WEST HARTFORD, Conn. -- Mikayla Coombs' freshman season with the University of Connecticut women's basketball team ended prematurely with the discovery of a blood clot in her leg in the week leading up to the Huskies' first NCAA tournament game.
Three months later, she is still waiting for a fresh start. She has been cleared for most activities but not for any contact.
"I feel good, still in the recovery process trying to get healthy," Coombs said on Monday. "I've been training with the team so that's been good. I'm able to do weight-room workouts and basketball workouts, just nothing like defensive drills where there is contact.
"It hit me hard when it first happened because for the first two months I couldn't do much. That's the problem with blood clots. I was able to go home for a little while last month and started training harder. I knew when I got back here for the summer session we would take it up another notch. This summer has helped us prepare. I think everyone feels they're in good shape."
Coombs is hopeful she'll have no restrictions soon, though she said that depends on her progress and the medication that she's taking.
The 5-foot-8 guard from Buford, Georgia, is ready to show the Huskies' coaching staff what she can add.
"I'm extremely impatient," Coombs said. "It's hard having an injury where there's no telling the recovery process -- you don't know if it's going to go away right away or not. I've learned patience within myself. Everything happens for a reason. Maybe that I had to learn patience is why this happened."
Coombs has been down the injury road before. She missed her sophomore season at Wesleyan School after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee in the first quarter of the first game. In her senior year, she was a McDonald's All-American and led the Wolves to a state championship.
Her freshman year at UConn was trying. She had 28 points, 21 rebounds, 12 assists, and 17 steals in 168 minutes over 25 games. Every time she took a step up and was given the opportunity to work with the Huskies' top guns, she seemed to take two steps back. Her final appearance was against Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference tournament semifinals.
"It was intense just trying to learn the way we do things here," Coombs said. "The UConn way was something to adjust to. Finding my way was eye-opening.
"Coming back here from my time at home I just felt different. I feel more comfortable."
With three of their top six players from last season -- including starting guard Kia Nurse -- now WNBA rookies, coach Geno Auriemma is looking to fill those holes and there is opportunity to make an impact.
"To be honest, Coach is working hard and been laying it out there for the team," Coombs said. "I've been focusing on the little things that I can do and fine tuning those things. I could have done a lot more defensively last year but I didn't mentally put myself up to that challenge. I'll be focusing on that. I'm working on getting to the basket more, not necessarily to score but just draw the defense and dish off.
"I was just overwhelmed my freshman year. Being relaxed will help me a lot. When you come here as a freshman you don't know what to expect. Now I have a year under my belt and I know what to expect, I know what I have to do."
Breanna Stewart never guaranteed it, though the former UConn standout often spoke of wanting to win four national championships. UConn freshman Christyn Williams, who like Stewart six years earlier swept high school Player of the Year honors, spoke out Monday about her expectations for her rookie year.
The Huskies have lost twice in their last 149 games -- both in overtime, both in the NCAA Final Four semifinals. Williams, who signed with the Huskies last November, took the 91-89 defeat at the hands of Notre Dame on March 31 hard.
"I was committed when they lost so I'm a part of the family," Williams said. "I was hurt. It was devastating. But we're going to get it back. Mark my words, guys, we're going to get it back.
"We're going to get that championship. People are going to feel UConn. We're going to win the national championship."
Of course, what is the 5-foot-11 guard from Little Rock, Arkansas, supposed to say: We're hoping to get to the Sweet 16 and finish in the top three in the conference?
The Huskies return three starters from last season's 36-1 club. The additions are Williams and fellow high school All-American and Team USA U-18 member Olivia Nelson-Ododa.
"The coaches have instilled in us that work ethic and that fire that we have to," Williams said. "This is what UConn does. We win. So to lose two years in a row is not good. So we've been working so hard this summer, and the season doesn't even start until October. I just feel it. I sense it. We are going to get it."
Reigning national champion Notre Dame figures to be No. 1 in the preseason polls this fall as the Irish return four starters and welcome back All-American Brianna Turner from injury. UConn and Notre Dame will play Dec. 2 in South Bend.
"I might pretend like I'm from Chicago and I might vote early and often and make sure we are not No. 1," Auriemma said with a smile. "I can't imagine we'll be No. 1, and we shouldn't be. Notre Dame should be No. 1 and maybe their second team should be No. 2. I don't know.
"But it's been proven over and over and over again over the years that it doesn't matter. Certainly to us, one, two, three, 15, it doesn't matter. Some teams can't handle being No. 1, and some teams it doesn't bother. We'll be alright. I like it."
And Williams has liked what she's seen in her first few weeks on campus.
"I believe in the program," Williams said. "I believe in my teammates. I believe in myself, and I believe in the coaches. It's there. We just have to get it."
UConn's 14-game non-league schedule for 2018-19 was released last week. Auriemma was asked if he was happy with it.
"No," he replied. "Last year I was because we had a really experienced team. This year the schedule is harder and the team isn't as experienced. And the road schedule is brutal. I'm not jumping up and down about it. Don't get me wrong. I'm glad we have it. But it's not like, 'Yeah, man, I can't wait.' This is going to be tough."
UConn will play four home games, four neutral sites games including one at Mohegan Sun Arena, and six on the road including games at Notre Dame, Louisville, and Baylor.
"The way the schedule fell, sometimes you get caught in those situations," Auriemma said. "We pushed a couple games back that we couldn't fit in to get in another home game. When you try to fix something at the beginning, you have to pay for it on the back end."
According to Oregon coach Kelly Graves, the Ducks and UConn are talking about putting together a nationally-televised home-and-home series perhaps for 2019-20. Among the deals UConn already has in place for 2019-20 are with Dayton, DePaul, Louisville, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Ohio State, South Carolina, Seton Hall, and Vanderbilt.
The game at Vanderbilt will be a homecoming for guard Crystal Dangerfield, a native of Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
"It's pretty cool that Coach would do that, and I have a couple of friends on their team, too," Dangerfield said. "Playing them will feel like we're back in high school again. My family and friends always complain that they can't come see me play because we're so far away. Going back there, they'll be able to see how I've grown."
The contest will also be a homecoming for first-year assistant coach Jasmine Lister, who started all 129 games she played for the Commodores (2010-14).
'DEAN' OF COACHES
Thirty years ago, the running joke was that Michael Jordan's college coach at North Carolina, Dean Smith, was the only one who could keep him under 20 points per game.
Well, Stewart -- in her third season with the Seattle Storm -- leads the WNBA in scoring at 21.9 points per game. Her best scoring average at UConn was during her sophomore year at 19.43.
"The older pros love to tell me, 'Now that she isn't shackled by being in college, now that her coach isn't holding her back, the sky is the limit for her," Auriemma said. "That's why she has all that energy. She only played 20 minutes per game in college. We didn't wear her out."