Sept. 11, 2013
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STORRS, Conn.- As the University of Connecticut women's basketball team prepares to defend its national title in 2013-14, one of the unique storylines this offseason has been the arrival of this year's lone freshman, Saniya Chong.
Chong, a 5-8 Ossining, N.Y. native, brings Connecticut yet another scoring threat from the guard position. She averaged 34.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 9.1 rebounds per game in her final high school season, earning a state championship title and the National High School Coaches Association's Player of the Year award. Before she committed to UConn, she was ranked as the No. 3 recruit in the state of New York by MaxPreps and the 75th best overall player by ESPN Hoopgurlz.
Chong's offensive game is relentless, as she recorded at least 30 points in 51 of her 96 career high school games. Much like Connecticut's style of play, Chong was most effective in a fast-paced game, getting most of her buckets in transition.
"I'm trying to learn to keep up the pace," said Chong. "This team goes hard every second. I just need to try and match their intensity. I think it helps me a little that my team used a similar style of offense in high school but I still have work to do."
The 2013-14 season will be the first year that UConn has had just one true freshman since the 2009-10 campaign, when Kelly Faris came to Storrs from Heritage Christian in Indiana. In her freshman year, Faris saw time in all 39 of UConn's game, averaging nearly 19 minutes per contest. Chong understands the demanding challenge that she will face throughout the year, but believes that her teammates will be there to pick her up.
"There is pressure on me because I don't have anyone going through what I'm going to go through this season with me," she said. "But at the same time, all my teammates have been though their freshman years and have been willing to help me in any area. I'm trying to follow in their footsteps."
With just two seniors, Bria Hartley and Stefanie Dolson, on the roster, it would seem that this team might suffer from lack of a large veteran presence, but Chong thinks that that the entire roster is full of leaders. In fact, she says, the idea that there are so many different types of leaders on the squad is what makes the team so special.
"All of this team exhibits leadership," Chong said. "They have all had their ups-and-downs in their college careers so they know what to help me with. It's definitely great to have a team full of mentors. These girls won a national championship just a few months ago."
One of Chong's biggest mentors figures to be All-American and fellow guard, Hartley. Hartley's high school career is similar to Chong's, as she played in New York, averaging nearly 30 points in her senior year, en route to being honored as Long Island's Player of the Year. Hartley expects this season to be a learning experience for Chong, but feels like she has the tools to overcome the inevitable struggles that come along with the transition to the college game.
"I'm really excited for Saniya this season," said Hartley. "I understand how difficult it can be to be a freshman, especially coming here after the team won a championship, so I take it upon myself to help her out this year. She's a great player and I think she'll have a great impact here."
While Chong has yet to step out onto the floor of Gampel Pavilion for her first game, she already feels like she made the right decision coming to Connecticut. While Connecticut was making a bid for the national championship in early April, Chong said she could hardly contain her excitement.
"It was an amazing feeling," she said. "I was sitting there watching the team on television, and I just couldn't believe that I was going to be there next year. It's a great feeling to be on a team where you know they truly love the game. Being here so far has been awesome."
Chong does have experience with playing the best players in the United States, as she was selected to participate in the 2013 WBCA All-American Game in New Orleans. One of the biggest honors a high school player can receive, the game brings together the top-20 players in the nation for a day of head-to-head competition. Chong recorded nine points, six rebounds, and four assists in the contest.
"That was really helpful for me," she said of her time in New Orleans. "It was an honor to play in that game and I think it was a nice way for me to get some experience with tough competition."
Chong is already buying-in to the team-first philosophy that has made Connecticut a national powerhouse for the past few decades. Under the direction of head coach Geno Auriemma and the diverse group of guards, Chong could be in for a phenomenal freshman campaign.