UConn women's basketball's Westbrook ready to go after completing rehab on injured knee

Published on Monday, 1 June 2020 14:36
Written by CARL ADAMEC

Journal Inquirer

The UConn women’s basketball team’s last game was played March 9 when it defeated Cincinnati to capture its seventh and last American Athletic Conference Tournament title.

But to coach Geno Auriemma, the Huskies have a big winner this spring - redshirt junior Evina Westbrook, who recently completed her rehabilitation program following left knee surgery on Dec. 31.

“She’s been working her butt off and I’m really proud of her and the incredible job she’s done,” Auriemma said on Thursday. “Evina’s taken on a huge challenge and she’s been terrific. She’s done a great job staying in touch with our incoming freshman and with our returning players. Everything that she’s accomplished has been spectacular and I could not be happier for her.”

Westbrook, a 6-foot-1 guard from Salem, Oregon, transferred to UConn a year ago after spending her first two seasons at the University of Tennessee. On June 4, shortly after arriving in Storrs for summer school, she had surgery on her left knee that troubled her throughout her sophomore year with the Lady Vols.

She worked her way back and was at a point of doing drills with the Huskies as she waited for the NCAA’s decision on her request for a waiver for immediate eligibility. But before UConn’s game at Vanderbilt on Nov. 13, the school announced the NCAA had denied her final appeal and she’d sit out the 2019-20 season. The New Year’s Eve surgery made it a moot point.

When UConn switched to online classes in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, Westbrook remained on campus to continue her rehabilitation.

“And she got it done under tough circumstances having to be here by herself,” Auriemma said.

Westbrook, who turns 22 on Sept. 28, will be the oldest player on the Huskies’ 10-person roster and one of six who will be wearing a UConn uniform for the first time along with incoming freshmen Paige Bueckers, Aaliyah Edwards, Piath Gabriel, Mir McLean, and Nika Muhl.

A 2017 McDonald’s All-American and USA Today’s high school Player of the Year, Westbrook started all 64 games she played at Tennessee. She was named to the Southeastern Conference all-freshman team, then as a sophomore averaged team highs of 14.9 points and 5.3 assists along with 3.6 rebounds.

Auriemma is excited to see her game now that she’s healthy enough to get back on the court.

“When someone says, ‘You’re cleared,’ it’s hard to say what that means,” Auriemma said. “There’s being cleared, and then there’s being able to play basketball. We haven’t had practice and I’ve not been on the floor to see her with my own eyes. Under normal circumstances, I would have a good idea where she stands. Under the circumstances we have now, I have no idea.

“Evina hasn’t been played in so long, and then you throw in the injury and the surgeries … But everything she’s done, we could not ask for any more from her. It’s been so impressive.”

With the graduation of point guard Crystal Dangerfield and the departure of wing Megan Walker, a healthy Westbrook will have the opportunity to play a big role. When the Huskies will be able to get together due to the pandemic is unknown.

Auriemma hopes that day is in the near future.

“For our returning kids it will be an opportunity to get ready and lead and for our freshmen it will be an opportunity to see where they stack up,” the Hall of Fame coach said.

“For Evina, she’ll be able to test herself after all the hard work she’s put in. I hope she finds that it’s all worth it and that she sees the results on the floor.”

LOOKING WITHIN?

Jamelle Elliott served as an interim assistant coach for the final month of last season after Jasmine Lister took a leave of absence from Auriemma’s staff due to personal reasons.

With Lister’s resignation on May 6, will the interim tag be removed?

“We’re trying to figure out what’s best for Jamelle,” Auriemma said. “She did a tremendous job. I know her, and she knows us and our program. It would be an ideal situation to pull it off.”

Elliott played four years at UConn and was an assistant coach on Auriemma’s staff for another 12 years. She was a forward on the Huskies’ first national championship team in 1995 and UConn won five more titles with her on its sideline. She returned to the school in 2018 as an associate athletic director for the school’s National C Club following nine seasons as the head coach at Cincinnati.

“We’re going to keep working on it,” Auriemma said. “There’s no rush, but I’d envision something happening sooner than later.”

TICKETS, PLEASE

Auriemma was thrilled to hear about the school’s early success with season ticket sales for his team as well as the men’s basketball team.

“I think people are excited to get a chance to watch basketball again,” Auriemma said. “For our team, people are excited about the possibilities and the new players we have coming in. There’s tremendous excitement going back to the Big East. Everything is set up for it being an unbelievable year.”

The women will host the 10 other Big East teams as well as non-league opponents Arkansas-Little Rock, Dayton, Maryland, South Carolina, and Texas. It is possible that a non-league home game could be delayed as UConn is currently two games over the NCAA limit.



Posted in New Britain Herald, UConn on Monday, 1 June 2020 14:36. Updated: Monday, 1 June 2020 14:39.