Geno Auriemma, UConn’s eight-time national champion coach and 2012 Olympic gold medal winner, was in the RHS gym Tuesday night to watch one of his future Huskies.
“Anytime we get a day off like today, we don’t play until Sunday (at Rutgers), so this is a great opportunity,” Auriemma said of his trip to watch a star recruit. “Every chance I get during a day off like this, I try to see as many (signees) as I can. You really want to see them as often as possible in person … You can only tell so much from watching tape.”
Tuesday night was the first time Auriemma watched Williams play in person. Williams was recruited by assistant coaches last year before Auriemma’s visit to Reno was put on hold when she tore her ACL with only a handful of games left before the North playoffs.
Maybe it was that coach was in the stands, or maybe it was just one of those nights, but Williams went off against North Valleys at home and finished with a season-high 35 points.
“I am really glad he got the chance to come watch me,” Williams said. “I just know that him coming out right from Baylor (No. 1 UConn beat No. 7 Baylor, 66-55, on the road Monday night), I just think it means a lot for him to come to do that. It just feels great to have it off my shoulders.”
Auriemma said he liked what he saw from Williams Tuesday night but it was not her 35 points he enjoyed most.
“It’s like a college player playing with high school kids. She is just so physically much more mature, and much more powerful, and much more athletic than everybody else on the floor so it’s easy for her to do all the things she wants to do,” Auriemma said. “So what I’m impressed with is how willingly she gives up the ball and how competitive she is and how she gets her teammates involved.”
The significant knee injury Williams suffered last winter would cause many college coaches to get skeptical. But Auriemma said Williams is such a rare talent, the torn ACL was never a deterrent.
He added that advancements in the medical field with rehab for such significant injuries have increased his likelihood to recruit players with various season-ending setbacks.
“I think there were a lot more red flags back in the day. Today, players recover. I’m not going to say 100 percent but pretty close,” Auriemma said. “Plus, I think she is a unique athlete that even if she’s not 100 percent, she is still better than most players you can find in the country.
“I think we had seen enough early on (before the injury) to make the decision that we really wanted her to come to Connecticut.”
Williams was named a nominee to compete in the McDonald’s High School All American Game last Tuesday and Auriemma said he enjoys seeing his players picked for the game. It is validation.
“I like it that way where players we have already recruited get picked for those kinds of awards rather than waiting to see who gets picked then recruit those players,” Auriemma said. “So obviously we are on the right track. We’re not the only ones who think she is going to be really good.
“And I don’t think that will be the last time she gets picked to play on some kind of All-Star team.”
The rosters for the McDonalds High School All American Game will be released Jan. 29 at 3 p.m. on ESPNU.
Williams is one of four recruits in UConn's 2014 class so far. ESPN ranks the class the third-best in the country behind UCLA and Duke. Williams, ranked a five-star recruit by ESPN, is joined by two other five-star recruits and a three-star.
One season removed from a national title, the UConn women’s basketball team is 18-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country. The Huskies routed then No. 2, Duke, 83-61, in Cameron Indoor on Dec. 17.