some of these young guys are good at staying in touch and responding. We’re doing our best and we’re hoping that we can get them here this summer. We’re exploring options to see if it makes any sense.

“Can we get them here? Can we get our freshmen and our returning players back on campus and give them a semblance of normal, whatever that is? Right now we don’t have any definitive plans. Nothing’s finalized. The university is working on it.”

UConn went to online classes for the remainder of the spring semester in March. No decision has been made yet on whether students will return to campus for fall semester classes.

When athletes could get on campus is also unknown.

“The best-case scenario for us is to get them here in the middle of June and try to get them working together and on the court and give them an idea of what school will be like,” Auriemma said. “Every coach wants that. I think every player wants that.

“The worst-case scenario is nobody comes this summer and we all keep our fingers crossed and hope that school opens in September.”

As far as players working out, the NCAA Division I Council Coordination Committee announced Wednesday it will allow strength and conditioning coaches to virtually observe voluntary physical workouts for health and safety purposes only if requested by the student-athlete starting Monday. The strength and conditioning coach will be allowed to observe the workouts and discuss items related to voluntary workouts but not direct or conduct the workout.

Amanda Kimball is the director of sports performance for the women’s basketball team.

“This is all something new for the NCAA to deal with,” Auriemma said. “It’s crazy dealing with how many hoops you jump through to see what you can do and what you can’t do.

“Amanda has been in touch with them and is threading a needle with what we’re allowed to do and what has to be voluntary. These kids want to get started. They want to get to work. They want to be here. There are just a lot of obstacles in their way.”

UConn’s incoming freshmen will make up half the team’s 10-player roster. The Huskies graduated guards Crystal Dangerfield and Molly Bent and forwards Kyla Irwin, Batouly Camara, and Evelyn Adebayo from a team that went 29-3 and captured the American Athletic Conference regular season and tournament titles before the season was halted by the NCAA due to concerns over the coronavirus.

Also, forward Megan Walker gave up her final year of eligibility to enter the WNBA draft. The New York Liberty selected her in the first round, ninth overall.

The four veterans are juniors Christyn Williams and Olivia Nelson-Ododa, and sophomores Anna Makurat and Aubrey Griffin. Redshirt junior Evina Westbrook will make her UConn debut this coming winter after sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules.

UConn’s freshmen are ranked as the No. 2 recruiting class in the country behind Oregon. Bueckers was the consensus national high school Player of the Year.

The Huskies were in the final three for Stanford graduate transfer DiJonai Carrington before the guard from San Diego chose to use her final year at Baylor. So it’s likely the roster will stay at 10.

“I don’t envision that changing,” Auriemma said. “There’s nothing in the plans. This is what we’ve got and I’m comfortable with where we are.”

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