UConn's biggest questions at the start of summer workouts

There's plenty of uncertainty around the team at the unofficial start of the new campaign.

Photo: Ian Bethune

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UConn's biggest questions at the start of summer workouts

On Monday, UConn’s three incoming freshmen arrived on campus, marking the unofficial start of the team’s 2023-24 season. Summer workouts will begin shortly and soon enough, both Geno Auriemma and the players will meet with the media for the first time since the Sweet 16 loss to Ohio State in March.

While there’s no open workouts or practices during this time of year, there’s usually enough said by either Auriemma or the players to get a general idea of which way the team and/or individuals are trending.

Now that preparations are officially underway for the upcoming campaign, there’s plenty of questions surrounding the Huskies that will (hopefully) be answered by the time the team breaks for their final few months off before the semester begins.

How are the injured players recovering?

UConn’s entire 2023-24 season hinges on the health of Paige Bueckers. The Huskies proved this past year that they can still be competitive without her, but they need her help to be legitimate national title contenders. The last we saw of Bueckers, she had returned to practice in a limited capacity but didn’t participate in any contact drills. While she posted photos working out and playing on the court recently, we won’t have any concrete information on the status of her recovery from a torn ACL until either she or Auriemma provides an update.

The same goes for Ice Brady (dislocated patella), though she participated in warmups during the NCAA Tournament — usually the last step before a return to game action — and did some full-court sprints in front of media during an open practice. With her, the question is less about how she’s recovering and more about how much the injury has impacted her abilities as a player — if at all.

Some other injuries to check up on: How’s Caroline Ducharme doing after dealing with lingering concussion symptoms down the final stretch? Is Aubrey Griffin okay after her back flared up during the postseason? Is Azzi Fudd fully recovered from the knee injuries that kept her out for 22 games as a sophomore? Has anyone else needed an offseason fix-up like Ducharme’s hip surgery last year or Bueckers’ ankle operation in 2021?

Where do the freshmen fit in?

Summer workouts are far from the end-all be-all — there’s a reason players take this time of year to fix any nagging injuries or ailments — and they mostly serve as an introduction to both the school and program for new players.

However, it’s usually not hard to tell which newcomers impress quickly, and which fall behind. In 2021, Christyn Williams praised both Azzi Fudd and Caroline Ducharme early on, but noted that Amari DeBerry had plenty of work to do. Last summer, Auriemma realized Lou Lopez Sénéchal would start after seeing her take the court just a few times with the Huskies.

Unlike some years, UConn isn’t really counting on its incoming freshmen to contribute right away. KK Arnold will be behind Bueckers and Nika Mühl on the point guard depth chart while Ashlynn Shade and Qadence Samuels will have to compete with the likes of Fudd, Ducharme and Griffin for minutes. This is a class built for the future.

Despite that, how will the trio fit in? Arnold looked like an instant-impact freshman on the AAU circuit last summer with her strength, defense and ability to get to the rim. Does that translate right away? Shade has already been tabbed by Auriemma as a positionless, “really good basketball player” but what does that look like? Can Samuels’ 3-point shooting stand out immediately?

It may take more than one month of informal workouts to completely answer those questions, but the summer session should reveal a little bit about each player.

How much did Jana El Alfy’s early arrival help?

When El Alfy showed up in Storrs a few months earlier than planned in January, Auriemma explained that the decision to bring her in early was “all for her development”. As a result, nobody provided any concrete evaluations about the freshmen — though the team remained high on her potential throughout the process.

Now, that’s set to change. Not only will the summer workouts provide an answer about whether or not the extra few months in Storrs were beneficial for El Alfy, we should finally start to hear how’s she performing, too.

UConn has a big hole in the frontcourt behind Aaliyah Edwards, which means there’s plenty of minutes up for grabs. If El Alfy is a legitimate candidate to claim some of them, we’ll probably have an idea by July.

What’s Aaliyah Edwards working on during the offseason?

After Edwards earned Third Team All-American honors this past season, Auriemma gave her a homework assignment of sorts. If she wanted to get her name on the wall in the Werth Champions Center or her number in the Huskies of Honor as a first team All-American, Edwards needed to become great at something.

However, the coach emphasized that the rising senior needed to figure out the next steps on her own.

“Me saying it is one thing,” Auriemma explained. “You saying it and then working on it — that's the key.”

So what’s Edwards been working on since last season? Will she play harder than anyone else every minute she’s in? Will she become the top rebounder in the nation on both ends of the floor? Is she going to terrorize every defender she goes against?

Whatever Edwards decided should be revealed over the next month.

Is Ayanna Patterson’s hard work finally translating into on-court success?

As a freshman, Patterson paced the team in the weight room. Her coaches and teammates agreed she was one the hardest workers on the team, maybe even No. 1. She’s comfortably the most athletic player on the team.

Despite that, Patterson struggled for minutes during her first year in Storrs and her role decreased as the season progressed. The disconnect between Patterson’s apparent efforts in the gym and her playing time remains confounding.

But now that she has a full year in the program under her belt, the rising sophomore can use this summer to focus exclusively on her game — unlikely this time last year, when she was still getting acclimated to the program. While there’s no games until November (excluding the European trip in August), the workouts should be the first look at whether Patterson’s work ethic is actually helping her progress on the basketball court.

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