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UCONN
pre-season
Women's Basketball

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Ann Strother does the Rocky Mountain 2-Step

The Rocky Mountain 2-Step
 
 

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Now, lets get on with the show...

 

The Good, The Bad... and the Ugly

Saturday, October, 26 '02 was a long sports-day for me. It started early as I watched some of the 12 State-Championships determined in Cross-Country at Wickham Park in Manchester. Despite the all-day rain and mud, (my local) ECC-conference teams won 6 individual titles and 4 team titles, including one for my niece's team, and another for my alma mater. Not bad for such a relatively small conference. The rain wasn't a problem up the road at Storrs, although it may have kept a few basketball fans at home because of the dozens of traffic accidents on the highways across the state, slick from the rain and wet, newly-fallen leaves.

UConn's 2002-edition Supershow was a nice showcase for the 4 freshmen, who looked a bit strange with brand new UConn logos on their uniforms. It was sorta like seeing Sue Bird in those strange Seattle Storm colors last summer.

There were some things that happened at this year's event that were troubling to many fans. As much as I'd like to ignore them, I won't, because they troubled me as well, as minor as they may seem to some. So... let's get the BAD & UGLY stuff out of the way first.



The Bad-

One of the charms of the SUPERSHOW is that fans who cannot get tickets or otherwise get to games, or get good seats when they DO go, have a chance to those good seats... as long as they wait in the cold and rain for a few hours. For many, it's the only time they'll get to see their Huskies up close all season.

But... seating in the whole west section of the lower bowl was roped off and RESERVED. Saving a few courtside rows for players' families and special guests is one thing. To segregate and exclude the large state-fan-base who rarely, if ever, get to see the inside of Gampel Pavillion (paid for with their taxes), smacks of ugly elitism. I heard it expressed by many Saturday.

Although I did not stay for the autograph session this year, I heard that photos were banned (or discouraged?) in certain areas. If true, it's an another ominous trend. To deny that from 5-9 year-olds who traveled 2 hours, waited another 2-3 outside before the game, and another hour or 2 after the game is just not good policy IMHO.

It's totally understandable that big-time athletics today is big-business, and money rules. But too often athletic associations (NCAA), leagues, and teams have heeded corporate and media "advice", without regard to harmful effects on the fan-base, players, or sport. TV-money has already corrupted Pro Baseball with games that routinely end after midnight (to the exclusion of young fans)... and commercial breaks & time-outs that ruin the natural/traditional flow of a game and stretch it on for hours. Autographs for money, instead of autographs for the love of a player are another negative phenomenon. Could money and selfishness ruin women's hoops too? Is this an early symptom right here?

There's been a long debate from UConn fans over the allocation of basketball seating in general... from how many and where the student-section is, to possible rotation of the better seats -- it's certainly a difficult problem for any University Sports Dept. But I wonder, would UConn ever contemplate playing at the Civic Center if one super-rich fan paid a few million dollars to have the whole place to himself? Think I'm being cynical? Just what IS the bottomline?

Season ticket holders and UConn-Club members are treated to special events throughout the year, where mixing with the players and photos are allowed. I have no acrimony toward any of these "elite" fans, who support UConn with their wallets -- just the opposite: I admire them. But these "elite" fans routinely get to sit in the best seats every game. Seating for this advertised "free" Supershow has traditionally been based strictly on how bad you wanted to wait in line for the best seats. (first come, first served) In this case way too many were allowed to stroll in at the last minute to the best seats... ahead of newer fans who drove for hours and waited in line for hours in the rain and cold. For what was advertised as a special, free event to the public, having this sort of mass-segregated policy seems arrogant at worst... and devoid of common courtesy and not fan-friendly at the least. It smells a bit. The press has sometimes called our fans the w(h)ine and cheese crowd. Limburger anyone?
   *end mini-rant zone*



The Ugly-

I parked at the brand new parking garage next to Gampel. I usually use one of the outlying lots, but because of the rain, and because this event was advertised as free, I decided it "smart" to use the garage. This was a mistake... and clearly not smart. The parking (in the garage) became the scene of a slightly bizarre episode. Not as ugly as it could have been, but it had the fixin's.

I went to my car directly after the game, leaving the autograph session this year for the younger fans. I don't know, but perhaps the people in charge of organizing exit traffic from that garage were newly transferred employees from our INS dept. devolve... are we not all nuts?One car at a time was let out after about a minute's wait each. At that rate, the poor fools on the top floor might get home by midnight. Personally I was not as ticked-off at this comedy of dunces as others apparently were. I've developed a sense of patience over the years dealing with a world where half the people are below average, by definition. But sitting still in traffic, breathing hydrocarbons by the pound like a caged animal is not my idea of recreation either.

Others had less patience than I. After 10-15 minutes of absolute frozen gridlock with a garage full of fans hoping to get started on the long drive home, a few people started honking their horns in frustration. What started as an isolated venting of frustration, quickly grew to a cacophony of threatening pandemonium as others happily joined in the madness. Horns echoed within the enclosed concrete edifice, sounding like a herd of screaming mad hyenas at the zoo. Bordering on the surreal, it reminded me of the final scene in Jean Shepherd's great story Leopold Doppler and the Great Orpheum Gravy Boat Riot. Instead of gravy boats, we had honking horns.

I put the car in neutral, pulled on the emergency brake, pulled out a bottle of warm scotch driven to drinkfrom the backseat and made myself to home. God forbid there was a fire or medical emergency in the building, as no one was going anywhere. When we finally made it to the exit, one of the people in charge expressed shock, saying the whole scene was "bizarre". Little did she realize that it was her own actions (er... inactions) and lack of leadership that were responsible for the whole disordered mess. I still wonder if some of those poor fans on the top floors DID get home by midnight. It took me 20 minutes to exit the building, and I was only halfway up the very first level.
(PS: I was only kidding about the scotch)


Now, let's get on to the GOOD part...

 

U-C-O-N-N

One of many pics of cheerleaders, pyramids, and dance-troop performers. Notice the tape on the wrist... not everyone realizes the time, work and effort the cheerleaders put in every day. They are just as athletic as gymnasts are.

master of ceremonies

Sue Bird... your master of ceremonies, was one of the highlights of the show. With her poise, and natural off-the-cuff joking, she was a delight.

sue & coach

The lights are still not fully on here after the players fiery entrance. Geno was obviously proud of the classy and humorous way Sue handled herself. In as much as Geno gets the credit for helping her reach her basketball zenith, it's undoubtedly Sue's Mom who deserves the credit for her charming personality.

Geno joked that the "Marry Me Sue" signs that were (just) shown in the NCAA championship video were too late: "Sue's a rich star now... you guys have all lost your chance". He said that this team could be very good by March based on the early practices. He seemed not only sincere in that prediction, but excited about getting this team to it's summit. (that's a pun folks)

Then Sue mysteriously hurried off the court... only to return dressed to play with the guys-practice-players team. Another unexpected treat, à la Svetlana at last year's Supershow.




ann strotherdiana taurasi

-Warmin' Up-

These 2 pics are actually opposite of what Ann Strother and Diana Taurasi appeared like for most of the game. Ann was doing more of the smiling, and seemed to be enjoying her official debut. Diana, on the other hand, was doing less of the laughing and joking around she showed last year when she played the young kid to the senior starters. But you'll have to ask Geno if her off-the-court behavior has changed to more serious as well.

diana taurasi

This is the look Diana wore for most of the game (that's sweat she's covered with folks). She still had fun on the bench, but on the court, she was very intense. Geno had said in interviews that Diana had improved all aspects of her game from last season. One thing was clearly evident: her intensity and resolve to help lead this season's team to reach their absolute best. The incredible determination I saw from her today was the most impressive and memorable thing I saw at the Supershow. (opposing teams that expect to sneak past a "down" UConn team had better beware)




goldtwinsdust

The Gold Dust Twins

The last "Gold Dust Twins" were also from New England... back in the 70's and just down the road from Nicole's home. I have a feeling these two might leave a similar legacy.




 

morgan valley

Morgan Valley will get some playing time in spots this year if her foot problems allow her to. [so far so good!] This team will need her after losing 4 great players. I'll be rooting for her because I've always admired her cool and smooth, yet aggressive play.

Kelly and bambino

Little-ist Huskie fan in the building was Kelly Hunt's new baby. Cutest too? I think that's another ex-player, Peggy (Walsh) Myers talking to her. Rumor was that Kelly's husband was a Ref at the game.

recruits

Three recruits take in what must look like a cross between a circus and a Chinese fire drill. Girls... this ain't your high school warm-ups. They'll find out that div-1 college ball is harder than they thought... and at CT, the media and fans are crazier than they look.... but also, that the rewards are all worth it. Kia Wright and Kiana Robinson have already given oral commitments, and Liz Sherwood is making her official UConn visit from the Denver area. Here she's trying to decide if she wants to battle the lions, tigers, and loonybirds in this circus-zoo... a decision that'll need some quiet reflection back home. That's coach Jamelle Elliott who's pretty in pink.

clowns

Fast-break for the Rock-Cat.
I told you this is a bit of a circus. These clowns must work up quite a sweat in those costumes.
 

ann strother

Ann Strother taking in some of the new "circus" atmosphere. As a national high-school player of the year, she'll get plenty of playing time this season.

willnett crockett

Willnett Crockett will get plenty of minutes too since this team has only one other natural post player. Besides her size she appears to have all the basic skills of a good post player, although it may take a while to handle some of those bullet passes from Diana.

ashley and barbaraMaria Conlon

Ashley Valley, looked healthy after her off-season surgery. Barbara Turner could play a big role with her multiple skills. Her leg was bandaged, and although she was not scheduled to play, she did... a good sign. Maria Conlon won the three point shooting contest, and she looked more assertive going into the paint with the ball than last year. Chris Dailey looked sharp... as usual. Behind her is another contender for "cutest" Huskie fan.

barbara turner

Barbara Turner (L) is someone that could be key because of her ability to handle the ball, her quickness, and her ability to play way above her height (any kid who could touch the rim as a 7'th grader is special). Could she be strong enough to play in the paint at times against bigger players? We'll have to see as the season unfolds, but her quickness will be hard to defend against anywhere on the court, even in the paint. Jessica Moore (R) looked like she hadn't lost a beat from last year.

jessica moore

Jessica making the guys look bad here. She still runs the floor extremely well. Geno praised the guys for their work every day helping the girls get better.
 

CD & Wolff

CD pointing out some things to Nicole Wolff. Tell me this kid doesn't look like a future star here. The scary thing is she still appears to be growing taller and bigger than last season, yet she still moves with that rare athletic grace. In the report I did on Nicole last year, she reminded me a lot of Svetlana... tonight she appeared more "calm" than Svet was as a freshman, probably because she understands the coach's English a bit better than Svet did. She doesn't waste a lot of energy carelessly, and she's always focused in on the action. Her fundamental skills are solid, as are her positioning and off-ball movement. She's got the size and strength to play inside, and the ball handling skill to bring the ball up the court or play the point as well, something she did in high-school.




ashley battle

Ashley Battle battled All-American Sue on defense. That assignment should tell you what kind of athletic skills Ashley has. "Hey, who wants to defend Sue Bird tonight?". Ashley's never looked stronger or quicker.

AB vs Sue

Big-time All American huh? C'mon Sue, get that outa here!

Sue Bird & the boys

"Hey Sue, you know you have to shower with us after the game too... right?"
Whatever the joke was, Sue was enjoying it.




nicole wolff

My photos of Nicole in high-school were a real test because of the challenging gym lighting. Much nicer here in the bright lights of NCAA division 1 hoops. I have the feeling her image will become known across the college basketball scene over the next 4 years. Remember, you heard (saw) it here first.

players

At it's core, the Supershow is a fun workout for the players. It's a very long day by the time the players shower and spend a few more hours signing autographs. (Any guesses as to how many autographs Sue Bird has given over the last few years?) Some fans were a little disappointed that Stacy Marron (L) wasn't put in till a minute left in the game. She'll see more minutes in some real games this season! Stacy has already become a crowd favorite, in the great tradition of past walk-on players.


So what's my verdict on this year's team?

FRONTCOURT:
Experience and depth is down in the frontcourt... can the younger players show the quickness and toughness there against bigger teams that will be needed? It's a key question because a good team needs good play from both the frontcourt and backcourt. Certainly Jessica and Ashley Battle show the improvement from 2 years of hard work playing (daily) against last years seniors... can Willnett and Barbara provide enough coming off the bench? Can Morgan play without pain for the entire season, and help out there in spots?

BACKCOURT:
One area that's actually better than last season is the number of great outside shooters. The fact that they're also great passers, and are taller than most of the players they'll match-up against is a promising thing. The question for the freshmen backcourt players is whether they can provide good enough defense, especially against the elite teams. It's a weakness with many high school players, and at this level becomes much harder. Learning how and when to switch, and do it without thinking is not always grasped early on. Expect Geno to make this a priority.

Diana showed that she is indeed the team's leader. Not only did she score points tonight, but her attitude was more serious, and very intense. Indeed, it's not just her play this year that will be responsible for much of the Huskie's fate, but her attitude and leadership toward the talented young freshmen that will be just as important. This team may not win all their games this year... may not win the national championship -- but they're going to be as challenging to play as any UConn team of the past. The 4 freshmen are as athletically talented as last year's seniors. Those seniors showed flashes of brilliance their freshman year... but fate didn't give them a fair chance that year. I'm just hoping we stay healthy and get a fair opportunity this year.

One thing's for sure: effort will not be lacking from an Auriemma team. Luck and fate may pave the final road... as longtime fans know, talent, work and desire are often derailed by injury. As for the NCAA's, success there often depends on the seeding matchups. It's impossible to predict when a good team will meet their "toughest" opponent until the brackets are set. This season UConn no longer has the versatility to dominate every aspect of the game against every opponent, so seeding will be a key. This team is young, but extremely talented. Beyond that, you know what they say... "ya never know".

♥ Thanks Players & Coaches ♥
Good Luck On The Upcoming Season
 
[back to supershow intro page]

Postscript... Update... Reflections

Well sports fans... "ya never know" ...Indeed!
A few post-season comments here...
...after winning another National Championship!
I'll try to be brief.

For me the 2002-03 season was perhaps the most enjoyable of any from this team... not because we won it all... but because there were so many close, exciting, and just amazing comeback games. In recent years, those kind of games have been too rare. It's been a while since I watched Larry Bird do magical things on the court on a regular basis... but Diana did exactly that this year (bad back and all). Time... after time... just like Larry did. This team certainly would NOT have won it all without the other players, but what Diana did this year was the stuff of legends.

diana

One thing I was absolutely right about was the determination I saw on Diana's face (see my comments above). It was my over-riding impression at the Supershow. It seems she even told Geno early on that "we can win it all". The fact she recognized she had some extraordinary talent to work with (although young) probably made her work even harder. Geno may have agreed with her too... he DID seem quite excited at the Supershow... but he also knew from experience that a lot of things have to "break right" to win the biggest prize. And a lot of things didn't go right this year, with injuries, and youthful lapses & inexperience. Despite all that, as Geno noted more than a few times this season: "We've got D... and they don't".

The biggest surprise on this team was the improvement that Maria Conlon showed from last season. As a "blow-out-time" role player, playing limited minutes behind National player-of-the-year Sue Bird last year, nobody could have predicted that Maria would be forced (after Nicole was injured), to play the most important position (point guard), often for the full 40mins, and do it so well. It also allowed Diana to be her most free-wheeling effective, away from the ball, without that constant PG burden. Here was a player that wasn't an elite nationally-ranked high-school athlete, like most of her teammates. Yet the sweet young kid I briefly met when she was a freshman, showed she had a toughness underneath to not only endure, but prosper. Indeed, even Geno recognized what she meant to this team's success, giving her the symbolic "grail" after the national championship game (the cut-down net). You won't find a better story in all of UConn's fabled hoops history.

One of my favorite memories of the year was the smile that Ann Strother wore for days (weeks?) after the final game. After hitting a bit of the wall as a freshman, with all the travel, studies, media craziness, let alone the long hard practices and off-court training... she had one of her best performances in the final game. Without it, we don't win. She knew it afterwards too... you could see it with that great smile. Whatever the next 3 years bring, she'll always have this. And so will we.
Thanks here, to all of the girls ♥

I don't see how next years team can possibly do a more spectacular job. On paper they'll be even stronger, with 3 new recruits, plus Nicole back from injury... but on paper doesn't mean a lot in sports. They'll certainly have a target on their backs. But... they'll also still have the kid with #3 on her back too. Bring it on!

Jackson - Summer '03

made with this program
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