The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team has had a long history under coach Geno Auriemma of walk-on players that have been part of successful teams.
From Pam Rothfuss to Jill Gelfenbein, to more recent walk-ons that eventually earned scholarships like Stacey Marron and Jacquie Fernandes, they’ve made an impact.
The Huskies had hoped they had found the next Fernandes or Marron last month. After playing the last two seasons at UConn-Avery Point, Watertown (Ct.) native Becca Pope decided to step up to the big time in Storrs. With only 11 players on the roster, the Huskies would love to have a walk-on. Pope, a 5-foot-9 guard, got a shot and assistant coach Shea Ralph liked what she saw.
But after being told she had made the team, it was discovered that Pope had knee and back problems that would prevent her from playing at least this year.
“Like very other season, kids come around the office and they say, ‘I would like to give this a shot.’ ” Auriemma said. “We bring them in and let them play a little bit with the kids in the preseason. Shea comes up to me and goes, ‘I think she can help us a little bit. She’s a pretty good athlete, a real good shooter, and she’s got some college experience, and she’ll understand her role.’ She had all the attributes you’d want to have.
“After about a week of practice, we realized she had medical issues from the past couple of years and there was nothing we could do about it. We’re probably going to have to put it off and if it’s something she wants to do next year, we’ll have that opportunity for her.”
Pope averaged 13.5 points per game as a senior at Nonnewaug High and was picked to the all-Berkshire League first team in 2010. As a sophomore at Avery Point a season ago, she averaged 18.6 points and 7.3 rebounds in earning NJCAA Division III All-America second-team honors. She was a captain of a six-player squad that reached the New England championship game.
Auriemma said Pope can have a role with the Huskies but it’s her call.
“She still comes to practice,” Auriemma said. “She stands on the sidelines. She still wants to be a part of it. It’s unfortunate that this has happened. I’ve left it up to her. If she wants to be around, great. I’m supportive of that. If it is something that she doesn’t want to do because she can’t play, I’m OK with that too. I’ve left it completely up to her.”