Geno Auriemma expects big things from freshman Breanna Stewart this year.
Huskies coach Geno Auriemma hasn't been shy about the fact that he thinks a lot of freshman Breanna Stewart. She made her UConn debut Friday at First Night and the expectations remain exceedingly high. Before we get to Auriemma's latest observations, here's what he said way back in January:
"Breanna has the thing that coaches really value in players, especially big kids," he said. "Our coaches like to ask what it would be like if [a big kid] were 5-foot-10. Would she be a good player, one of the Top 10 in the country? Many times the answer is no. The reason a kid is good is that the kid is big."
"But if Breanna was 5-10, she would still be one of the best players in America, and the fact is, she is so competitive and skilled and has a good understanding of the game and her affect on it."
And here's what Auriemma said last week, days before First Night (via the Hartford Courant's John Altavilla).
“I don’t know what to expect from Breanna,” the coach admitted. “I was the most surprised person in the gym when I saw Kaleena do some of the things she did last season [on her way to Big East Freshman of the Year]. I didn’t know she’s be able to do it so early.
“I just know Breanna is going to be really good," Auriemma said, continuing on a theme that we've heard for months now. "How good, I don’t know. But she is going to be really good. If she plays like I believe she is capable, I won’t say I am surprised. She’ll act like a freshman at times, just like Kaleena did. But at times she’ll play like she’s been here two or three years. But I’m not wont to build teams around just one player, to have high expectations for one player. It’s more important to feel like that about your team."
To be fair, it's pretty easy to take the success-by-committee approach when you routinely have the nation's best recruiting classes. That said, Auriemma points out that it goes beyond recruiting.
“Men’s teams, out of necessity often, build teams around players who are one and done. And invariably, more times than not, it goes (poorly). I don’t want Breanna to think that she needs to be the one to get us over the hump to win the national championship. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t , it doesn’t."
This is where we point that that, in Auriemma's mind, "over the hump" means getting past the first round of the Final Four. For most programs, the aforementioned hump includes beating a rival, winning the conference championship or finally qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. At UConn, where expectations are already through the roof, it means one thing: winning it all.
“I just think (Breanna) has the opportunity to be a good as anyone we’ve ever brought here. And that in itself says a lot," Auriemma said.