When the Huskies' 2015 recruiting class is mentioned, the conversation usually begins with some version of "Katie Lou Samuelson will be the latest in the long line of great freshman to play for Geno Auriemma."
And that will almost certainly be true.
But perhaps one of the most important players, the one few are talking about, is Georgetown transfer Natalie Butler, the 6-5 center who transferred from Georgetown after winning Big East Freshman of the Year honors during the 2013-14 season. But like all transfers, Butler has had to sit out, an incredibly difficult thing to ask of some of the most competitive people on the planet.
“It’s hard because you’re there and you do all of the work with your team,” Butler said of being able to practice and attend meetings, via SNY.com. “You see them grow as a team and you want to be out there with them to share that experience. But I’ve learned that you can share the experience in different ways. I’ve had to be patient. But this is exciting. Just going through this is all new to me. I’m trying to be as supportive as I can and as loud as I can.”
Senior center Kiah Stokes, who has quietly been a presence in the paint this season, expects Butler to have an impact next season.
“She’s going to be good,” Stokes told SNY.com. “She has improved and has a lot more confidence. She’s developed a mid-range jumper which I think will help her out a lot. She’s already strong and finishes well around the basket. She’ll give the team a different look next year. But I think she’ll do really well.”
And while Butler would much rather be suiting up for UConn's Final Four matchup against Maryland, she knows she has learned something from sitting and watching all these months.
“Mentally, I’ve learned a lot," she said. "Learning from Coach Auriemma, being a student of the game, has helped me. There are things that I never knew about being a basketball player that I know now. He pushes you through things that you never thought were possible. From that aspect, I’m better."
Last May, Auriemma made it clear that Butler arrived in Storrs with lofty expectations.
“So I think she’s got a chance to really, really have a huge impact on our program," he said at the time. "I told her, ‘we don’t do this.’ In 30 years I’ve been here, maybe three or four [transfers]. We don’t do this unless it’s a game changer, and she’s going to be a game-changer for us, no question about it.”