Under the wings of mentors Moriah Jefferson and Breanna Stewart in 2015, UConn freshmen Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson were bound for greatness.
For Collier, her quest for double-doubles started against Cincinnati, when she dished out 11 points and 12 rebounds. Samuelson’s three-point fate was also decided in the 2015 season as she led the team with 78 threes (Moriah Jefferson’s 53 finished second). As for playing time, Collier wasn’t always logging a full 40 minutes — in the backseat with Samuelson, both averaged about 17 to 23 minutes per game.
That all changed in the following season when Jefferson and Stewart left for the WNBA.
The identities of Collier and Samuelson started to develop even further alongside Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams, just in time for the 2016-17 college season. Not only did they both see an increase in minutes, but the chemistry began to flow between a kid out of Missouri and another from Southern California.
After the 2017-18 season winded down, the Huskies achieved the century mark in points scored per game — a total of eight times. It was, of course, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish that cut that season short, but that didn’t derail Collier’s and Samuelson’s plans for a dynamic senior season in Storrs.
No. 33 Katie Lou Samuelson
Notable career totals: 41.6 percent three-point shooting, 382 threes made, 2,342 points, 627 rebounds, 456 assists
Every time she put No. 33 on, Katie Lou Samuelson wasn’t just playing for the UConn Huskies, but for Larry Bird — Sameulson’s inspiration behind the number. If you watch film of Samuelson as a freshman, you’d see that she played conservatively. As time progressed, she not only became a more physical defender, but a vocalist — whether as a starter or from the bench.
What’s most important to take away from Samuelson’s UConn career isn’t about the number of missed championship titles, but the fact that she continued to improve up to draft night. After being selected No. 4 overall by the Chicago Sky, Samuelson will join forces will the Sky’s three-point leader, Allie Quigley. Along with Quigley, Gabby Williams will get to reunite with Samuelson. The two played together under Auriemma for three years.
No. 24 Napheesa Collier
Notable career totals: 67.2 percent field-goal shooting, 2,401 points, 1,219 rebounds, 373 assists, 251 blocks
Napheesa Collier finished the 2018-19 campaign with 25 double-doubles, including a performance against East Carolina where she posted 37 points and 13 rebounds. It didn’t always come easy for Collier, though, especially at the start. Though she did end up playing 38 games in 2015, she only started nine of them because of the star-studded lineup ahead of her in line.
Her legacy at UConn made her the best Huskies player of all-time for Geno Auriemma. All good things must come to an end, however, but when another door shuts, another one opens. For Collier, her basketball career started in St. Louis and will finish in Minnesota, as the Lynx selected her No. 6 overall. The biggest news out of the WNBA ahead of the 2019 season is the loss of Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen. But there’s some brightness with Collier involved in the mix. Sylvia Fowles, the Lynx’s top defensive rebounder on a per-game basis, will have the helping hand of one of college basketball’s best board thieves.
Numbers aren’t enough to describe what Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson did for themselves, Geno Auriemma and the UConn women’s basketball program. They acted as teachers and cheerleaders for their teammates in the gloomiest of times. Most importantly, they were role models for future UConn superstars, who will fall back on the shoulders of Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Christyn Williams — groomed under Phee and Katie Lou.
UConn’s next batch of starters will have a tough act to follow without Nos. 24 and 33 in the locker room. It’s certainly not the death of the program and it’s not about who will replace them. But the course of the 2019-20 season is up for grabs. Megan Walker, for instance, is turning out to be a perimeter shooter like Samuelson, while Nelson-Ododa will have loaded responsibility in the interior as a rising sophomore.
In regards to the WNBA’s newest additions out of UConn’s talent pipeline, it will be a weird sight to see Collier and Samuelson on different sides of the court, as both will play against each other on Saturday, May 25, when the Minnesota Lynx play host to the Chicago Sky.