Dan Rolfes looked forward to having the chance to watch his former player, Napheesa Collier, and the University of Connecticut women's basketball team play.
But throughout the 6-foot-1 forward's All-American sophomore season he kept having flashbacks to their time at Incarnate Word Academy in St. Louis when the Rolfes-coached Red Knights captured three straight Missouri Class 4A state championships.
"It's so amazing," Rolfes said during a break in the United States U-16 national team trials in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he served as a court coach. "I'd sit there and watch with my assistants and it's so much like Incarnate Word with the high-percentage shots, a lot of times defending the post because of her size, being able to guard a guard or guard a post. What I saw this year was what I saw at Incarnate.
"She's the type of kid that is going to do whatever is needed to win. She's not enamored with stats. She just wants to win. The thing about Napheesa is she does a lot of things to help the team win. It's different from game to game. But she can fill so many roles, it's amazing."
Collier played her freshman year at Jefferson City High before transferring to Incarnate Word. In her three seasons under Rolfes, the Red Knights compiled a 91-3 record with the three state titles and Collier became a consensus All-American and the two-time (2013, 2015) Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year. She signed to play at UConn in November, 2014, about seven months after making her verbal commitment following her official recruiting visit.
She was named to the 2016 American Athletic Conference all-freshman team, even though she played the season with a torn labrum in her right hip that would require surgery. A healthy Collier would emerge as one of the top players in the country.
As a sophomore, she averaged 20.4 points on 67.8 percent shooting from the floor and 81.8 percent shooting from the foul line -- one of the most efficient offensive seasons in UConn history -- and became the seventh Huskies sophomore to reach the 1,000-point plateau.
She topped the league in scoring, field-goal percentage and blocked shots (2.1) while ranking third in rebounds (9.1). She was voted the AAC Co-Player of the Year with teammate Katie Lou Samuelson, was named to the league all-tournament team and the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Bridgeport Regional, and was a consensus first-team All-American. She will be inducted into the Huskies of Honor program at Gampel Pavilion on her Senior Day.
Even Rolfes, who knows her game as well as anyone, wonders what the next step is.
"A lot of people question her 3-point range, but she has great 3-point range," Rolfes said. "She takes such high-percentage shots ... When she's wide open she'll take the 3 but she has such a knack of getting open in the paint or taking her kid to the basket or getting an offensive rebound and scoring.
"I'm curious to see what the next jump is for her. But she's always taken it, ever since I had her at Incarnate and every year she's been at UConn."
UConn's 2017-18 non-conference schedule is set but the Huskies are hopeful of putting a homecoming game together for Collier during her senior season of 2018-19.
"You know what is so neat about Napheesa?" Rolfes said. "I see it in St. Louis. She has a whole city watching women's basketball and paying attention to women's basketball. They never would have paid attention to it if it was not for her. She made so many fans because she's a great player and a great person. She turned so many on to women's basketball, which is awesome."
Rolfes owns a 497-75 record at Incarnate Word with seven state championships.
After winning three in a row from 2013-15, the Red Knights fell short in 2016 but regained the title in 2017. Sonya Morris had 17 points as Incarnate Word eolled to a 59-37 victory over St. Pius X of Kansas City in the final to complete a 28-4 campaign.
"It's our goal every year, obviously," Rolfes said. "When you lose a player like Napheesa, you don't know if you're going to win another one because she did so much for us."
Rolfes' appearance at the United States Olympic Training Center was his first for USA Basketball. The U-16 team is coached by former UConn star Carla Berube from Tufts University. Berube served as a court coach at the 2016 U-17 trials.
Team USA will take part in the FIBA Americas Championship June 7-11 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
"It's a huge honor for me to be working with the highest level of basketball, USA Basketball," Rolfes said. "It doesn't get better than this. And once you get out here, to work with these players who are so hungry ... To be a part of it is a great experience."
The 12-player USA roster is made up of guards Paige Bueckers, Caitlin Clark, Zia Cooke, Azzi Fudd, Jordyn Oliver, and Celeste Taylor, and forwards Fran Belibi, Aliyah Boston, Sam Brunelle, Jordan Horston, Diamond Miller, and Kylee Watson.
LISTER JOINS DEPAUL STAFF
During her second year as a graduate assistant on coach Geno Auriemma's coaching staff at UConn, Jasmine Lister participated with and organized a practice team to work against the United States senior national team candidates during a training camp held in Storrs.
One person who paid attention to Lister's work that February, 2016, week was DePaul coach Doug Bruno -- Auriemma's national team assistant.
"Her leadership and coaching ability jumped out at me and made me take notice," Bruno said in a statement. "I went up to Geno afterwards and asked who she was."
Bruno was impressed. On Thursday, Lister was named as an assistant coach at DePaul. She replaces Bart Brooks, who recently took the head coaching position at Belmont. The Corona, California native was an assistant at the University of Washington last season.
"Next to the people on our staff here, the Division I staff I'm closest to is UConn with all the time we've worked together on Olympic teams the last 10 years," Bruno said. "I've gotten to know Chris Dailey, Shea Ralph and Marisa Mosely quite well. Jas was an assistant coach last season with Mike Neighbors at Washington, who has taken the job at Arkansas which made her available. Mike gave her the highest recommendation, as did Geno."
Lister was a point guard at Vanderbilt and led the Commodores to four NCAA tournament appearances. She also played for the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks in 2015. In her two years as a graduate assistant at UConn, the Huskies were 76-1 and won two national championships.
Last season at Washington, the west-coast Huskies reached the NCAA Sweet 16 and Lister got to work with consensus national Player of the Year and NCAA all-time leading scorer Kelsey Plum.
"As an addition to our staff Jas just brought a new energy," Plum said at the Final Four. "She works extremely hard and I don't know people know that about her. She is a young, bright mind in this game. Her future is going to be special."
UConn will visit DePaul on Dec. 8.
AAC TOURNAMENT STAYS AT MOHEGAN SUN
The AAC and Mohegan Sun Arena have agreed to a three-year agreement through 2020 for Mohegan Sun to host the league women's basketball tournament. The event has been held in Uncasville, Connecticut, since the AAC's inception in 2014.
"We are pleased that we are continuing our partnership with Mohegan Sun Arena," AAC commissioner Mike Aresco said in a statement. "Our women's championship has become the premier tournament in the country, thanks to our terrific fan support and thanks to the outstanding venue and the hospitality of everyone at Mohegan Sun. Our large crowds have enjoyed watching our teams compete, and our student-athletes, coaches and fans look forward to this great event each year."
One change in the event is that the tournament will run Saturday through Tuesday. The first four championship games were played on a Monday.
The 2018 event will start with first-round games Saturday, March 3, and continue until the final on Tuesday, March 6. The AAC has averaged 30,334 fans during the four days of the championship and has led Division I conferences in overall tournament attendance in three of the last four years.
UConn is 12-0 in AAC tournament play at Mohegan Sun Arena and 15-0 in the building overall. The Huskies have beaten UCLA, Florida State, and Texas in the Hall of Fame Women's Holiday Showcase at the casino.
The fourth annual showcase will be held Tuesday, Dec. 19, with UConn taking on Oklahoma. The contest is the first of a four-game deal between the Huskies and Sooners.