UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Kia Nurse loved everything about the University of Connecticut. But after four years, she was ready move on.
The basketball part of her college career ended on March 30 when the Huskies lost to Notre Dame in the national semifinals at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. The school part concluded Saturday when the two-time academic All-American was awarded her bachelor's degree during graduation ceremonies in Storrs.
"Graduation was amazing and my parents were excited about it as well," Nurse said Monday. "For me, it was a big goal. I'm fortunate that I had the opportunity to come back for graduation and walk, but I'm really excited to get started with this."
Nurse, a 6-foot guard, made her preseason debut with the New York Liberty at Mohegan Sun Arena. The team's first-round draft pick (No. 10 overall) had 10 points and four rebounds in the Liberty's 76-69 loss to the Dallas Wings.
"It's been a lot of fun," Nurse said. "Obviously there's a learning curve and I'm trying to get used to a new teammates and new coaching staff and I'm looking forward to learning from them."
The Liberty, of course, already have quite a UConn presence on their roster already with Tina Charles, Bria Hartley and Kiah Stokes as returning veterans and Kelly Faris in camp trying to make the club after signing as a free agent.
Nurse is also building a relationship with New York first-year coach Katie Smith, who will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame as a player in September.
"Playing for Katie is a great advantage," Nurse said. "She has a ton of experience and she's a player's coach. She is willing to help you with anything you need.
"She was excited to get started and I shared that excitement. She wanted me to come in and compete and play hard every single play and do what I do defensively."
Those words were music to Nurse's ears.
"Kia Nurse has met expectations and exceeded them," Smith said. "She is a really solid basketball player with a high basketball IQ."
The Hamilton, Ontario, native averaged 13.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists as a senior, and was the American Athletic Conference and WBCA national Defensive Player of the Year, as well as an all-league first-team pick. She improved her outside shot in Storrs, making 46.2 percent of her 3-point tries as a junior and 44.3 percent of her attempts as a senior.
She gave herself a week off after the season ended before getting back to work with UConn assistant coach Shea Ralph.
"I had to keep up my cardio and get back in the gym and get shots up," Nurse said. "Coach Shea was really helpful with me all throughout that, doing drills and preparing me for what's next."
The Liberty will play the Los Angeles Sparks here Tuesday in their exhibition finale. They will open the regular season May 20 against former UConn All-American Gabby Williams and the Chicago Sky.
New York is the two-time defending Eastern Conference champion but lost its first playoff game both years. Nurse is ready to play her part to help the team win its first WNBA title.
"I want to come in and learn as much as I can, and do whatever is necessary and asked of me in the role that I'll be placed in," Nurse said. "Hopefully I can help them defensively. I'm excited to be a part of this."
Stevens settles in
The day after being selected by Dallas with the sixth overall pick in last month's WNBA Draft, Azura Stevens looked at the Wings' exhibition schedule and noticed the opener was set for May 7 at Mohegan Sun Arena, two days after her graduation ceremony at UConn.
"I wasn't sure if I was going to come back for graduation," Stevens said. "But when I saw we were playing here, it was kind of a sign that I should come back and enjoy the moment. It's great to be back and see familiar faces.
"It was a long journey, a long four years, a lot of change, and a unique path. But it culminated with getting my degree and walking across the stage with my family there was really special."
With her degree in hand, Stevens waited for her Wings' teammates to arrive here for the preseason opener.
The Raleigh, North Carolina, native had 19 points and nine rebounds in Dallas' win over New York.
"They want to come in and add what I can," Stevens said. "They want me to play that stretch 4 position and even a little of the 3. So that's a change. I'm mixing it up as well as I can."
In her lone season playing at UConn, Stevens averaged 14.7 points on 60.6 percent shooting from the floor, 7.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. She was named the AAC Newcomer of the Year and the Sixth Man Award winner, while also being chosen to the all-league second team. In five NCAA tournament games, the 6-foot-6 forward averaged 14.2 points and 6.6 rebounds with a double-double in UConn's first-round win over Saint Francis (Pa.). In the Huskies' national semifinal overtime loss to Notre Dame, she had 19 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots in 28 minutes.
When the team returned to Storrs, she informed coach Geno Auriemma that she would not use her final year of eligibility and declared for the draft.
"I took a week or two off just to get a mental rest," Stevens said. "It was a long year. Then I trained that next week before heading off to camp. And camp has been pretty good. We've got a lot of new people trying to gel together. We're trying to get a feel for each other."
Dallas finished 16-18 a year ago and qualified for the playoffs as the No. 7 seed. The Wings lost in the first round to the Washington Mystics.
Stevens joined two other former UConn players in camp -- second-year guard Saniya Chong and 2018 third-round draft pick Natalie Butler. She's also developed relationships with her other teammates as she works her way through camp.
"I talked to Theresa Plaisance a lot and bounced questions off of her," Stevens said. "I asked, 'What should I wear? What should I bring? How's training camp? What's there to do?' And I've gotten to know Ruth Hamblin and she's helped me a lot. And I've talked to Skylar (Diggins-Smith) about this season and what we want to do. She's been great. It's been fun learning from everyone."
The Wings will face the Connecticut Sun here Tuesday and host the Las Vegas Aces to close out their exhibition schedule Sunday. They will entertain the Atlanta Dream for their regular season opener on May 20.