Basketball is in the Ducharme family blood

Published on Thursday, 17 March 2022 17:41
Written by CARL ADAMEC

Journal Inquirer

STORRS - The ball was where the UConn women’s basketball team wanted it, in Caroline Ducharme’s hands.

Tied with DePaul and with time running out, Ducharme drove around the Blue Demons’ Darrione Rogers and finished at the basket to give the Huskies an 80-78 lead. The freshman remained stoic knowing there was 1.6 seconds on the clock before victory was secured. The crowd in Chicago was silent.

Meanwhile in an apartment in Providence, Rhode Island, there was bedlam.

“My roommates and I were jumping up and down, going crazy,” Ducharme’s sister Ashley, a Brown University senior, said.

“Caroline? She’s always been like that. But she really is a fun person. She’s always been extremely motivated and determined. When she puts her mind to something, it happens. When she’s playing she is so focused. She makes a game-winning shot at DePaul and there’s no expression. She stays in her zone whether she’s playing well or not playing well and she thinks about, ‘What can I do to help my team?’ ”

That Jan. 26 night the guard from Milton, Massachusetts helped the Huskies take a big step towards a Big East regular-season title that they’d wrap up four weeks later. She would then play a role in UConn adding the conference tournament crown.

Ducharme and her teammates begin their quest for a national championship Saturday when the second-seeded Huskies host No. 15 Mercer in a NCAA Bridgeport Regional first-round game at Gampel Pavilion.

It’s been a season of ups and downs for the 20-year-old, from getting almost no playing time in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas in November, to being the Huskies’ best player for a six-week stretch while her teammates battled through injuries and illness, to getting hurt herself and sitting out three games, to finding her groove again.

Her even-keel approach and work ethic have allowed her to thrive. This month she was named to the all-Big East second team and the all-freshman team.

“Caroline’s not afraid of anything,” UConn guard Paige Bueckers said. “She’s not afraid of anybody, any moment, and she just has a great mentality about basketball.

“When people got injured she got her opportunity and ran with it. It would have been easy to get negative and down on herself when she wasn’t playing at first. But Caroline being Caroline she stepped up and owned the moment.”

Ducharme’s parents, Chrissy and Todd, played sports at Williams College. Ashley, Caroline, and younger brother Reid are basketball players. Ashley recently wrapped up her career at Brown. Reid, a Class of 2023 recruit, holds a scholarship offer from UConn men’s basketball coach Dan Hurley.

Caroline would join Ashley at Nobles and Greenough School in seventh grade. At the end of her eighth-grade year in 2017, she tore the ACL in her left knee. With a goal of playing alongside her sister during her senior year, she missed only one game.

“I grew up falling in love with the game playing in the driveway with her and my brother,” Ashley Ducharme said. “Getting that last season was huge for me. It meant everything to me. I’d watch her and just think, ‘Wow, my sister’s pretty good.’

“It sucks to go through it but in her mind it’s, ‘I’m going to figure this out.’ She was going to do everything she could to get back on the court.”

Caroline would miss her sophomore season with a shoulder injury shortly after attending USA Basketball’s U-17 trials in 2018. She returned to become a two-time Massachusetts’ Gatorade Player of the Year.

The injuries kept her under the recruiting radar. But UConn coach Geno Auriemma paid attention and in April 2020 she made her verbal commitment to what she would call her dream school.

“When she was recruited she’d tell Geno, ‘I’m not looking to be handed anything. I just want the opportunity to show what I can do. I want that chance. I’ll do what it takes.’ ” Ashley Ducharme said. “She’s always had a chip on her shoulder like that. But there’s also a part of her that’s humble. She is going to work hard for what she wants.”

As a freshman Caroline Ducharme averaged 11.2 points and 3.6 rebounds with a season high of 28 points in a win at St. John’s on Jan. 23. She joined Bueckers and Maya Moore (who were first team) along with Svetlana Abrosimova, Tina Charles, Bria Hartley and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis as UConn freshmen named to the all-conference first or second team.

She’s done it with a competitive spirit and an expression that never seems to change.

“There’s a lot of good players on our team and a lot of good players in our league,” Auriemma said. “Who knows? She might have made first team if she didn’t miss a couple of those games. She’s a tough kid, and she makes winning plays.

“I kept saying all of October that Caroline is better than everyone thinks she is and we go to the Bahamas and she doesn’t get off the bench and everyone thinks I’m crazy, including me. All she needed was an opportunity and she took advantage and she’s been exceptionally consistent.”

And that’s the way Caroline likes it.

“I wouldn’t always say I was like that,” Ducharme said. ‘I try not to get too high or too low and not get caught up on thinking about bad plays and focus on the next play. I try to stay level and focus on that.

“It’s come from my parents and my sister and brother, trying to be a role model in that sense. They’re passionate. But they always talk about next play. If you mess up, next play. If you do something well, next play. If you do something great and then you mess up, that last play doesn’t matter.”

Ashley Ducharme did make it to Mohegan Sun Arena on March 7 and watched her sister score nine points as UConn avenged an earlier loss to Villanova with a 70-40 rout of the Wildcats in the Big East final. Then she watched as the Huskies celebrated as confetti fell from the rafters.

And, yes, Caroline was all smiles.

“That person you see on the floor in the game from the stands or on TV is very different than the little sister she is,” Ashley Ducharme said. “It’s amazing as her big sister to watch her on ESPN all focused and then the same night she’ll Facetime me or message me and makes me laugh like no other person can. Caroline loves basketball, but she also loves her family and we all have that bond with her.”

Ashley Ducharme wrapped up her career at Brown on March 5 when the Bears lost to Yale on Senior Day. With the Huskies playing Georgetown in the Big East quarterfinals, Caroline could not make it to Providence but did tape a video that was played during the ceremony.

Having missed the 2018-19 season following shoulder and hip surgeries and the 2020-21 season after the Ivy League canceled winter sports, the 6-1 forward has two years of eligibility. She has entered her name in the transfer portal but is also considering moving on to be a graduate assistant coach or taking her psychology degree and searching for a job in sports.

“I’m just so grateful for my time at Brown,” she said. “I believe everything happens for a reason. I’ve learned so much on and off the court through my experiences and I’ve made some of my best friends here. I’m grateful I had this opportunity.”

She hopes for the next three weeks to be cheering her sister and the Huskies on to a national championship.

“Caroline’s definitely grown and matured,” Ashley Ducharme said. “She’ll always be my little sister. But to see her in college now and to have that independence and to be able to figure things out on her own has been special to watch. She’s on a bigger stage but it doesn’t phase her. She knows what she needs to do.

“I am just so proud of her.”

Posted in The Bristol Press, UConn on Thursday, 17 March 2022 17:41. Updated: Thursday, 17 March 2022 17:43.