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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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 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.
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.
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.
Fast-break for the Rock-Cat.
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 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 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 (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 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 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 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.
Big-time All American huh? C'mon Sue, get that outa here!
"Hey Sue, you know you have to shower with us after the game too... right?"
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.
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?
♥ Thanks Players & Coaches ♥
Postscript... Update... Reflections
Well sports fans... "ya never know" ...Indeed!
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.
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
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