Geno Auriemma sees recruiting a bit like winemaking.
“Some years, winemakers make better wine than other years,” Auriemma said recently, “because they have better grapes to work with.”
By the time they leave Storrs, the 2020-21 group of freshmen could wind up as one of the best batches Auriemma’s had in years.
The class is headlined by point guard Paige Bueckers, the top recruit in the country. But forward Aaliyah Edwards and guard Nika Muhl have also carved out significant roles for themselves on a team that returns four contributors from last year — and the class as a whole seems to have revitalized the team and staff with its competitiveness and energy.
“It’s very difficult to get one player that’s going to be a standout great player for you for four years. Those don’t come along very often,” Auriemma said. “Then if you have two, that’s where national championships come from, when you can put classes together where you’ve got two super impactful players over the course of four years. So having two or three players of impact, and then those rare, rare, rare years where you may find yourself with four, then you’ve got that magical class of Asjha [Jones], Tamika [Williams], Sue [Bird] and Swin [Cash]. But they’re just so hard to come by.
“The fact that I think, right off the bat, we’ve got freshmen that can contribute and contribute right away, and they’re only going to get better and better and better. And the best thing that I like about them is their work ethic is never questioned, which is also unusual for first-year kids.”
“They’re an interesting group,” added associate head coach Chris Dailey, who also serves as UConn’s recruiting coordinator. “I think they’re willing to try to figure things out, they’re willing to work. But there’s just a lot that they have to know and a lot that they have to experience, and that’s going to take time.”
‘If you aspire to be great, it has to be hard’
Prior to the 2020 recruits signing last November, UConn had a couple mixed-bag classes. Crystal Dangerfield was the No. 3 recruit in the country in 2016, but the only one in the top 100 that UConn signed. The 2017 Husky class had four top 30 players, headlined by No. 1 Megan Walker, but three transferred and Walker left early for the WNBA Draft.
Christyn Williams (No. 1 in 2018) and Olivia Nelson-Ododa (No. 5) were highly touted. But after the Huskies missed out on some top targets in 2019, they were left with a one-person class (Aubrey Griffin, No. 21) until signing Anna Makurat in the spring.
Auriemma and his staff did little differently on the recruiting trail beyond looking more closely at European prospects to fill needs (Muhl is from Croatia, Makurat from Poland). Some years you just get luckier in getting the kids you want, Auriemma says, and some classes of high school players are simply stronger than others.
UConn benefitted from