Tuck, Hayes get the call
Published 9:39 pm, Monday, September 11, 2017
UNCASVILLE — Later this month, five current college stars including UConn All-Americans Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson will get the opportunity to step onto the practice courts with some women’s basketball legends at the U.S. senior national team training camp.
Diana Taurasi was the new kid on the block 13 years ago. She was the youngest member of the 2004 U.S. gold-medal winning Olympic team and was just four months removed from leading the Huskies to their third straight national title.
The years have done little to dampen Taurasi’s enthusiasm when reflecting on her early years with USA Basketball.
“I had the opportunity to do it, get on the court with Hall of Famers and I learned a lot just by watching it and being around it,” Taurasi said before Sunday’s WNBA playoff game at Mohegan Sun Arena. “USA Basketball is a program, it certainly is about doing things that have been set for a while now. It will be good for them to get that early (exposure) and see it, show what they can do, it is a great opportunity for the young kids to put their foot in the door.”
Inevitably, there will be anxious times for players like Collier, Samuelson, Louisville junior Asia Durr, Ohio State senior Kelsey Mitchell and South Carolina senior A’ja Wilson as they try not to step on the toes of their more established fellow training camp attendees.
“As a kid, you go out there and show some respect, then you go out and play as hard as you can and show what you can give to the program,” said Taurasi, who has won eight gold medals with USA Basketball including four Olympic gold medals. “It is a balancing act, but at the end of the day you have to go out there and compete, play hard.”
Collier and Samuelson won’t be the only UConn products taking part in their first U.S. senior national team camp. Tiffany Hayes and Morgan Tuck are among 11 current or former UConn players who have accepted invitations.
“Once you have been away from USA Basketball for a little bit like I have been, you kind of don’t think about it,” said Tuck who won four gold medals with USA Basketball junior national teams. “I am really excited, this is where you want to be when you’re in the USA (program) when you were younger.”
What was the best part of Tuck’s experiences playing with the U.S. U17, U18 and U19 national teams?
“Just playing with your team, you are not with each other for very long but some of the friends that are my best friends now I met through USA,” Tuck said. “It is a great opportunity to represent your country and to get the chance to represent on the national level just is a great honor.”
Tuck will also be reunited with Collier and Samuelson, who were freshmen when Tuck was a senior at UConn.
“It is great for them,” Tuck said. “It is really exciting, I am excited I get to be on the court with Pheesa and Lou again and play with them. I am sure with them, just like me, I am sure they are nervous but they deserve to be there.
“They had to make a huge jump there aren’t many times as a freshman to sophomore, you have to make a huge jump and act like upperclassmen like they had to do and they handled it really well. I am sure they had their rough moments but they solidified themselves and showed that was just the tip of what they could do .”
Tuck made it to many of UConn’s games last season including some when she served as a color commentator for the contests on the UConn Radio Network. Taurasi’s overseas commitment kept her from seeing UConn up close and in person but she did get to check out some of the games on television or live streams and came away rather impressed with the emergence of Collier and Samuelson as go-to players for the Huskies.
“They played great,” Taurasi said. “Lou probably made the biggest strides from freshman year to sophomore year that I have seen in a long time in college basketball. That is about confidence, attitude and being confident in what you are doing on the court. Napheesa is so versatile in so many ways, she has this calm presence about her on the court. They’ve had a great sophomore year but they have to keep going.”
The training camp, the first for new U.S. national team coach Dawn Staley, runs from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2.
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