WEST HARTFORD — The UConn women’s basketball team convened at the 20th annual Geno for the Kids Charity golf tournament at the Hartford Golf Club on Tuesday.
Head coach Geno Auriemma and players Ayanna Patterson and Aaliyah Edwards missed the event with non-COVID-19 illnesses, but the rest of the players were there to discuss their offseasons and what lies ahead.
Following a year marred by injuries and COVID-19 bots things are looking up for of the Huskies healthwise Still, the players believe going through those struggles, which strengthened their bond as collective unit, will pay dividends in the season to come.
“I mean, we’re relentless,” Paige Bueckers said. “Evina [Westbrook] and Aaliyah [Edwards] were the only ones on the team that played the whole season, everybody else missed a game or two, or a lot. But just the stick-to-itiveness that we all had and just the relentlessness and perseverance that we all had to go through, I feel like nothing can break us.
“I feel like there’s obviously some things that can challenge us and there’s things we gotta fight through, but I feel like if we’re all together. I don’t think anything can break us.”
Bueckers, Azzi Fudd, Dorka Juhász, Aubrey Griffin, Nika Mühl and Caroline Ducharme all provided updates on their health and how they’re progressing through various rehab processes.
UConn fans can get this one out of the way and breathe a sigh of relief: All is good with Bueckers, who missed 19 games with a knee injury.
“I probably took a couple of weeks off after the season,” she said. “I did come back from my knee injury, obviously, so just making sure that was 100% and making sure I’m mentally and physically ready to go back at it. So I’m good right now.”
Fudd, who missed 11 games with a foot injury, has been focusing on getting healthy and preserving her body this offseason. She said that she rushed things and started workouts too early last offseason which led to pain and injury during the season.
“So I learned my lesson and I’m trying to be mature about this and just kind of take the time that I need and not do too much,” Fudd said. “Make sure that I’m doing enough to stay in shape and shoot and keep my ball handling and everything fresh, but still not too much on my foot where it’s bothering me. I want to make sure that I am progressing enough but not overdoing it.”
Fudd said things have been going well as she did most of the team workouts last week and has been doing full individuals with the other guards. Though she is clearly eager to get back to doing everything she normally does.
“It’s been a little frustrating because it’s kind of been a lot of time and there’s nothing I can do to speed up the process, and I hate having to wait for this kind of stuff,” she said. “It’s going slow, but it’s picking up, so I’m really happy and feeling good so far.”
Juhász feels like she is “getting close to the finish line” in her recovery process after suffering a broken left wrist in the Elite Eight. She will have another doctor’s visit on July 5.
“I have a good feeling he’s gonna clear me,” Juhász said. So I’m manifesting. But yeah, so basically they said, you know, three, four months, but I think I’m doing pretty good.”
Griffin missed the entirety of her junior season with ankle and knee issues and later had to have surgery in January for a disc injury in her back. She is still in the rehab process, but things are progressing well.
She has been doing a lot of glute work with bands as well as jumping and working on regaining her strength. In terms of getting back to basketball activities, she’s been able to “shoot a little and do some stuff around the rim.” She doesn’t have an exact estimate on her timeline to return yet, but is optimism.
“I’m just starting now to do some more stuff,” Griffin said. “So I should be ready soon to be full playing.”
Ducharme had surgery on her left hip in late April to repair an injury lingering from high school. She said the rehab process is “definitely going really well.”
“I’m able to do a little bit more,” she said. “I went to the doctor today, so I’m cleared to do some more jogging and some more basketball activity stuff. Just more strengthening.”
Mühl has dealt with a lingering foot injury, missing seven games as a freshman and three as a sophomore, but expects to be ready to go for her junior year.
“I feel like by the time the season begins it should be all fine. I feel, overall, very healthy,” she said. “Before, I was always just playing [through pain] but it’s not fun being out for a month and a half while my team is playing. I feel like I’ve got to be smarter when it comes to that — when something hurts, say it. So I’ve been working on that, limiting myself as much as I can. But, also, we have to work.”
The Huskies are confident in achieving their goals of a national championship behind all the adversity they faced last season and everyone on the roster appearing on track to be ready for preseason.
“We talk about it all the time, like I don’t think there’s ever gonna be another season like that, hopefully not,” Ducharme said. “But it is crazy when you look back and think about everything that we went through and that we still ended up where we ended up. Obviously it’s not how we wanted to end it, but I think in the long run it definitely will help us going into this year in kind of having a different mindset.”
Lila Bromberg can be reached at email@example.com and @LilaBBromberg on Twitter.