STORRS - No one can blame Batouly Camara if she is a little impatient. The UConn women basketball team’s redshirt sophomore forward hasn’t played since March 25, 2016, having sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules.
Her wait is about to come to an end, however, three months ahead of her first regular season game in a UConn uniform.
The Huskies head to Italy on Saturday for an 11-day tour that will take them to Rome, Florence, Trieste, and Venice and include four exhibition games.
“It’s like we’re getting a head start,” Camara said after Monday’s workout at the Werth Champions Center. “Going there, being able to bond as a team and also play some games, I’m super excited for this trip.
“I want to be able to pick things up quickly and to be efficient. But at this point of the season I want to show to my coaches and teammates that they can trust me. Being reliable is something I’ve tried to show the team from the start.”
UConn began workouts last Saturday with 12 of the 13 players on its roster. Senior guard Kia Nurse is in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with the Canadian national team, which is participating in the FIBA AmeriCup 2017, and will join the Huskies in Italy at the conclusion of the tournament.
For Camara, her wait to return to action is coming to a close.
The New York City native averaged 5.1 points and 4.3 rebounds per game during her freshman year two seasons ago at the University of Kentucky. She practiced with UConn a season ago after transferring here but was not eligible for games. She is now.
“I think I’m ready,” Camara said. “Right now it’s about being more confident and I think that I’ve made strides. Coming from a program where everything was set plays, adapting to our offense here was an adjustment. And I’m working on my defense, my defensive stance, and picking up on the concepts of what we want to do.”
UConn returns four starters - including All-Americans Napheesa Collier, Katie Lou Samuelson, and Gabby Williams - while welcoming fellow transfer student Azura Stevens and a freshman class rated in the top three in the country.
But there’s always room for someone who plays defense, rebounds, and does the dirty work in the paint.
“I play hard and do all the intangibles and things a team needs,” Camara said. “Whether it is winning 50-50 balls, making reads, setting good screens, whatever, I’ll do it.”
As she watched the Huskies play from the bench a season ago, Camara would imagine herself in different situations and envision what she would do on the court. She said it helped her get through the season.
When she felt helpless was last March 31 when Mississippi State ended UConn’s record 111-game winning streak and four-year reign as national champion with an overtime victory in the Final Four semifinals at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.
“That was tough to watch,” Camara said. “It was just their night. Things went their way. But the coaches have said that they out-toughed us.
“But I think a fire was ignited after that game. I knew how hard my teammates had worked to get to that spot and to not get the result we wanted was difficult.”
One of the ways Camara is trying to help the Huskies get over the top this season is by being a good teammate.
During the first summer session here, she would help the freshmen - Mikayla Coombs, Andra Espinoza-Hunter, Lexi Gordon, and Megan Walker - in their transition to college life, even if it was something as simple as cooking dinner.
“I tried to help make them feel at home and feel welcome,” Camara said. “It can be a tough transition. I had to do it twice in a way, first as a freshman and then coming here. I want to be there for them. If they have any questions, I’m here to answer. Or if they just want someone to talk to, I’m here.”
The Huskies’ trip to Italy will be their fifth visit to Europe since 1994. It’s a chance for them to build chemistry and become closer before they start the fall semester and their usual workouts leading up to the official start of practice in October.
With so many newcomers, the timing is right.
“We’re going to have a great time,” Camara said. “I can’t wait.”