STORRS - Azzi Fudd has pretty much kept to herself since arriving here Memorial Day weekend to join the UConn women’s basketball team.
That doesn’t mean she hasn’t made an impression on her coaches and teammates.
“I think most of it is what I expected,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said Thursday. “Azzi’s very quiet, very much introverted, really doesn’t say a whole lot. But her game is much older than her age.
“Her footwork is the kind of footwork that you would expect from someone going into the pros, someone who has spent three or four years perfecting that. That’s how good her footwork is. Her ability to get shots off, and the way the shot comes off every single time the same way. I knew it, but when you watch it on a regular basis, it’s pretty amazing. And she’s a lot stronger than I realized. I had never spent that much time that close. So it’s been fun watching her.”
Fudd - a 5-foot-11 guard from Arlington, Virginia - was the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2021.
She capped off her scholastic career by being named a McDonald’s All-American and the 2021 Morgan Wooten Girls Player of the Year. She was honored even though her school, St. John’s College Prep in Washington, D.C., did not have a season due to the pandemic.
The Huskies could put three No. 1 recruits on the floor this season with Fudd, Paige Bueckers (2020), and Christyn Williams (2018). Fudd and Bueckers were teammates on USA Basketball’s 2017 U-16 team and 2018 U-17 team coached by Carla Berube that won gold medals.
“They are both quiet,” Auriemma said. “Caroline Ducharme is even more quiet than those two. They are just really quiet kids, but there is an air of confidence that they walk around with.
“Azzi just walks around like she is good. So her and Paige have that in common.”
While many of her teammates will head home for the remainder of the summer next week, Fudd’s stay in Virginia will be short.
In May she was selected to the national team that will be play in the FIBA U-19 World Cup Aug. 7-19 in Debrecen, Hungary. The club’s training camp will open in Colorado Springs on July 19. Her UConn classmate and teammate, center Amari DeBerry, is one of five finalists for three open spots on the 12-player roster.
Bueckers bouncing back
It’s been two months since Bueckers had surgery on her right ankle. Slowly but surely the reigning national Player of the Year is working her way back.
“She’s been out of the boot,” Auriemma said. “She’s been off crutches. She’s been working on her rehab. She has done something in the pool. According to her - take that with a grain of salt - when we get back to school Aug. 30 she’ll be 100 percent.”
Of course, Aug. 30 is still too long for the sophomore guard to wait. Auriemma says she does get in some shooting but worries that Bueckers pushes herself too had.
“But I’m always checking with our athletic trainer (Janelle Francisco),” Auriemma said. “I’ll say to Paige, ‘Where are your crutches? ‘They’re right over there.’ ‘You’re supposed to have your crutches for how long?’ ‘You know, when I’m not here I have my crutches all the time.’ I said, ‘That’s great but you’re here 10 hours per day so when the hell are you on them?’
“It’s a good thing she’s that good.”
One look at UConn schedules over the past 20 years and names like Ball State, Cal State Northridge, Wright State, and Colgate show up.
At least those programs had the courage to play some of the best the Huskies had to offer.
“There were a lot of times we couldn’t get games, because people didn’t want to play,” Auriemma said. “I think we solved that problem a little bit. Now we go right to the athletic director and say, ‘Your coach is being a little short-sighted in not wanting to play us because when we come down to your place, you’re going to sell out.’ And usually the game gets scheduled.”
UConn has announced additions to future schedules this summer.
The Huskies’ series with Tennessee will continue with the Lady Vols coming to Connecticut this coming season and UConn visiting Knoxville in 2022-23. The Huskies’ current longest-running non-conference series will continue as a two-year extension with South Carolina will take that rivalry through the 2023-24 season. UConn will start a home-and-home series with North Carolina State in Connecticut in 2022-23 with the return game in Raleigh in 2023-24.
With home games against Notre Dame and Tennessee, road games at South Carolina and Oregon, a neutral site game with Louisville at Mohegan Sun Arena, and three games at the Battle 4 Atlantis Thanksgiving week, the Huskies have two openings for their 2021-22 non-conference schedule.
Auriemma credited UConn executive associate athletic director Neal Eskin and retiring ESPN vice president of women’s sports programming and acquisitions Carol Stiff for their work.
“Scheduling is always an evolving thing,” Auriemma said. “Sometimes games are easy to fill out and sometimes they are hard as hell. Neal Eskin does an amazing job building relationships with other universities to put games together. We are really going to miss Carol Stiff at ESPN because she was a big help putting a lot of these games together for a lot of schools.
“The schedule is going to be really, really good every year. Some years are much more daunting than others, but I think our fans have come to expect that.”