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With extra excitement, UConn starts official practice earlier than usual

The Huskies kick off the start of the season without a "dark cloud" hanging over for the first time in a while.

Photo: Ian Bethune

Typically, Geno Auriemma likes to start practice sometime during the second week of October. But on Tuesday, UConn kicked off the 2023-24 season in earnest with its first official session.

Why so early? Because the coach sensed his team was ready.

“We're actually starting way earlier than we've ever started,” Auriemma said. “I just felt like kids were really excited, ‘Let's get started, let's get started.’”

So at 2:37 p.m., Auriemma huddled his players and assistants around in a circle and spoke for a few minutes before starting the drills. Even though the team held summer workouts and were allowed to practice before heading to Europe, Tuesday’s session felt different. There was a clear sense of excitement in the gym because, for the first time in a while, the Huskies could actually dream on their potential.

“It's just been really hard the last couple of years because you're starting out under a little bit of a dark cloud and so the excitement is maybe a little bit more tempered,” Auriemma explained. “I’m anxious to see how the new guys blend in. It's like that every year, though. You have this vision in your mind of what you think it's gonna be like. But there's also an unknown and you're excited to see what that is.”

Unlike a lot of years, UConn’s already gotten a sneak peek at what the team looks together on the court thanks to the four games it played during the European tour. Auriemma already knows what the Huskies have to spend more time on during practice.

“When we play fresh and fast and free, we're really, really good. When we when we start pressing, start picking up three-quarter court with that kind of aggressiveness, we're really, really good,” he said. “When we don't play like that, we're not very good at all because of the other things that have to get fixed. But we have a long time to fix it. But I liked what I saw when we were at our best. That looked really, really good. And when we were at our worst, that's why God invented red wine.”

Injury updates

While the Huskies had everyone present in the gym, not everyone participated.

Jana El Alfy remains in a boot after rupturing her Achilles in the U-19 World Cup with Egypt. She’ll sit out the entire season while recovering.

“With Jana being unavailable, the one bright spot is we never had her so we don't know exactly what it is that we're missing,” Auriemma said.

Meanwhile, Ayanna Patterson (knee) and Amari DeBerry (back) continue to work their way back from offseason procedures. During the 20 minutes of practice open the media, Patterson rode on a stationary bike while DeBerry used an elliptical. Whether or not they’re ready for the season opener on Nov. 8 remains to be seen, though DeBerry did appear in the Huskies’ final exhibition in Europe.

“I hope both of them are 100 percent (for the start of the season) because we certainly could use both of them,” Auriemma said.

Aubrey Griffin is also dealing with a foot issue — “She twisted her foot or something last week,” is how the coach described it — but participated during practice.

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