Geno Auriemma and his University of Connecticut women's basketball coaching staff deserved to take a break after signing two of top players in the high school Class of 2018 this month.
But the Huskies didn't win 11 national championships and advance to 18 NCAA Final Fours by resting on their laurels. In modern-day recruiting, a coach's work is never done.
While UConn may add to its class of Christyn Williams (5-foot-11 guard, Little Rock, Arkansas) and Olivia Nelson-Ododa (6-foot-4 forward/center, Winder, Georgia), some focus has turned to younger players, including two who represented their country for the first time last summer.
According to two sources, Auriemma has made scholarship offers to Class of 2020 guard Paige Bueckers (5-foot-11, Eden Prairie, Minnesota) and Class of 2021 guard Azzi Fudd (5-foot-11, Falls Church, Virginia). The two attended UConn's exhibition game against Division II Ashland on Nov. 5 and were teammates on USA Basketball's U-16 national team that won a gold medal and qualified Team USA for the 2018 U-17 World Cup at the 2017 FIBA Americas Championship in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in June.
Cameron Brink, a 6-foot-4 sophomore forward from Beaverton, Oregon, attended the Huskies' win over California-Berkeley last Friday at Gampel Pavilion. Rated the No. 4 recruit in the Class of 2020 by ESPNHoopgurlz, she was a U-16 invitee and finalist last May. A recruiting source was unsure whether Brink, who averaged 12.5 points and 8.5 rebounds as a freshman in helping Southridge High to the Class 6A state title, had been offered a scholarship during her visit. She also took a trip to South Carolina.
Bueckers, rated the No. 6 sophomore by ESPNHoopgurlz, had a breakout freshman season at the Hopkins School by averaging 21.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 4.2 steals. The only loss for Hopkins (30-1) was in the Class 4A state tournament final.
With the U-16 team, Bueckers averaged 11.0 points, 2.2 assists, and 3.0 steals in 17.6 minutes over the Americans' five games. She led the tournament in field-goal percentage (61.5) and was in the top 10 in scoring, assists, and steals. In the gold-medal game against Canada, she helped spark a decisive 23-4 second-quarter run that broke up a close game and Team USA went on to a 91-46 victory.
Fudd, considered by most to be the top player in the Class of 2021, was the youngest player on the USA squad at 14. She averaged 8.0 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and a team-high 3.2 steals in 19.2 minutes. In the final against Canada, she had a game highs of 18 points, going 4-for-6 from 3-point land, and five steals.
Her mother, Katie Smrcka-Duffy, was the Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year in 1996 before transferring to Georgetown and earning all-Big East honors with the Hoyas. Her father, Tim, played at American University.
Three other U-16 team members -- Samantha Brunelle (6-foot-2 junior forward, Ruckersville, Virginia), Aliyah Boston (6-foot-4 junior forward, Worcester, Massachusetts), and Kylee Watson (6-4 sophomore center, Linwood, New Jersey) have made unofficial visits to UConn in the past year. Auriemma cannot comment on recruits until they have signed a letter of intent.
That means he can talk about Williams, rated No. 1 by ESPNHoopgurlz, and No. 5-rated Nelson-Ododa.
"We take kind of a different approach to recruiting," Auriemma said. "Our approach always has been that we try to identify early on what we are looking for and when we find it we spend all our time and energy on those kids. If it is one, two or three, we go in believing we are going to get the kids that fit what we want because we have worked hard enough.
"You roll the dice and you might come up empty, but that is a chance we have taken a lot of times. People said 'What was your Plan B back in 1991 with Rebecca Lobo?' We didn't have a Plan B. 'What was your Plan B with (Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck, and Moriah Jefferson)?' We didn't have a plan B. Those were the guys we wanted. 'Who would your shooter be if you didn't get Katie Lou (Samuelson) or Napheesa (Collier)?' I don't know. Those were the two guys that we wanted, and we got them. There are years when you come up empty, but we have gotten pretty much what we need more times than not."
Williams announced her decision to attend UConn and signed on Nov. 10. Nelson-Ododa made her decision public and signed her letter of intent on Nov. 15.
Nelson-Ododa will be entering her fourth season as a starter at Winder-Barrow High and has been an All-State first-team selection the last two years. She suffered a knee injury last Jan. 31 that ended her junior season and cost her a chance to try out for the United States U-19 national team.
She was a teammate of Williams with the 2016 U-17 national team that won a bronze medal at the FIBA world championships in Zaragoza, Spain, averaging a team-high 12.0 points on 56 percent shooting from the floor and ranking second in rebounds (9.4) and blocked shots (1.7). She had a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds in Team USA's semifinal loss to eventual champion Australia.
Nelson-Ododa chose UConn over Duke, Florida State, Georgia, and South Carolina.
"You never know about recruiting," Auriemma said. "I remember the first time I really sat down and watched her play. I thought, 'This kid plays really hard. She is really competitive. She has incredible athletic ability, and there are just a lot of things that she does well.' And she is one of the nicest kids we have ever been involved with in recruiting. Her, her parents. Both these kids, her and Christyn. "I know Olivia hasn't played yet or it has been a while since she has played. She is a little bit like Azura Stevenssas a person, just laid back, easy going, a nice kid and a really talented kid who is not your average stick her in the low post and forget about her type of player. She is a basketball player. Needless to say we were pretty excited when we got her. This was one of those old-fashioned recruits where when she came up on campus, that is when I felt and the other coaches felt like we were going to get her."
With the addition of Williams and Nelson-Ododa and the graduation of UConn seniors Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams, the Huskies -- if they do not sign anyone in the spring -- will have at least five scholarships available for the Class of 2019.