STORRS, Conn. -- As the University of Connecticut women's basketball team's workout last Thursday began to wind down, coach Geno Auriemma inserted Mikayla Coombs in to work with the Huskies' first team against the practice players.
She made it through one sequence fine. But after the practice players' second possession against the Huskies' full-court pressure, Auriemma made his way over to the freshman guard.
"He asked me how I would guard my man and I completely did the wrong thing," Coombs said. "He went, 'Really? That's what you're going to do?' It's been like that. He hasn't gotten in my face about anything. That will probably come."
"But I love it. When he's not talking to you, that is the time that you need to be worried. He gets on you because he cares and he wants you to be a better player. It's not negative. If he just lets you go, that's a sign that he thinks your effort is not there and that's unacceptable."
Coombs is one of four freshmen seeking a spot in Auriemma's rotation as UConn's preseason schedule nears. The Huskies host Division II Fort Hays State at the XL Center in Hartford Wednesday, and reigning Division II champion Ashland Sunday at Gampel Pavilion.
The 5-foot-8 native of Buford, Georgia, knows she's in for a battle with the talent and depth UConn has on the perimeter. But if she wanted things to be easy, she would not be here.
"I'm trying to make the adjustment (from high school) and every day go harder and harder," Coombs said. "At first you feel like you don't know things but Coach always says as long as you go hard the other things we'll be OK. You need to have a different intensity level."
"I was just talking to my parents the other night. It is just totally different than anything I've been part of. In high school, you can glide through things and your talent will carry you. Here you have to be talented plus match it with a high intensity level. And I think there's a higher intesnity level here than at other schools. There's always a higher goal that they are asking you to achieve so you need to get close to it."
Coombs arrived at UConn following an All-American career at Wesleyan School in of Peachtree Corners, Georgia.
She was a 1,000-point scorer for the Wolves, even though she missed almost all of her sophomore season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee in the first quarter of the first game. As a senior, she averaged 16.9 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 4.0 steals in leading Wesleyan School to a 28-4 record and the Georgia Class A Private School state championship. She was her state's Gatorade Player of the Year and was also a Naismith All-American.
She played with classmate Megan Walker in the McDonald's All-America Game, and with Walker and fellow freshman Lexi Gordon in the Jordan Brand Classic.
While she's always worked at being a good teammate, Coombs has never had teammates like she has here including All-Americans Gabby Williams, Napheesa Collier, and Katie Lou Samuelson, and four-year starter Kia Nurse.
"When I first got here, and Lou will tell you this, I'd have it in my mind, 'Pass to Lou, pass to Lou, pass to Kia, pass to Gabby,' " Coombs said. "I'm not going to say that I was intimidated. But once you start playing with them you realize they want you to do well, they want you to score, and they want you to do good things. It's a team sport and they want to win, just like I do."
Coombs got her first taste of UConn basketball on the Huskies' trip to Italy in August. She believes she is getting better, though some days are better than others.
"Sometimes I'll make a bad pass or something and Coach will look at me and go, 'What was that?' " Coombs said with a smile. "But I think I've improved playing team defense. From an individual standpoint I think my endurance is much better. And even in the short time we've been together I think that I've become a better passer and my shot is better. It seems like everything is improving so I'm happy."
And Auriemma seems happy with what he has seen so far, though he also agrees with her that she -- like any freshman -- has a lot of work to do.
The regular season opener is Nov. 12 against Stanford at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
"Mikayla doesn't have any problems with the pace of things," Auriemma said. "She has her quickness and her ability to get to the basket. She reminds me of the way that Crystal Dangerfield was last year in practice the first month or so. She's too worried and unsure to take advantage of all of her talents. When that goes away then we'll start to see more of what she can do."