Tina Thomas is the AAU coach for the Central PA Elite AAU program. One of her players: Kyla Irwin, the latest 2016 recruit for Geno Auriemma and the Huskies. And when Thomas says that Irwin is special, she knows what she's talking about; her daughter was an All-American at Maryland and now plays in the NBA, and her son plays at Wake Forest. Thomas knows basketball.
“I think she’s played for me three years now,’’ Thomas said, via the Connecticut News' Rich Elliott. “I saw her as a freshman. She was playing at my daughter’s old high school. So I went to see her because I was looking for a big and someone told me to go watch her so I did. So I knew her mom (Bethany) because I played against her mom for a couple years and I approached her and said if she’d be interested. Her mother said, `No, she’s on an AAU team.’ And then she kind of talked it out with Kyla and Kyla really wanted to do it.
"So going into her sophomore year I played at the highest level so she was playing upcoming seniors and she was only going to be a sophomore. And she held her own. It was pretty impressive. Her mom taught her well. Her mom played at Penn State. Her mom knows the game extremely well, and she’s a coach’s kid. So I knew she’d play big. Her dream was to play at Connecticut so hat’s off to her.
“She’s just one of those kids that’s a coach’s daughter," Thomas continued. "She knows the game so well. She knows so much about it. The little things that most kids just don’t know she does know. She plays hard, 110 percent, whether we’re killing a team or it’s a very competitive game. And she’s loved by all of her teammates because she’s just one of those kids that she’s cheering whether she’s in the game or sitting on the bench. I’ve never seen a kid like her in that she gets the whole bench rallied up. It’s really a neat thing to see.’’
In addition to UConn, Irwin also had scholarship offers from DePaul, Michigan, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Providence, St. John’s and Saint Joseph’s. But Storrs is where she wanted to be and as far as Thomas is concerned, it makes the most sense.
“She’s Geno’s kind of kid in the sense that whatever he asks her to do she’s going to do it and run through a brick wall through and through,’’ Thomas said. “She’s that kind of kid. She doesn’t get down on herself. If she can’t do something she’s going to work at it until she can do it. She’s that kind of kid.’’