WEST HARTFORD, Conn. -- Napheesa Collier has always let her actions speak for her, whether it was helping the University of Connecticut women's basketball team win a national championship in 2016 or earning consensus first-team All-America honors a season ago.
So when the junior forward was told Monday that the Huskies' freshman class has given itself the nickname of "Fantastic Four" months before its first official college practice, Collier chuckled, rolled her eyes a bit, and shook her head with a smile before staying in character with a brief comment.
"Oh my goodness. It's great that they have a name for themselves, I guess," Collier said.
For sure, UConn's Class of 2021 -- Mikayla Coombs, Lexi Gordon, Andra Espinoza-Hunter, and Megan Walker -- will get the opportunity to live up to their hype. Even with three All-Americans among their four returning starters and with transfers Azura Stevens and Batouly Camara now eligible, the Huskies will likely need their freshmen to contribute if they are to regain the national championship.
And they came to UConn to win.
"I want the seniors to win another national championship, and I want to be a part of that," Gordon said. "I want to be able to contribute in any way I can. Anything I can do I'm going to do to help the team succeed."
It's a feeling shared by her fellow rookies.
Espinoza-Hunter (5-foot-10 guard, Ossining, New York) was the first in the class to commit to UConn in December of 2014. Gordon (6-foot wing, Fort Worth, Texas) announced her decision to commit in February of 2016, followed by Coombs (5-foot-8 guard, Buford, Georgia) in July and Walker (6-foot-1 wing, Chesterfield, Virginia) in November. ESPNHoopgurlz ranks the group as the No. 2 recruiting class in the country behind Tennessee's while Prospects Nation has it at No. 3 nationally.
They took their official recruiting visits together last October and the bond has grown stronger through their own high school senior seasons and into their arrival in Storrs for five weeks of summer school.
"We practically do everything together," Espinoza-Hunter said. "We go to meals together, to the gym together, watch Netflix together, anything we can do together. The bond is pretty strong. We call ourselves the 'Fantastic Four' and they're like my sisters.
"It's a stretch, but why not?," she added with a smile.
Walker was considered the No. 1 player in her high school class throughout her scholastic career. Coombs joined her as a McDonald's All-American while Gordon was with the pair at the Jordan Brand Classic in New York. Espinoza-Hunter was a member of the 2015 United States U-16 national team and like Walker and Coombs were their state's respective Gatorade Player of the Year with Walker picking up the national award. Gordon, Walker, and Espinoza-Hunter were 2,000-point scorers in high school -- Espinoza-Hunter actually reached 1,000 at two schools, Ossining High and Blair Academy -- while Coombs reached the 1,000 plateau though she missed almost all of her sophomore season with a knee injury.
But what the Huskies' coaching staff likes is they know how to win. Walker, Coombs, and Espinoza-Hunter won multiple state titles in high school while Gordon got her teams to the Texas district playoffs.
Now they're learning what it takes to be successful at the college from the upperclassmen.
"You just take it day by day," Coombs said. "Some days are long. But I'll have someone like Gabby Williams tell me to keep pushing through and Phee is my roommate and she is constantly encouraging me and talking to me about improving.
"They are so competitive. Like when we're playing pickup and one group continues to win, the others are like, 'We got to stop them.' You can go play pickup and think that we just need to be here for an hour and 30. But those guys are constantly competing every day and I love it."
Walker will likely garner the most attention, at least early on, after sweeping 2017 national high school Player of the Year honors.
Two years ago, Katie Lou Samuelson dealt with the same things and, with encouragement from Breanna Stewart, thrived. Now it is Samuelson's chance to be a mentor.
"Lou always tells me, 'You're going to be challenged. You're going to be pushed,' " Walker said. "That's the way I'll get better.
"The conditioning was an eye-opener for me, getting up early and lifting weights so early. But you get used to it. The upperclassmen have done a good job of showing us the ropes and showing us the way things need to get done. They've given us words of encouragement while also leading by example."
But good advice doesn't always come from All-Americans. Recently, sophomore reserve Kyla Irwin pulled three of the rookies to the side to talk from her experience of last year.
"Kyla spoke to me, Megan and Lexi and she said to find a role on the team and be great at it," Espinoza-Hunter said. "Find something you're great at and stick with it, create a sense of trust with your teammates."
Of course, the five-week summer session not only allows the freshmen to be with the upperclassmen but gives them a taste of college life.
They will head home Friday for about a month, though Walker -- as well as sophomore guard Crystal Dangerfield -- will leave for Colorado Springs on July 7 to begin workouts with Team USA for the FIBA U-19 world championships.
"I kind of miss home, but it is hard to miss when you're so busy all the time," said Gordon, who was pleased to note that her younger sister, Myra, had not taken over her bedroom and closet back in Fort Worth.
"I miss having my mom's cooking every night," Coombs said with a smile. "When she'd cook, I was more of a watcher and didn't learn. That will change the month that I'm home. Delivery is getting a little old."
On Aug. 1, the Huskies will be back in Storrs for 10 days of practice before leaving for a tour of Italy, where they'll play four games before returning to Connecticut for the start of fall semester classes.
"We'll get a taste of what practice will be like," Gordon said. "And just being in Italy will give us a chance to become a closer team and a better team."
Practice will begin in mid-October. The Huskies open the regular season Nov. 12 against Ohio State at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, site of the 2018 Final Four. As usual, UConn's 13-game non-league schedule will be among the toughest in the country as it prepares for American Athletic Conference play.
The freshmen are confident they will help the cause.
"We're super close and good friends," Coombs said. "If one of us sees another struggling we're there to help and encourage each other. I think being close will help take us far."
For the Huskies, that would be fantastic.