No WNBA season would be complete without ample representation from UConn.
Sixteen former Huskies are in WNBA training camps as preparations for the 2021 season get underway.
With just over two weeks to go until games begin on May 14, here's what some former Huskies had to say heading into the season.
Crystal Dangerfield looks to build on stellar start with Lynx
Crystal Dangerfield, the reigning WNBA Rookie of the Year, is eager to show that her stellar start to her professional career wasn't a fluke. The good news? She's going to have more help around her that should make her job easier.
Future Hall of Famer Sylvia Fowles is back after missing much of the 2020 season with a calf injury. Minnesota also had one of the most exciting free agencies by adding Natalie Achonwa, Kayla McBride and Aerial Powers. They'll also return All-WNBA Second Team player and former UConn star Napheesa Collier, who received MVP consideration last season.
With more players capable of taking the scoring load off Dangerfield's shoulders, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve hopes she can be more impactful on the defensive end, in rebounding and by facilitating.
"We're going to have a lot of weapons," Reeve said. "[Dangerfield] was charged with doing a lot of the scoring, and now we're going to need greater balance. It's going to get a little bit easier for because she's going to have options to pass to that are going to have a lot of credibility."
Dangerfield spent a lot of time in Minnesota in the offseason working with the Lynx coaching staff.
"You definitely can see her growth and her patience," Fowles said. "We had some good runs today, she and I, and I'm just excited to be back on court with her."
The Lynx started training camp without most of their returners, so Dangerfield found herself serving as more of a leader.
"Just being, it's funny to say, one of the older players here this year, it's just come naturally," Dangerfield said. "My personality is coming out more, I'm talking more and helping the ones that haven't been here yet."
After the Lynx were swept by the Storm in last summer's WNBA semifinals, Dangerfield left the bubble with a bad taste in her mouth. She'll do whatever it takes to help the Lynx compete for a title this summer.
"Still thinking that there's doubt that I can do what I did last year is self motivation. Not wanting to let myself down, not wanting that to just be a one-year thing, letting it be something I can continue to build on and help my team win," Dangerfield said. "Last year I was not happy with the way we left the bubble, and I took a lot of responsibility for that. I just want to be a player that my teammates can rely on, my coaches can expect a lot from me."
A UConn powerhouse emerges out west
If you're a UConn fan, there's no better team to represent your interests than the Phoenix Mercury, home to four former Huskies players including Diana Taurasi, Bria Hartley and new additions Kia Nurse and Megan Walker.
Walker has yet to arrive in Phoenix from overseas, and Hartley is still making her way back from her late-season ACL tear last summer, but Taurasi and Nurse are finding their groove on the court.
"The minute I heard that there was an opportunity to maybe get [Nurse], I said 'yes, absolutely,'" Taurasi said. "I just love how tough she is, how gritty she is. She's a great 3-point shooter, she gets to the basket. Knowing her UConn pedigree, I just know what kind of characters and players Coach [Geno Auriemma] gets there, and I think she's just going to fit in amazingly with what we do. Already on the first day she picked everything up like she's been here the last five years."
Nurse, who landed in Phoenix during free agency after spending three years in New York, has soaked up the opportunity to learn from a legend like Taurasi and backcourt star Skylar Diggins-Smith. Taurasi and Diggins-Smith earned All-WNBA Second Team spots last season.
The top thing Nurse has learned so far is patience.
"A lot stuff that they do, it's not at super-quick speed," Nurse said. "They're really patient in their reads, they know where they want to get the ball. Just those little things and seeing how they get around — if I'm defending them how they get their shot off, the space that they can create, the footwork that they use."
Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said Hartley is likely not going to be available for the start of the season but is "progressing nicely."
Tina Charles finally arrives in D.C.
At long last, Tina Charles will make her debut with the Washington Mystics.
Charles enters her 11th season in the league with her third WNBA team after stints with the Connecticut Sun and New York Liberty. Charles joined the Mystics in 2020 before opting out of the WNBA bubble season. A year later, she's in Washington practicing with the team and has a singular focus in mind: winning a WNBA title.
"I do not have a championship, that's what keeps me hungry," Charles said. "That's what keeps me motivated, that's what makes me want to continue to get better."
This Mystics team is one with some question marks: Alysha Clark is out for the season with an injury, and Elena Delle Donne is recovering from a pair of back surgeries since winning the 2019 WNBA MVP and leading Washington to the 2020 championship.
"We joke around saying 'I guess it was meant to be,'" Charles said of Delle Donne, who initially signed with UConn before spending her collegiate career at Delaware. "We were supposed to play together at UConn."
Charles is still adjusting to things in D.C., although she's familiar with Washington coach Mike Thibault, who coached her in Connecticut.
"I have a lot of angst for different reasons, new team, new system, players, a nervousness," Charles said, "but I'm just going to go out there and play. I think that's just when I'm at my best, when I'm not thinking about anything and I just let the game come to me."
Moriah Jefferson faces big expectations in Dallas
Moriah Jefferson's professional career has been largely snake-bitten by knee injuries, which kept her out of the 2019 season and cut short her 2020 campaign in the WNBA bubble.
That hasn't stopped Dallas Wings coach Vickie Johnson from having big expectations for Jefferson.
"I have very high expectations for Jefferson, she knows that," Johnson said. "I'm holding her accountable for the whole team. Overall, she's the [point guard] of our team, and I expect great things from her."
After sitting out all but nine games last summer, Jefferson is feeling great.
"Obviously it's a long process, but I had really good PT," Jefferson said. "I got stronger, got better every day. [My knees] feel good, getting up and down the court. VJ has really high intensity practices, and I haven't had any issues there."
"She's looking good," Johnson added. "It's going to take time for her to get her rhythm, but overall I'm very impressed with her progress."
As one of the veteran players, Jefferson will be looked upon to be an on- and off-court leader.
"We have a very young team," Jefferson said. "We have to have leadership, and that's my job. Coming in every day very prepared, knowing the plays, knowing everybody's spots on defense, things like that. It's important for me to come in every single day ready to focus and bring the same level of intensity every single day."
UConn players in WNBA training camps
Sue Bird: Seattle Storm
Breanna Stewart: Seattle Storm*
Katie Lou Samuelson: Seattle Storm*
Diana Taurasi: Phoenix Mercury
Kia Nurse: Phoenix Mercury
Bria Hartley: Phoenix Mercury
Megan Walker: Phoenix Mercury*
Azurá Stevens: Chicago Sky
Gabby Williams: Chicago Sky*
Stefanie Dolson: Chicago Sky
Napheesa Collier: Minnesota Lynx*
Crystal Dangerfield: Minnesota Lynx
Tina Charles: Washington Mystics
Moriah Jefferson: Dallas Wings
Kiah Stokes: New York Liberty
Tiffany Hayes: Atlanta Dream*
* denotes late arrival
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