Juhasz has found a home with the Huskies
Bridgeport — When Dorka Juhasz left her home in Pecs, Hungary, an ancient city in the southwestern portion of the country not far from the Croatian border, it was a chance to pursue her education while also playing for the women's basketball team at Ohio State.
When she left Ohio State after last season, graduating in three years and putting her name in the transfer portal, winding up at 11-time national champion UConn little more than a week later was a basketball decision.
"We knew about UConn since I was a kid," Juhasz said. "Even in Europe, everybody knew who UConn was and all the great players who came from here. We always followed it. It was definitely a basketball decision for me.
"I think I wanted to become a better player and I just felt like I needed to make a move for my professional career and whatever is coming after. I thought I needed a change of scenery and, obviously, in my recruiting process I talked to coach (Geno) Auriemma and I thought there's no better place than UConn with these amazing coaches and to play against the best players in the country every single day in practice."
A two-time All-Big Ten first team selection at Ohio State now earning her master's degree in sport management at UConn, the 6-foot-5 forward is tackling her first NCAA tournament.
Second-seeded UConn takes on No. 3 Indiana in the Sweet 16 at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Bridgeport Regional at Total Mortgage Arena.
So far in her NCAA tournament career, Juhasz debuted with a double-double, finishing with 10 points and 10 rebounds in a first-round victory over No. 15 Mercer. She struggled in the second round vs. No. 7 Central Florida, but came on to hold down the frontcourt after Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Aaliyah Edwards both fouled out.
Juhasz re-entered the game with 2 minutes, 21 seconds remaining and blocked a shot three seconds later. She added two clutch rebounds down the stretch as UConn won 52-47.
"She figures out a way to contribute every night that we put her in," said Auriemma of Juhasz, who has one more year of eligibility but has yet to announce if she'll use it. "I thought when we got Dorka from the portal and she came here, I thought, 'You know, she could be the difference between us losing and winning in the NCAA tournament' and (Monday) with those two guys on the bench with fouls, it turned out to be exactly right."
Juhasz had ever so slight ties to UConn. That began with her third career game at Ohio State, Nov. 11, 2018, which was played against UConn at Gampel Pavilion. Juhasz, the freshman, started against the UConn lineup of Megan Walker, Napheesa Collier, Crystal Dangerfield, Christyn Williams and Katie Lou Samuelson. The Huskies won 85-53.
Also, Juhasz's hometown in Hungary is approximately three and a half hours from Zagreb, Croatia, the home of UConn sophomore Nika Muhl.
"I don't think we ever met in person," Muhl said. "But we had a relationship, especially on Instagram," Muhl said. "She was recruiting me for Ohio State. I always knew Dorka was a great person. She was a great player; she still is. She was a beast on the Hungarian team, I remember."
With Ohio State among her final five teams, Muhl eventually chose UConn. Then it was her turn to enlist Juhasz once Juhasz placed her name into the transfer portal — "I was recruiting her after she was recruiting me and I won," Muhl said.
Juhasz's integration into the Huskies family was immediate and unreserved. The perfect demonstration of that connection came on Senior Night.
Juhasz's parents, mother Hajnalka Balazs, a former Hungarian basketball great, and father Zsolt Juhasz, a pediatric surgeon, were unable to make it to Storrs for the event. Her teammates stepped in, with the entire roster — minus the other three seniors being honored — making an emotional walk with her to center court.
"It really touched me," Juhasz said. "That moment was so touching for me. I was always close to them but that moment, I didn't really have to ask for them to walk out with me. Having them on my side and I just got here not even a year ago, it was crazy how fast they accepted me."
'A great year'
Juhasz characterizes this as "a great year so far for me."
She is averaging 7.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists, missing two games due to a stress reaction in her right foot. She is coming off the bench but drew 15 starts this season, most prominently a 16-point, 16-rebound effort against UCLA on Dec. 11, Juhasz's best game to that point at UConn, as well as back-to-back 20-plus point games in February against DePaul and Marquette.
She said the season has been more than she possibly could have imagined, especially the challenges the team faced with eight of 12 players missing time due to illnesses and injuries.
"I didn't know it was going to be this challenging for us but I also thought this has helped us to get closer and have a better chemistry," Juhasz said. "I've never been part of a this deep team that's like, 'Hey, the first five started out really strong and another four or five players comes in and it stays the same.'
"I mean, I'm really happy. It's so much fun. I also feel like there was so much (personal) development in this few months and especially this summer just to get to know these people and work individually with the coaches. ... It's awesome."