MOHEGAN INDIAN RES. - Kia Nurse understands all good things - including her time at UConn - come to an end.
The basketball part of her college career concluded March 30 when the Huskies lost to Notre Dame in the national semifinals. The school part closed Saturday when the academic All-American was awarded her bachelor’s degree in ceremonies in Storrs.
“Graduation was amazing and my parents were excited about it as well,” Nurse said Monday. “For me, it was a big goal. I’m fortunate that I had the opportunity to come back for graduation and walk, but I’m really excited to get started with this.”
Nurse made her preseason debut with the New York Liberty at Mohegan Sun Arena. The team’s first-round draft pick (No. 10 overall) had 10 points and four rebounds in a 76-69 loss to the Dallas Wings.
“Obviously there’s a learning curve and I’m trying to get used to a new teammates and new coaching staff,” Nurse said. “I’m looking forward to learning from them.”
The Liberty, of course, already have quite a UConn presence on their roster with Tina Charles, Bria Hartley, and Kiah Stokes as returning veterans and Kelly Faris in camp as a free agent.
Nurse is also building a relationship with New York first-year coach Katie Smith, who will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame as a player in September.
“Playing for Katie is a great advantage,” Nurse said. “She has a ton of experience and she’s a player’s coach. She was excited to get started and I shared that. She wanted me to come in and compete and play hard every single play and do what I do defensively.”
Those words were music to Nurse’s ears.
“Kia Nurse has met expectations and exceeded them,” Smith said.
The Hamilton, Ontario, native was the American Athletic Conference and WBCA national Defensive Player of the Year as well as an all-league first-team pick as a senior.
She gave herself a week off after the season ended before getting back to work with UConn assistant coach Shea Ralph.
“I had to keep up my cardio and get back in the gym and get shots up,” Nurse said. “Coach Shea was really helpful with me all throughout that, doing drills and preparing me for what’s next.”
The Liberty will play the Los Angeles Sparks here today in their exhibition finale. They will open the regular season May 20 against former UConn All-American Gabby Williams and the Chicago Sky.
New York’s won two Eastern Conference champions in a row but lost its first playoff game both years. Nurse is ready to play her part to help the team win its first title.
“I want to come in and learn as much as I can, and do whatever is necessary and asked of me in the role that I’ll be placed in,” Nurse said. “I’m excited to be a part of this.”
Stevens settles in
After being selected by Dallas with the sixth overall pick in the draft, Azura Stevens looked at the Wings’ exhibition schedule and noticed the opener was May 7 here, two days after her graduation ceremony at UConn.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to come back for graduation,” Stevens said. “But when I saw we were playing here, it was a sign that I should come back and enjoy the moment.
“It was a long journey, a long four years, a lot of change, and a unique path. But it culminated with getting my degree and walking across the stage with my family there was really special.”
With her degree in hand, Stevens waited for her Wings’ teammates to arrive here for the preseason opener with New York.
The Raleigh, North Carolina, native had 19 points and nine rebounds in Dallas’ win.
“They want to come in and add what I can,” Stevens said. “They want me to play that stretch 4 position and even a little of the 3. I’m mixing it up as well as I can.”
Stevens was named the AAC Newcomer of the Year and Sixth Man Award winner in her one season at UConn. In five NCAA Tournament games she averaged 14.2 points and 6.6 rebounds and had 19 points and eight rebounds in the loss to Notre Dame.
When the team returned to campus, she informed coach Geno Auriemma that she would not use her final year of eligibility.
“I took a week or two off just to get a mental rest,” Stevens said. “It was a long year. Then I trained that next week before heading off to camp and camp has been pretty good. We’ve got a lot of new people trying to gel together.”
Dallas finished 16-18 a year ago and qualified for the playoffs but lost in the first round to the Washington Mystics.
Stevens joined two other former UConn players in camp - second-year guard Saniya Chong and 2018 third-round draft pick Natalie Butler. She’s also developing relationships with her other teammates.
“I talked to Theresa Plaisance a lot and bounced questions off of her,” Stevens said. “I asked, ‘What should I wear? What should I bring? How’s training camp? What’s there to do?’ I’ve gotten to know Ruth Hamblin. And I’ve talked to Skylar (Diggins-Smith) about this season and what we want to do. It’s been fun learning from everyone.”
The Wings will face the Connecticut Sun tonight and host the Las Vegas Aces to close out their exhibition schedule Sunday. They will entertain the Atlanta Dream for their regular season opener on May 20.