UConn's Katie Samuelson. High expectations from an athlete accustomed to delivering on them. By Rich Elliott.
The UConn women's basketball team was on hand for the Geno Auriemma Charity Golf Tournament on Monday. Incoming freshman standout Katie Lou Samuelson met the media.
By Rich Elliott
WEST HARTFORD – Her resume is impeccable. It is as decorated as any high school player that has ever signed a National Letter of Intent to play at UConn.
Katie Lou Samuelson, a 6-foot-3 wing from Huntington Beach, Calif., was honored as the WBCA, McDonald’s, Gatorade and the Morgan Wootten National Player of the Year during her final season at Mater Dei High. Yet, as she prepares for her first season with the three-time defending national champion Huskies she harbors no sense of entitlement.
Samuelson made it clear Monday while attending Geno’s Fore the Kids Golf Tournament at Hartford Golf Club, an event that has raised $1.4 million all-time to benefit the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, that she is ready to work.
``I know it’s going to be tough and I know every day it’s going to be a challenge for me,’’ Samuelson said. ``So I’m just going to work hard and do what I can. Right now I’m just focusing on trying to get my defense better and get stronger. So that’s my individual goal this summer.’’
Samuelson averaged 29.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.2 steals in leading Mater Dei to a 31-3 record last season. She set team single-season records in scoring, made 3-pointers (117), made free throws (178) and free throws attempted (211) as well as single-game records in scoring (42), made 3-pointers (10) and made free throws (16).
Samuelson also holds Monarchs’ single-season records in field goal shooting percentage (62.0, 2013-14) and free throw shooting percentage (89.4, 2013-2014).
``Lou is a very versatile player and maybe the best perimeter shooter in the country, especially for her size,’’ Mater Dei coach Kevin Kiernan said. ``She really improved her senior year at attacking the basket and improved her strength. She also grew tremendously as a team leader and I think she will fit in seamlessly at UConn. There are a lot of great players already at UConn and I think Lou will definitely fit in.’’
Overall, Samuelson ranks second in Mater Dei history behind former UConn star Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis in scoring (2,244), rebounding (760) and made 3-pointers (297).
Samuelson is honored to have received the accolades she did during her high school career. However, she understands that all that success is now in the past.
``That was high school,’’ Samuelson said. ``I know that that’s kind of over now. I’ve just got to start fresh, start from the bottom as a freshman and work my way up. So that’s how I’m going to go in and that’s my mindset. I knew that from the beginning that nothing’s handed to me and I’ve got to work for everything. So definitely coming in I’m just trying to learn from all the older girls and just really get to know them and get to know how they play.’’
Samuelson said that the workouts have been difficult and some of UConn’s veteran players have taken her to task when she has not played well in pick-up games. It is simply part of the growing process. And the players with the most talent generally receive the most criticism, especially from UConn coach Geno Auriemma.
At this point, Auriemma is not certain just how good Samuelson can be at the college level.
``Just like any other kid coming out of high school that’s got a lot of skills, in the end it turns out to be on them,’’ Auriemma said. ``How bad do they want to be great? How much time are they willing to put into the game? How coachable are they? What kind of competitive spirit do they have? You don’t know these things until you get them. You watch that 21-year-old kid (Masters and U.S. Open champion Jordan Spieth) play golf. And you go, `This kid reminds you of the same motivation that drove Tiger to be the best.’ So if you have a high school kid coming out of high school and you find that they have those qualities and then they have the game to back it up anything’s possible.
``Katie Lou has a lot of advantages that a lot of other kids don’t have that are great shooters. She’s 6-3 and then she’s got a quick release and she’s a smart basketball player. And she has a huge advantage of being really, really well coached in high school. Like a lot of kids that come into college that are really, really well coached in high school as (fellow UConn freshman) Napheesa Collier was and Katie Lou was. Those guys can compete immediately at the college level. And the kids that didn’t have really good coaching in high school they’re the ones who struggle the most. Hey, Tina (Charles) had great coaching. Sue Bird had great coaching in high school. You see some of these kids that come out … if they have the right background, the right make-up mentally and they’ve got the talent and the heart anything’s possible.’’
At this juncture the ceiling seems to be limitless for Samuelson, who will represent the U.S. along with Collier and UConn 2016 commit Crystal Dangerfield at the FIBA Women's U-19 World Championship July 18-26 in Chekhov, Russia.
Her hope is that she will make an immediate impact for the Huskies. Her ability and her willingness to work has her heading in that direction.
``I have confidence in myself,’’ Samuelson said. ``But ultimately it comes down to if I do what Coach wants me to do and if I fit that spot that they need to be filled for it. I kind of feel I can contribute, but just know I’ve got to keep working hard and it’s not going to be handed to me.
``I think the fit for me coming here was the fact that it was super competitive. I’m so competitive and I know if I go to a place that has such competitive players and a competitive coach that I’m going to become the best player I can be.’’