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Nika Mühl getting true homecoming with UConn's stop in Croatia

Mühl will not only show her teammates and coaches around her hometown, friends and family from back home will get to see her play in-person with the Huskies for the first time.

Photo: Ian Bethune

UConn women’s basketball’s European tour is officially underway but for senior point guard Nika Mühl, the trip means more than just playing basketball internationally. The Huskies are visiting her hometown of Zagreb, Croatia, where they’ll tour the city and take on a team of Croatian All-Stars in an exhibition contest.

Mühl’s coaches and teammates will get a first-hand look at the place she calls home — and she couldn’t be more thrilled.

“Oh I’m super excited,” she said. “I don’t think it’s hit me yet that my girls are finally going to see my country, my culture, try the food that I eat, meet my friends and my family. So I’m definitely super excited.”

Mühl not only has the chance to share her country and culture with her team, but she’ll also share her team with her friends and family from back home. They’ll finally get see her play — in-person instead of through a screen. For Mühl, it’s the best of both worlds.

“My Croatian people [get] to see me play in person and our whole team, so I feel like it’s gonna be a fun trip,” she said.

It’s not only various friends and family who will get to see her play live and in-person for the first time, either. Mühl’s parents haven’t been in the building for one of her games since she left for UConn in 2020. That’ll finally change.

“They're basketball fanatics, both of them,” Mühl said. “My mom watches every game — she stays up until 5 a.m. My dad is too stressed to watch games live, so he watches the next day.”

With the tour set for August 15-25, the Huskies will stop in three separate countries: Croatia, Slovenia and Italy. They’re scheduled for four games, beginning this Wednesday where Mühl will play in front of her home crowd. UConn will then continue its trip with a game in Slovenia followed by two contests in Italy.

Of course, none will have the same meaning as the opening contest. So for now, that’s the focus. And according to Mühl, she’s expecting a big crowd for her return home.

“Oh yeah, there’s gonna be a lot of people,” she said. “There’s gonna be probably the most people I’ll ever play in front of in Croatia. So yeah, I’m super excited about that. My friends, family, and my neighbors; people from all over the place coming to see that game; UConn fans in Croatia that I don’t even know. So it’s gonna be fun.”

Mühl isn’t the only one looking forward to the stop in Croatia. For Azzi Fudd, she wants to know if the country lives up to all of Mühl’s hype.

“She always tells us it’s the best country so I’m excited to get to see if that’s really true,” Fudd said. “But I’m really excited about the food and just getting to see her family. I mean, she’s on the phone with them all the time but I’ve never gotten to see them in person [and they haven’t] made it out here for a game. So I’m happy that they get to see her play.”

Likewise for Aaliyah Edwards, she can’t wait to see how Croatia compares to what Mühl has told her.

“She always tells us how beautiful it is. I don’t think it’s as beautiful as Canada but I’m ready to see what she’s talking about,” Edwards said with a laugh. “But I’m happy for her cause we’re stepping into her roots and where she grew up in. So it’s gonna be cool to see it from our perspective.”

This won’t be head coach Geno Auriemma’s first trip abroad with one of his teams. Typically, the program tries to go once every four years so each cycle of players can get an international trip, though COVID disrupted that cadence and as a result, they haven’t been since 2017.

Auriemma believes these trips are great learning experiences for his team — both to understand themselves and others better — but that’s especially true when it comes to seeing Mühl’s home country.

“No one can pick where they grew up, right?” Auriemma said. “You grew up where you grew up and no one can pick their childhood experience. It is what it is. So you can’t judge anybody one way or the other. But I think if you take our team and you bring them over there and you would show them and listen to Nika say, ‘Okay, when I was 14, 15, 16 this is what I did everyday. This is what I had to do everyday.’

“Now you start to think to yourself, ‘Man you did all that so you can play basketball,’ and now you look at your own experience and you realize that’s why those kids, when they come over here, are as driven and as focused and as determined as they are — because this is their dream. When you’re there you can see why; why it is a dream for them and why they are the way they are. So yeah, it’s extremely humbling, I think, for kids to see that.”

Basketball will factor into the trip too, but it’ll take a back seat for the first stop at least. Even though each contest will be important for the team to build chemistry and get some experience under their belt, the opener is about more than just what happens on the floor for Mühl. With this trip to Croatia, the senior guard will finally be able to show the family she made in Storrs the place she calls home.

“I’m super excited for seeing my family, seeing my friends, but also introducing my family here (to) my family there and opposite,” Mühl said. “That’s gonna be super exciting and my teammates (are going to be) experiencing a different culture, a different lifestyle, different people, different language. I feel like the whole trip is gonna be a lot of fun.”


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