WEST HARTFORD, Conn. -- No one on the University of Connecticut women's basketball team is farther away from home than freshman Katie Lou Samuelson, yet the next time the Huntington Beach, California, native is homesick here will be the first.
"I haven't been. Is that bad?" Samuelson said with a smile on Monday. "My parents are fine. They got a ping pong table right when I left. That's not fair. Am I good at it? No. But it's still fun."
Her first few weeks adjusting to college life and her new teammates while playing the games she loves have been fun. She spent part of Monday alongside classmates De'Janae Boykin and Napheesa Collier, sophomore Gabby Williams, redshirt junior Morgan Tuck, and senior Moriah Jefferson at Hartford Golf Club working at coach Geno Auriemma's "Fore the Kids" charity event that benefits the Connecticut Children's Medical Center.
But Samuelson -- who missed her graduation ceremony at Mater Dei High to get to Storrs in time for the first summer session -- knows there is a lot of work ahead of her in order to become the player that she hopes to be. That's why she is at UConn and she's excited to have gotten started.
"It's a big advantage being here now just to get to know the campus, take some classes, and do workouts," Samuelson said. "You figure out how to balance all that. There's going to be a lot more going on during preseason this fall so to do a little bit now will help a lot.
"I'm on the bottom of the totem pole as a freshman coming in. I knew that from the beginning that nothing's handed to me and I've got to work for everything. I'm just trying to learn from all the older girls and just really get to know them and get to know how they play."
Samuelson, a 6-foot-3 guard, was the consensus 2015 high school Player of the Year at Mater Dei, breaking a number of records held by recent UConn graduate and first-round WNBA draft pick Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. As a senior, she averaged 29.4 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 3.0 steals in leading the Monarchs to the CIF Open Division state championship game.
In her scholastic career, including her freshman year at Edison High, she totaled 3,733 points, 922 rebounds, 268 assists, 324 steals and 191 blocked shots.
"Katie Lou has a lot of advantages that a lot of other kids don't have that are great shooters," Auriemma said. "She's 6-3 and then she's got a quick release and she's a smart basketball player. And she has a huge advantage of being really, really well coached in high school. Those guys, like Napheesa was and Katie Lou was, can compete immediately at the college level. The kids that didn't have really good coaching in high school are the ones who struggle the most. Tina Charles had great coaching. Sue Bird had great coaching in high school. You see some of these kids that come out ... If they have the right background, the right make-up mentally, and they've got the talent and the heart, anything's possible."
She's also shown a strong competitive spirit, which came through a summer ago.
On the final night of the U-17 national team trials in Colorado Springs, Samuelson sprained her left ankle while going for a loose ball. An MRI showed no major damage and she retuned in time for the U-17 training camp. Then as Team USA headed to Europe for the FIBA world championships, she developed tonsillitis. She lost about 10 pounds and was in bed for four days with a fever and was unable to eat. She missed Team USA's tune-up tournament in France but wasn't about to miss the world championships in the Czech Republic. Samuelson started six of seven games and averaged a team-high 13.9 points and 5.0 rebounds in earning all-tournament honors. A 77-75 win over Spain gave the Americans the gold and Samuelson, as a team captain, accepted the championship trophy from FIBA officials.
A month later she again represented the United States at the Youth Olympic Games in China along with Collier, Boykin, and former recruiting target Arike Ogunbowale. Two days before the start of play, Samuelson reinjured her left ankle in a team scrimmage and missed the first four games of pool play and later sat out two more as a precaution. On the event's final day, she would have to play two full games back to back. All she did was score six points in a 21-14 semifinal win over Hungary and a team-high eight points in the 19-10 final victory over the Netherlands. The key hoop against the Netherlands came when Samuelson looked to make a move in the paint and a Netherlands defender hooked her right arm. Samuelson was able to switch the ball to her left hand and hit a scoop shot as she was fouled.
She owns four gold medals out of four international events and added a bronze medal at the YOG's 3-point shootout. Next week, she, Collier, and UConn Class of 2016 commit Crystal Dangerfield will head to Colorado Springs to take part in a U-19 national team training camp. The FIBA U-19 world championships are set for July 18-26 in Chekhov, Russia.
But there's another week here to get things accomplished.
"I'm trying to get stronger and quicker and develop myself more," Samuelson said. "It's just really individual workouts."
Along with her individual workouts she takes part in the Huskies' pick-up games. While they're fun, they're also intense.
Which is just the way she likes it.
"I have this problem that I'm really super-competitive so I don't want to lose in anything," Samuelson said. "But it's cool to be around a team where everyone is competitive and no one likes to lose. They're such great games. We beat each other up. I've been glad everyone is so competitive."
It's only been a few weeks, but it sounds like Samuelson is making herself at home.