UConn Keeps Rolling, Lands No. 1 Recruiting Class. By Rich Elliott.
POSTED November 22, 2016
By Rich Elliott
The ability of the UConn women’s basketball coaching staff to recruit the finest high school players in the nation never ceases to amaze. Year after year, players with proven track records and tremendous upside continue to sign a National Letter of Intent to play for Hall of Famer Geno Auriemma.
This year proved to be more of the same for UConn. Months after losing the greatest senior class – Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck – in the history of the sport to graduation, the Huskies landed the No. 1 recruiting class during the NCAA early signing period according the several national recruiting services. Mikayla Coombs, Alexis Gordon, Andra Espinoza-Hunter and Megan Walker are rated among the Top 37 players in the Class of 2017 by ESPN Hoopgurlz.
``I thought we were recruiting really good kids who had a really good idea of what we were looking for,’’ Auriemma said. ``For the most part, every one of those kids was easy to recruit. They were knowledgeable of what we have and what we have to offer and what they can accomplish here. As a group, they have the potential to do a lot of great things. As a group, they bring a lot of things that, right now if you look at our team, they're going to get an opportunity to show what they've got right away. They're pretty versatile as a group. All in all, we helped ourselves a lot.’’
Walker, a 6-foot-1 wing from Chesterfield, Va., is regarded as the nation’s No. 1 player. She was the final piece of the class, announcing her decision Nov. 9. Notre Dame and Texas were also on her final list.
Walker was named the Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year the last two years. Through her first three seasons, she has amassed 1,389 points, 502 rebounds and 186 steals in 79 games at Monacan High. She averaged 21.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.2 steals in leading the Chiefs to a 29-1 record and a second straight Class 4A championship last season.
``Going to UConn gives me an opportunity to play for a legendary coach and I think it’s the best place for me to reach my potential,’’ Walker said. ``I'm excited for what Coach Auriemma and UConn can do for me.’’
Coombs, a 5-8 guard from Buford, Ga. who is rated No. 14 overall, represents UConn's first recruit from Georgia since star Maya Moore. She has totaled 777 points, 418 rebounds, 126 assists, and 186 steals in 64 career games for the Wesleyan School.
Coombs averaged 13.3 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists to lead the Wolves to a 27-5 record and a spot in the Class 2A tournament final last season.
``When you watch Mikayla, she's explosive athletically and can take the ball where she wants it to go,’’ Auriemma said. ``She can get to the basket easily. Where we'll have to help her is with making more outside shots. I think that will come. The knee injury (suffered during her sophomore season) set her back a bit. It took awhile for her to get back. But I saw her play enough before she was hurt to know exactly what she’s capable of.’’
Gordon, a 6-0 wing from Fort Worth, Texas who is rated No. 29, is the second player from the state to sign with the Huskies (Jefferson). She has started every game at L.D. Bell High through her first three years and is the school's career scoring leader with 1,895 points.
Gordon averaged 24.7 points and 9.5 rebounds last season and has also recorded 760 rebounds and 136 assists in her career.
``I think Lexi will be the kind of kid that when you put her in the lineup, and she’ll work hard to try and find her way into the lineup, she’ll go in and make shots,’’ Auriemma said. ``She’s good at it and she’s a tough kid, too. She’s a great team player. She’s the kind of kid that because of the work she does you hope will get better every practice, every day.’’
Espinoza-Hunter, a 5-11 guard from Ossining, N.Y. is rated No. 37. She is from the same hometown and high school (Ossining) as current UConn senior Saniya Chong.
Espinoza-Hunter began her high school career as a seventh grader at Ossining High and in two seasons scored 478 career points and made 99 3-pointers. She then helped lead Blair Academy in New Jersey to three league and three state prep championships in as many seasons.
Prior to returning to Ossining High for her final season, Espinoza-Hunter averaged 25.0 points and 8.0 rebounds as a junior at Blair Academy.
``It seems like I’ve been watching Andi since she was in the seventh grade around the first time I saw Saniya,’’ Auriemma said. ``She has a reputation as a great shooter. That’s why everyone fell in love with her when they were recruiting her. She makes a lot of shots. But as she’s gotten older she’s been asked to do more things, find more ways to get involved. She’s done that.’’
There have been times when players that make an official visit to UConn have opted to play elsewhere. That is not the case with this particular class. All four made their visit. All four are coming to Storrs. And Auriemma is pleased with the outcome.
``We try not to waste our time with kids we don't think we can get or kids that we think that it's going to be a major struggle,’’ Auriemma said. ``We know before we ask a kid to come on their official visit. A lot of them have been here before. We have a pretty good idea that it’s going to be us and somebody else or it’s no more than three schools generally, so our chances of getting them are pretty good. That doesn’t mean we’re going to get all of them, but we’re also willing to not have a great recruiting class if we don’t get the kids we want.
``I’ve really started to believe with all of my heart, `That kid you don't get isn’t going to hurt you. Bringing in the wrong kid is going to hurt you.’ We’d rather not get anybody than bring in the wrong kid. I think every one of these kids coming in has the right temperament and is the right kind of player for us. They all know each other I told them upfront, `Your success at Connecticut has nothing to do with who else is coming.’ They understand that.’’