The off-season is the time when players work on their game. They look to make improvements. Some look to evolve into players that UConn coach Geno Auriemma will be able to consistently rely on during the upcoming season. Some look to improve on an All-American seasons. Some look to move closer to becoming an All-American.
This off-season will be no different for the reigning national champions.
“Every year players need to come back with something they didn’t have,’’ Auriemma said. “You take a look at Kelly (Faris), for example, and you see the transformation in her game from freshman year to senior year. That’s just hard work. That’s just putting the time in the gym during the summer. Whether it’s Bria (Hartley) needs to be better at doing things with the ball in her hands. Moriah (Jefferson) needs to be better at making shots to keep defenses honest. And Stewie (Breanna Stewart) needs to get stronger with the ball and needs to day in and day out learn to handle how physical the game is going to be for her.
“And Kiah (Stokes) … Kiah’s a big key. She’s got a lot of work to do, and if she puts the work in she’s going to get rewarded. And if she puts the time in and commits herself, she can change her whole career from where it’s been the last two years to where it could be the next two years. So of all the players that we have on our team she’s probably the one that if she decides to make some changes could see the most benefits.’’
Stokes, who missed six games due to a stress reaction in her lower right leg this past season, averaged 2.8 points (.660 FG), 3.5 rebounds and 10.7 minutes in 32 games for the Huskies. The only player to average fewer points and minutes was seldom-used senior Heather Buck.
There were times when Stokes looked like she had finally found a place in UConn’s rotation. She had at least five rebounds in 10 games and five games with at least seven rebounds.
Stokes enjoyed the best game of her career when she produced a career-high 14 points and season-highs of 11 rebounds and 20 minutes in the first round of the NCAA tournament against Idaho.
However, there were also 14 games when Stokes had two or fewer rebounds and 15 games that saw her fail to reach double figures in minutes played.
Heading into her junior season, Stokes certainly has the potential to make an impact off the bench for the Huskies. At this point, though, whether or not that happens is up to her.
“Kiah has a lot of potential and if she just works harder and puts it in her mind that she can be great I don’t think that there’s anything that can stop her,’’ UConn All-American Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said.