STORRS, Conn. -- Uniform No. 3 was just another number for the first 25 years of the University of Connecticut women's basketball program.
Only two players wore it -- Shea Matlock and Tammy Arnold. Matlock played one year here and transferred to Georgia Tech after the 1994 season. Arnold was at UConn for two years before transferring to Oregon State near her home of Oregon City after the 1997 season.
Then coach Geno Auriemma convinced Diana Taurasi to take No. 3 and the rest is history. Taurasi (2000-04) would become one of the greats of the game, a three-time national champion and All-American and two-time national Player of the Year. Tiffany Hayes (2008-12) would be next and she'd win two titles and finish among the the top 10 scorers. Morgan Tuck (2012-16) followed and was a four-time national champion and All-American.
So why would freshman Megan Walker, already under the microscope coming in as the 2017 national high school Player of the Year and the top recruit in her class, want to take on that responsibility?
"I wore it when I was younger and I got away from it," Walker said Monday. "I said in high school I would go back to No. 3. And the other thing is that legendary people wear No. 3 here. I've got to live up to that. You feel it. You feel the high expectations having it. Diana, Tiffany, Morgan, they had great careers here. I would love to be able to match that."
Walker, a 6-foot-1 wing from Chesterfield, Virginia, gets her first chance to make an impression on Auriemma and her teammates when the Huskies head to Italy Saturday for an 11-day trip that will include four exhibition games.
She comes with an impressive resume. Walker scored 2,062 career points and led Monacan High to three straight state Class 4A championships, averaging 25.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 3.2 steals as a senior. She capped off the Chiefs' 30-0 season in March with 35 points, 11 rebounds, five steals, and six blocked shots and scored her team's final 16 points -- including the decisive basket on a spin move in the lane with 15 seconds left -- in a 60-59 win over King's Fork.
She was named a McDonald's All-American, Virginia's Gatorade Player of the Year for a second straight season, and the national Player of the Year by Gatorade and the WBCA while also taking home the Naismith Trophy.
Last month, she was part of the United States national team that won the silver medal at the FIBA U-19 World Cup. She also owns a gold medal playing for Team USA at the 2016 FIBA Americas U-18 Championship and a silver medal from the 2016 FIBA U-18 3x3 world championships.
At the U-19 event in Italy, she averaged 7.6 points on 41.4 percent shooting and 3.3 rebounds in 14.7 minutes off the bench. She had a solid game in the semifinals against Japan with 11 points but played only four minutes of the final loss to Russia and had three points.
"We fought to the end," Walker said. "Russia had two pro players, and they played awesome.
"I think I gave our team a good spark off the bench and that was about playing my role. You have to do what the team needs to be successful. I think being here for summer session here helped me because you learn that it's not about you anymore. It's about the team. Whatever the team needed me to do, I was going to do it."
Auriemma hopes her time with the U-19s was a learning experience that will eventually help his team.
"Megan struggled a little bit, as most high school kids do when they are playing against pros," Auriemma said. "I don't think she played in the second half of the championship game. So it was kind of a reminder to her. I don't think anybody cares over here that you are the national high school Player of the Year."
Not only will the Huskies' journey be her second trip to Italy in a month, it will finish off what's been a busy spring/summer for Walker, who turns 19 in November.
She took part in the U-19 trials in Colorado Springs in mid-May then starting on May 28 spent five weeks here for the first summer school session, though she did get to go home briefly for her graduation from Monacan. At the end of the session here June 30, she was back in Virginia for a week before heading back to Colorado Springs for the U-19 training camp. After two weeks in Italy, she got to spend two days in Virginia before returning here for the start of workouts. And when the Huskies return from Italy, fall semester classes will be around the corner.
So much for her summer vacation.
"I do feel cheated a little bit," Walker said with a laugh.
"But I think everything I did improved my game a lot from a mental aspect," she added. "It's been about doing other things -- making the extra pass, making sure you set good screens, defending ... I think it's helped my overall game."
With six newcomers -- freshmen Walker, Mikayla Coombs, Andra Espinoza-Hunter, and Lexi Gordon, and transfers Batouly Camara and Azura Stevens -- on the roster, the timing is perfect for a European tour.
The job of building chemistry that started with the summer session and takes another step this week with their work at the Werth Champions Center practice facility continues.
"I think we're already close, but we do want to work on our team bonding," Walker said. "We're going to have fun off the court. But we want to get a feel what it's like to be together on the court."
One of Walker's jobs with the Huskies was completed in the spring. She called Tuck for "permission" to wear the coveted No. 3.
"I called Tiffany Hayes," Tuck said. "It's tradition."
Both Walker and Coombs wanted the uniform as Coombs hoped to keep her high school number. Of note, Camara has the No. 32 that Walker wore at Monacan High. The solution to the issue -- suggested by Gordon's mother, Kim -- was the coin flip.
Walker's winning streak from her senior season stayed alive.
"I don't know what number I would have taken if it had not worked out in my favor," Walker said with a smile. "It did. It was heads. I always pick heads.
"I called Morgan right after the coin flip so I was familiar with that tradition. She was great to talk to."
Tuck, who chose No. 3 at UConn to honor her older sister Taylor, enjoyed the conversation as well.
The second-year forward for the WNBA's Connecticut Sun gave Walker her best wishes and best advice.
"I told Megan to represent it well," Tuck said. "We all think of the greatest No. 3 as Diana Taurasi. There are a lot of expectations behind it, but I told Megan to make it her own. Be you, and don't try to be anyone else that has worn that number. Be yourself and do it great."
If Walker can, good things for her will come with 3.
CANADA WINS AGAIN
UConn senior guard Kia Nurse had just four points on 1-for-8 shooting Tuesday but Team Canada had no problems with Mexico in a 65-39 win at the FIBA AmericaCup 2017 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Canada leads Group B pool play with a 3-0 record and can clinch the top seed in the group and a semifinal berth with a win over Paraguay (2-1) on Thursday at 12:35 p.m. Canada's semifinal spot will also be secured if Puerto Rico (2-1) loses to Cuba (0-2) later Wednesday.
The top two teams in the two five-team groups advance to the semifinals. The top three finishers in the tournament receive bids to the 2018 World Cup to be held in Spain.