"There's a certain camaraderie that exists on a team, there's a certain level of accountability that exists on a team. You want to know someone is going to put in the time and effort and they are going to have your back the way that you have theirs and their level of wanting to do things is a certain way, the same way as yours, and we're all in this together and we all kind of pay our dues the same way to hopefully achieve a common goal. It's not conducive to good team chemistry when someone is struggling with wanting to be with any team, not just this team." - Geno Auriemma on the departure of Samarie Walker
6'1" center/forward Samarie Walker has left the University of Connecticut women's basketball team, after a career with the Huskies that lasted 17 games.
She leaves a team already thin at the post positions even thinner, with perhaps the most difficult stretch of schedule coming up, including a three game stretch vs. ranked Duke, DePaul and West Virginia. Apparently Walker is struggling with the desire to play basketball period, not just for UConn, and she revealed to Auriemma that it was actually a problem in high school, and came to UConn in part because of the wishes of her parents.
UConn head coach Geno Auriemma isn't sure how the minutes Walker was handling will be divided up.
"I don't know," he said. "We'll find out what we're going to do with it. We may do exactly what we did with it Monday night, or we may have to zig and zag and figure it out each game."
For certain, Michala Johnson is not part of the solution, as Auriemma answered a flat "no" to whether or not she could contribute 10-12 minutes per game. He also said Heather Buck was "someone who hasn't found what it is that is going to really make her a contributor, and maybe she'll look a little bit harder now that she knows there's a real need there right now."
The players were understandably reluctant to make outspoken comments regarding the departure of their friend and former teammate. Both Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley, fellow freshmen with Walker, spouted the party line of, "it's her decision; we wish her the best of luck in the future."
Senior All-American Maya Moore said, "things like this happen, and I hope down the road everything works out for her and she becomes successful wherever she needs to be. It's a tough situation, this is a place that, you're expectations and the demands are more than any other place, so hopefully she'll find the right place for her."
Auriemma did add that he was comfortable giving minutes at the center spot to Moore, making other teams adjust to Connecticut as opposed to Connecticut playing a lesser player at the post spot. He also said that the 1995 team basically only went 7 players deep, and with good health and not committing silly fouls, it's doable for this team too. A sentiment a very determined Moore echoed:
"This is not a one man show, it's a team, and one of the great aspects of this program I think is how we cover for each other, we have each other's backs, so that's what we're going to do now. We're going to be there even more for each other, and increase the level of focus even more. As post players, it's going to be even more of a challenge, but in the past when our backs were against the wall, I think we're a program that will respond even better."
UConn will move on from Walker, much like it moved on from the sudden departure of Elena Delle Donne. That team went on to win a national championship, although it had Tina Charles and Kalana Greene to cover any problems. This team is a different group for sure; less experienced, but still, it does have Moore, and Tiffany Hayes, who has scored over 20 points in 3 of the last 4.
As Auriemma said today, "Recruiting does funny things. When you get it right, everything works perfectly, and everyone lives happily ever after. When you get it wrong, you're stuck with a team with only 9 or 10 players instead of 12, and everybody struggles. Coaches, players, everybody."
We'll see how the Huskies respond, and how mightily the struggles of the Huskies for the remainder of this season will be.