STORRS - Napheesa Collier has always let her actions speak for her. It has allowed the UConn womenâ€™s basketball teamâ€™s forward to be a 2017 WBCA All-American as well as a two-time all-American Athletic Conference first-team choice.
But as she enters her final season with the Huskies, the talk around Collier is that she has to talk. The St. Charles, Missouri, native is one of just two seniors on the roster along with two-time All-American Katie Lou Samuelson.
â€śItâ€™s difficult for me because itâ€™s not part of my comfort zone,â€ť Collier said. â€śIâ€™ve never been that rah-rah type of person. I try to lead by example. Iâ€™m still like that. But I know if I see something that I have to say something. If I need to pull someone aside, I have to do that. I donâ€™t think it was about having to defer to anyone. For me, itâ€™s just being me and itâ€™s not anything that Iâ€™ve had to do in the past. I think Iâ€™ve gotten better, but itâ€™s a leap that you have to make as a senior. Katie Lou and I will be the only main voices. Itâ€™s a big step for me.â€ť
Stepping up on the court has never been an issue.
Collier ranked in the AACâ€™s top 15 in scoring (ninth at 16.1 points), rebounds (seventh at 7.4), assists (15th at a career high 3.3), assist-to-turnover ratio (fifth at 2.2), field-goal percentage (fifth at 58.3), free-throw percentage (eighth at 78.6), steals (14th at 1.6) and blocks (third at 1.7), as a junior. In five NCAA Tournament games, she averaged 20.8 points on 67.7 percent shooting, 7.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists and earned her a spot on the all-Final Four team.
On Thursday, she was named to the watch list for the Katrina McClain Award that honors the nationâ€™s top power forward. Collier was a finalist for the honor last season that went to Oregonâ€™s Ruthy Hebard.
â€śYouâ€™re not going to change Pheesa that much,â€ť UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. â€śShe is going to go out and get a double-double and play her butt off, and that is not going to change. She has been like that since the very start. You know you can count on her. Lou, the same thing.â€ť
Collier enters her senior year with 1,609 points and 808 rebounds and is on pace to become the fourth UConn player with 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds (joining Tina Charles, Maya Moore, Rebecca Lobo and Breanna Stewart). Last month, she was a finalist for the United States senior national team, coached by South Carolinaâ€™s Dawn Staley, that won the gold medal at the FIBA World Cup.
Being with the professionals forced her to speak up.
â€śThatâ€™s one of the big things theyâ€™ve emphasized at camp,â€ť Collier said. â€śThey talked so much and were always helping each other. They play so smart. I learned there that I need to more vocal here, more than I have ever been.â€ť
While she tried to be vocal on the court, she spent time speaking to former UConn teammate Morgan Tuck.
Tuck, of the WNBAâ€™s Connecticut Sun, made her first senior national team roster and earned gold alongside fellow ex-Huskies Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Charles, and Stewart.
â€śI asked a lot about life after college, what sheâ€™s doing overseas and how she handles all that,â€ť Collier said. â€śWe talked about things like taxes, stuff I havenâ€™t had to deal with yet that she deals with now. A lot of stuff about adult life, you could say. I learned a lot.â€ť
She wants to use everything sheâ€™s learned to help UConn to a 12th consecutive NCAA Final Four bid and record 12th national championship.
The Huskies play their first exhibition against NAIA Vanguard on Nov. 4 at Gampel Pavilion with the regular season opener a week later versus Ohio State.
â€śPhee has done a good job emerging as a leader,â€ť Samuelson said. â€śI think us working together has been good because we complement each other well. Weâ€™ll talk off the court and figure out stuff we need to bring back to the team and figure out what we need to address. She has been with me all along the way.
â€śI might be more vocal but she also leads with her work ethic, her hustle and everything she does. She is also consistent, and that is one of the biggest things you can ask for in a leader.â€ť