Caroline Ducharme is looking forward to signing her letter of intent to join the UConn womenâ€™s basketball program on Wednesday, but the moment wonâ€™t come without her looking back.
She persevered and came back from surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee suffered in May 2017, and recovered from a torn shoulder labrum in July 2018 that ended her sophomore season at Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, Massachusetts, four months before it began.
Then thereâ€™s all the other work sheâ€™s put in on the court and in the classroom to show she was worthy that UConn coach Geno Auriemma would make her a scholarship offer that she accepted in April.
â€śIt did take a lot just to get to this point,â€ť Ducharme said Monday night. â€śWeâ€™re not going to do anything crazy Wednesday. Iâ€™m going to be at my house and with my family.
â€śIâ€™m really excited. When I committed, that was exciting, too. But now to sign and make it official â€¦ I just think about the injuries, the effort, the pandemic, everything that has happened. I am so grateful to have this opportunity. My family helped me get here and they supported me and theyâ€™re the reason I got here. Thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m so excited to share this with them.â€ť
Ducharme, a 6-foot-2 guard, is one of three Class of 2021 recruits to commit to the Huskies so far. Saylor Poffenbarger (6-2 wing, Middletown, Maryland) will sign her letter of intent Wednesday night while Amari DeBerry (6-5 forward, Buffalo, New York) is holding an event at her high school on Nov. 20, though sheâ€™ll likely send in a signed letter of intent well before that.
The Huskies are awaiting a decision from No. 1 recruit Azzi Fudd (5-10 guard, Arlington, Virginia).
Ducharme took advantage of her first healthy campaign at Nobles and was named the 2020 Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year. She averaged 25 points, 14 rebounds, five assists, and three blocked shots in leading her team to the New England Prep School Athletic Council Class AA tournament championship. In the final against Worcester Academy, she had 31 points and 14 rebounds in a 65-42 win that gave Nobles its eighth title in nine years.
But her stock exploded over the spring and summer. Rated the No. 41 recruit in the class by ESPNHoopgurlz in April, she is now rated No. 5 in the class. She is the No. 9 recruit in the All-Star Girls Report ratings.
â€śI donâ€™t even look at those things or pay attention to them,â€ť Ducharme said. â€śI know theyâ€™re out there but, honestly, itâ€™s nothing. Itâ€™s just motivation.
â€śI was fortunate. In the spring everything was shut down. I joined my AAU program, Exodus, and we started playing and practicing. Then we got the opportunity to scrimmage and then we had real competition. It was great to have one final season with my friends especially since a lot of my other friends didnâ€™t get a chance to play at all.â€ť
With the ability to take her classes online, Ducharme recently returned home from Las Vegas where she trained for two weeks with 2017 national Player of the Year and womenâ€™s college basketballâ€™s all-time leading scorer Kelsey Plum of the WNBAâ€™s Las Vegas Aces. Plum missed the 2020 WNBA season with a torn Achillesâ€™ tendon.
Not playing game after game after game on the AAU circuit allowed Ducharme to focus on other aspects of her own game.
â€śOne of the things that Iâ€™ve done during the pandemic was a lot of strength training and conditioning,â€ť Ducharme said. â€śI worked and played with my siblings during quarantine. I feel a lot stronger now than I have.â€ť
Sheâ€™ll get to see her progress on the court when Nobles starts practice on Nov. 30. While there is no guarantee that there will be games, she is hopeful theyâ€™ll have some kind of season.
One of the things Ducharme, who turned 19 last weekend, did while waiting was vote for the first time.
â€śIt was huge for me,â€ť she said. â€śThey said this was the most important election ever and for me to be part of the process for the first time was so exciting. It meant a lot to me and I followed the results closely like I felt that I mattered.â€ť
Sheâ€™ll reach another milestone on Wednesday when it becomes official that a dream of hers will come true.
â€śBeing committed and knowing that going to UConn was my goal has helped me stay focused,â€ť Ducharme said. â€śIf we have a high school season, Iâ€™ll be ready. But Iâ€™m going to worry about things that I can control. I can control working hard and getting better, keeping my goals in mind for when I get to UConn.â€ť
UConn freshman Paige Bueckers is among 20 players on the watch list for the Nancy Lieberman Award, which honors the nationâ€™s top point guard.
Bueckers is one of three freshmen on the list along with her USA Basketball teammate Hailey Van Lith of Louisville and Diamond Johnson of Rutgers.
The 5-foot-11 Bueckers was the No. 1 recruit in the country and the 2020 consensus high school Player of the Year. She was named the preseason Big East Freshman of the Year on Oct. 29.
The winner of the 2021 Nancy Lieberman Award will be presented April 9, 2021. Previous winners from UConn are Sue Bird (2000-02), Diana Taurasi (2003-04), Renee Montgomery (2009), and Moriah Jefferson (2015-16).