The defending national champion Huskies kicked off the 2013-14 season Tuesday afternoon when then held their first official practice at Gampel Pavilion. Needless to say, it was far less nerve wracking for All-American center Stefanie Dolson than it was competing at the U.S. National Team mini-camp in Las Vegas Oct. 4-6.
Along with fellow Huskies’ All-American Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and rising star Breanna Stewart, it was the opportunity of a lifetime for Dolson. It was a three-day window for her to make an impact among some of the best players in the world as well as members of the Women’s National Team Player Selection Committee.
Once Dolson calmed her nerves and focused on playing basketball she was able to find success.
“I was pretty happy, proud of myself,’’ Dolson said. “Going into it I was a little nervous, but I knew I couldn’t be otherwise I would play terribly. So I just kind of went in and I was like, `I’m going to play as well as I can and just kind of let the rest take care of itself.’ I think that’s what I did and I was pretty comfortable out there. So I was happy.
“That was my biggest thing just kind of going there and just leaving an impression. I knew there’s a slim chance I’m going to make the team because there’s so many amazing players. My biggest thing was just going there and making a good impression, whether it was the way I played, how hard I worked, how much I talked. It didn’t really matter to me because I’m looking more for the future and hopefully getting an invite back.’’
The Selection Committee used the camp as a tool to identify players for the 2013-16 U.S. National Team pool. The 2014 FIBA World Championship will be held in Ankara and Istanbul, Turkey Sept. 27 – Oct. 5, while the 2016 Olympic Games will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Aug. 5-21.
Dolson, Mosqueda-Lewis and Stewart each returned from camp with positive thoughts. And UConn and Team USA coach Geno Auriemma was pleased with their overall performance.
“I thought they all played really well,’’ Auriemma said. “I thought they handled themselves exceptionally well. They really did. They didn’t look out of place. They competed really, really hard. I think Stefanie was really, really comfortable. Breanna was really comfortable. I think Kaleena kind of was probably not as aggressive as I’ve seen her be. I think her game was I think just steady. Like I don’t think she tried to do anything great. So all three of them I thought were great. They really impressed a lot of people.’’
The UConn trio was among six current college players at camp. Notre Dame All-American Kayla McBride, Baylor All-American Odyssey Sims and Maryland All-American Alyssa Thomas also competed.
“It was fun,’’ Mosqueda-Lewis said. “I was just out there playing, just trying to get some experience. I was a little nervous in the beginning, but after a while I was just out there playing.
“I think it puts everything in the right perspective for you, but it also lets you see where you’re at right now in comparison to other players, people you will be playing against in a couple years. I think one thing all of us realized is that we have some work to do, but we’re not that far off. It helped our confidence a lot.’’
UConn All-American Bria Hartley, of course, was unable to attend the camp after tweaking her left ankle during a pick-up game. The ailment is no longer an issue.
“She is (good),’’ Auriemma said. “I’m happy for her. I was disappointed, and I know she was, that she couldn’t go to the training camp. But I think in the end it was best for her.’’
Here are further thoughts from Stewart …
“I was pretty pleased with how I played at camp,’’ Stewart said. “I was really looking forward to being there and then I thought I was going to be more nervous than I was because when I got on the court and started practicing it was just like any other practice. But when sit you back and think about it you’d be like, `I’m practicing with Candace Parker. Candace Parker is right here.’ I just wanted to go in and work hard and play well and I think that I did that that weekend.’’