Basketball players

UConn basketball players surprised former Husky Evina Westbrook during a weekend in New York. Here’s how they pulled it off.

Dorka Juhász likens herself and her UConn women’s basketball teammates to “FBI agents” after what they pulled off last weekend.

Their mission? To surprise former Husky Evina Westbrook, who now plays professionally for the Minnesota Lynx, in New York ahead of her game against the Liberty.

“It was kind of like a team thing that everyone was saying, ‘We should see Evina,'” Juhász said. “It’s nice to see for us that she’s doing so well. And obviously it’s crazy how fast it all happened, you know, just a few months and she’s not even in the team anymore. , she’s a professional player. But it was a great weekend. I’m really happy that I could do that.

UConn players have been waiting for the chance to see Westbrook play in person. They checked the WNBA schedule before the regular season even started, back when the 6-foot guard was in training camp with the Seattle Storm, who drafted her 21st overall in the draft. This year.

When Westbrook was dropped by the Storm on May 4, the Huskies weren’t worried. In their minds, she would soon find another team.

“We know who Evina is,” Juhász said. “We know she’s an amazing player, so we knew it was coming.”

Sure enough, the opportunity presented itself with the Lynx a little over a week after his waiver.

After the news broke, UConn players checked the Minnesota schedule. The idea was born after seeing the game in New York on June 5. Everyone was on board, Juhász said.

From there, they launched a plan.

After the first week of summer training at Storrs, Juhász, Aaliyah Edwards, Amari DeBerry, Azzi Fudd, Caroline Ducharme, Lou Lopez-Sénéchal and Paige Bueckers traveled to New York on Saturday. They tried to keep everything a secret until they could find Westbrook in the afternoon.

“We haven’t posted anything on social media. [before]said Ducharme. “We were trying to be very secretive because we were there all day before we saw her.”

The detective skills that allowed Juhász to refer to the Huskies as “FBI agents” were key. Players found out which hotel the Lynx were staying in, which room Westbrook was staying in, and how to get there. Luckily, they had help from one of Westbrook’s teammates.

Once the players reached Westbrook’s hotel room, DeBerry put his finger through the peephole so their identities would be kept secret as they knocked on the door.

“She opened it and she was like, ‘What? When did this happen?’” Juhász said.

Westbrook was in shock.

“I remember the first two minutes…she was like, she didn’t say anything,” Juhász recalled. “She was like, ‘I can’t believe you’re here.'”

The group, which included the Lopez-Sénéchal transfer meeting Westbrook for the first time, went out to dinner that night. They didn’t stay out late, to make sure Westbrook got enough sleep before the game, but appreciated the chance to reconnect and discuss the future in the WNBA.

“It was good to catch up,” Juhász said. “It was good to just talk about it, like how is the process going? How is the transition from college to the WNBA going? But it was nice to see that she is fine and happy.

Westbrook, who the Huskies affectionately called “Momma E” during his time at Storrs, is averaging 3.0 points, 2.1 assists and 1.6 rebounds in 14.4 minutes per game for the Lynx during his rookie year.

The next day, Sunday, UConn players finally got to see Westbrook play live at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Westbrook played just under nine minutes with two assists, a rebound and a blocked shot. The Lynx defeated the Liberty, 84-77.

“It was really fun,” Ducharme said. “[She was] here with us a few months ago and I see now [her] play on the biggest stage, and she’s doing so well and she’s happy. And so it’s been great to see her succeed.

The trip to New York was not only a chance for a Husky reunion with Westbrook, but also for the players on the 2022-23 team to continue to strengthen their bond with a fun weekend away from campus. Whether it’s Storrs or New York or anywhere else, where you find a UConn player, you’re sure to find another.

“I think that says a lot about the chemistry we have on the pitch,” Ducharme said. “Just because we live together, we’re here all the time, doesn’t mean we do pretty much everything together. And I think the closer you are to the field, the more translations there are in the field and the better the relationship we have. So I think it’s really special. Few teams are like that. »

Lila Bromberg can be reached at [email protected] and @LilaBBromberg on Twitter.