Napheesa Collier has enjoyed success in her two trips to South Carolina with the University of Connecticut women's basketball team, including a strong all-around effort in the Huskies' rout of the Gamecocks last Feb. 1.
The senior forward is about to face a much more difficult test as she heads back to Columbia this weekend for the start of the United States women's senior national team training camp Monday as it begins preparations for the 2018 FIBA World Cup later this month.
But the coach who guided Team USA to the world championships gold medal the last two tournaments in 2010 and 2014 -- who is also Collier's coach at UConn -- had some simple advice for his All-American before her departure.
"I want her to hang on as long as possible," Geno Auriemma said. "I told Pheesa, 'Don't go there to be fodder for the WNBA players. Go there to try and make the team.' "
There are 33 players in the national team pool from which the 12-player roster that will play in the World Cup Sept. 22-30 in Tenerife, Spain, will be chosen.
Nine -- including former UConn stars Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart of the Seattle Storm, Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury, and Tiffany Hayes of the Atlanta Dream -- are still taking part in the WNBA playoffs, which leaves their arrival times up in the air. UConn senior guard Katie Lou Samuelson (ankle) and two-time Olympic gold medalist Angel McCoughtry of the Dream (knee) are out due to injuries.
There may be other withdrawals according to Auriemma, who serves as a special advisor to the selection committee.
"There are a lot of players who choose not to participate when it comes to the world championships," Auriemma said. "So it's a great time for Pheesa to go there and make an impression on the committee. They need to put together a really good team to play in the world championships. I think there are opportunities for Pheesa and the other young players."
Collier was named to the all-American Athletic Conference first team for the second straight season and was a third-team Associated Press All-American as a junior at UConn. She ranked in the AAC's top 15 in scoring (ninth at 16.1 points), rebounds (seventh at 7.4), assists (15th at a career high 3.3), assist-to-turnover ratio (fifth at 2.2), field-goal percentage (fifth at 58.3), free-throw percentage (eighth at 78.6), steals (14th at 1.6) and blocks (third at 1.7). In five NCAA tournament games, she averaged 20.8 points on 67.7 percent shooting, 7.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists. Her 24-point effort in the overtime loss to Notre Dame in the national semifinals at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, earned her a spot on the all-Final Four team.
She'll enter her final season in Storrs with 1,609 points on 61.8 percent shooting, 808 rebounds, 239 assists, 174 steals and 187 blocks. If she can reach 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 200 steals and 250 blocked shots, she'd join her former teammate Stewart as the only Huskies to reach those plateaus. No UConn player has 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 250 steals and 250 blocked shots.
The St. Charles, Missouri, resident has represented her country with USA Basketball at three events, winning gold medals at the 2015 FIBA U-19 world championships, the 2014 FIBA Americas U-18 Championship, and the 2014 Youth Olympic Games. It will be the 21-year-old's third training camp with the senior national team pool.
This coming week's schedule has the camp participants, guided by South Carolina coach and three-time Olympic gold medalist Dawn Staley, working out Monday and Tuesday then holding a USA Red-White Game at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia on Wednesday. After taking Thursday off, they'll head north and practice in Tarrytown, New York, Friday. Next Saturday, Team USA will face Kia Nurse and Team Canada at Bridgeport's Webster Bank Arena.
UConn has had active players on the last two world championship teams -- Stewart in 2014 and Maya Moore in 2010.
Auriemma said Thursday he is hopeful that Samuelson will be cleared to play soon after Labor Day. The two-time All-American and AAC Player of the Year had surgery on her left ankle on April 12 that repaired shredded lateral ligaments and a torn tendon.
"She's almost all the way back, almost there," Auriemma said.
Mikayla Coombs may also be close to returning to action. The sophomore guard missed the NCAA tournament last March as she was treated for deep vein thrombosis, a blood clot in her leg.
"She has one more doctor's appointment and we'll know more next week," Auriemma said.
Junior forward Batouly Camara, who was limited a season ago after suffering a knee injury, has been dealing with shoulder and calf issues.
"She's been doing workouts," Auriemma said. "It just seems like it's one thing after the other. But there's no sense in rushing anything. I don't think it's anything long term with her."