UConn women’s basketball team gathers for Geno Auriemma’s charity golf tournament: ‘Love to be here’

Photo of Paul Doyle

WEST HARTFORD — The social media snapshots have offered fans a glimpse into the summer lives of the UConn women’s basketball team.

They were in Brooklyn when Evina Westbrook and the Minnesota Lynx visited the New York Liberty. They gathered at Mohegan Sun Arena to see Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart and Gabby Williams face the Connecticut Sun. They’ve been around the state for various events and the program’s marquee names — Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd — mingled with Steph Curry and the NBA champion Golden State Warriors at the TD Garden in Boston.

On Tuesday, they were together at a golf course supporting their coach’s cause. Geno Auriemma skipped the media portion of his charity golf tournament because he was not feeling well, but most of his players were at the Hartford Golf Club to meet fans and chat with reporters.

Auriemma, who has a non-COVID illness, was scheduled to be part of the Travelers Championship Celebrity Pro-Am Wednesday at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell but is not participating. His absence Tuesday didn’t seem to dampen the mood for an event that raises money for Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.

Players arrived in two groups, gathering at a court adjacent to a clubhouse in the middle of the course. Bueckers engaged with fans as she took challenges and hit shots.

“It’s obviously Coach’s fundraiser, anything we can do to support him,” Bueckers said. “Obviously him supporting others, supporting Connecticut Children’s hospital, supporting kids ... we just love to be here and be part of it.”

The Huskies have been practicing in Storrs the past few weeks. The summer session has provided an opportunity for players to work on conditioning and some basketball activity, although some have been limited because of health issues.

Bueckers? The rising junior missed much of her sophomore season because of knee surgery, returning to lead UConn to the Final Four in the spring.

She was hampered by an ankle injury after her freshman year and was limited last summer. This summer, she is feeling good and focused on adding muscle.

In fact, she is staying on campus all summer.

“I took a couple weeks off after the season ... just making sure that knee was 100 percent and that I’m mentally and physically ready to go back at it,” she said. “I’m good right now.”

Fudd missed part of her freshman season with a foot injury. UConn has been cautious with her this summer, so she has been limited.

“It’s been good so far, having fun, getting healthy,” Fudd said. “It’s been a little frustrating because it’s kind of been a lot of time and there’s nothing I can do to speed up the process, and I hate having to wait for this kind of stuff. It’s going slow, but it’s picking up, so I’m really happy and feeling good so far. Knock on wood.”

Forward Aubrey Griffin, who missed all of last season and has back surgery in January, is easing back. Griffin expects to be ready for the preseason, although she has yet to engage in basketball activities.

Guard Nika Mühl has also been limited by a lingering foot injury.

“But I feel like by the time the season begins it should be all fine. I feel, overall, very healthy,” said Mühl, who missed seven games as a freshman and three as a sophomore. “Before, I was always just play [through pain] but it’s not fun being out for a month and a half while my team is playing. I feel like I’ve got to be smarter when it comes to that — when something hurts, say it. So I’ve been working on that, limiting myself as much as I can. But, also, we have to work.”

Mühl returned home to Croatia before returning for the summer session. She’ll still be on campus, along with other players who will continue to train.

Sophomore Amari DeBerry, who could have an expanded role this season, said the summer has provided the team with an opportunity to bond. UConn graduated three players — Westbrook, Christyn Williams and Olivia Nelson-Ododa — so there may be a leadership void.

According to DeBerry, Bueckers and Dorka Juhász are seizing that leadership role by being vocal on court. Off the court, it’s a collective effort.

“We all are always with each other, always hanging out, always going to each other if we need anything,” DeBerry said. “It’s pulling us together.”

The trip to Mohegan Sun last Friday provided this year’s team with a reminder of what they are part of. A day after Bird announced she would retire after the season, the players gathered to watch the Seattle Storm face the Sun.

They also posed for a photo with the alums, including assistant coaches Morgan Valley and Jamelle Elliott along with Sun director of franchise development Morgan Tuck.

Stewart, Williams and Tuck were UConn teammates from 2014 to 2016. Valley and Bird played together at UConn from 2000 to 2002. Elliott played at UConn from 1992 to 1996.

“It’s been really fun,” Bueckers said. “Just being able to build these awesome memories. We’re having a lot of fun.”