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Why Connecticut's Three Recruits Already Are Ahead Of The Game

Katie Lou Samuelson was at her grandmother's house, pacing back and forth.

The 6-foot-3 senior wing at Mater Dei (Santa Ana, California) and the No. 1 prospect in the nation was just a sophomore at the time, and she had been told to call Geno Auriemma, the legendary Connecticut coach who was hoping to recruit her.

"I was so nervous," Samuelson said. "Part of me was hoping he wouldn't answer the phone so I could just leave a message. But he picked up the phone, and I didn't say very much.

"The next time I called, I talked more, and [Auriemma] said: 'You have more of a personality this time -- finally!'"

Napheesa Collier also was pretty jittery the first time she spoke to Auriemma last fall.

"It was nerve-wracking," said Collier, a 6-foot-1 wing from Incarnate Word (St. Louis, Missouri) and the No. 7 prospect in the country. "He's kind of a celebrity. Seeing him on TV and how intense he is, I wasn't expecting to see that funny personality he has."

De'Janae Boykin's dad found out Connecticut was interested in recruiting his daughter when she was in just seventh grade. Fearing she might get "big-headed" if she knew, he kept it a secret for two years.

Finally, when she was in ninth grade, Boykin's father told her that Auriemma wanted to recruit her.

"I was kind of shocked," said Boykin, a 6-2 forward and the No. 22 prospect in the nation. "But I also felt I had worked hard -- I had earned it."

Now it's time to make it official. All three are planning to sign national letters of intent to play for Connecticut this week during the NCAA's early signing period, which opens Wednesday and runs through Nov. 19. Players also can opt to wait until the regular signing period, which begins April 15.

But for Samuelson, Collier and Boykin, there's no reason to delay.

"I think about it all the time," Collier said when asked about signing. "To know that, officially, I will be there next year is crazy."

Samuelson and Boykin met in the summer of 2013 when they played for the United States' under-16 team.

A bond was formed, and it only strengthened in April when they took a recruiting trip together to Connecticut. Joining them that weekend was a player they had never met -- Collier.

Within a month, all three had committed to Connecticut, giving the Huskies a terrific trio and a class that is ranked second in the nation.

In August, Samuelson, Collier, Boykin and Notre Dame recruit Arike Ogunbowale competed together in a three-on-three tournament in China and won the gold medal.

That the three UConn recruits played together was pure coincidence -- the players were selected by USA Basketball. But the grouping accelerated the chemistry the trio has developed on and off the court.

"They feel already like two of my best friends," Samuelson said.

Added Collier: "It feels like we've known each other a long time."

Boykin said she is the "goofy and outgoing" one in the group, known to sing and dance just about anywhere or anytime. She said Samuelson has come along in that department and that Collier is not as quiet as she may appear.

On the court, the three have meshed just as quickly.

Samuelson provides dead-eye 3-point shooting, Collier drives to the rim with ferocity, and Boykin defends, scores in the post and dives for loose balls.

"We worked really well together," Samuelson said.

A year from now, the three will be on campus in Storrs, Connecticut, preparing for their first college basketball season.

Prior to her recruiting trip, Boykin said she heard a lot of negative talk about how the Huskies players and coaches were "cocky."

But once she got to Storrs, that's not what she found at all.

"They wouldn't even talk about their season," Boykin said of the Huskies, who went 40-0 last season to win a record ninth national title and their second in a row. "They weren't trying to get us to commit. They just answered our questions. I was impressed."

There's no question that Connecticut's winning tradition and mystique drew the elite prospects to the program.

All three, in fact, have favorite players who have worn the Huskies uniform. For Samuelson, it's Diana Taurasi, who led the Huskies to three straight national titles (2002-04). Boykin's favorite is Stefanie Dolson, who led UConn in rebounding and dance-offs with Jimmy Fallon last season. Collier identifies with Maya Moore, in part because they are both originally from Jefferson City, Missouri. Moore led UConn to national titles in 2009 and 2010.

"I have always liked Maya Moore, knowing that we come from the same hometown," Collier said. "There are so many legends that have gone [to Connecticut] -- so many amazing people."

And so much amazing talent to compete with for playing time.

"I hope to make a big impact," Collier said. "I know I will have to work harder than ever."

Boykin wants to get on the court any way possible.

"From the very first practice, I'm going to give it my all," Boykin said. "Anything's possible. It doesn't matter what position ... I don't care. I want to play."

Samuelson said that -- besides all the winning that goes on in Storrs -- one of the main draws for UConn is that players tend to improve during their time in the program, and that's what she wants for her game.

"I have skills that I think will help me, but I'm not going there thinking, 'Oh, I have to start,'" Samuelson said. "I'm just going to do whatever I can to help the team. I'm going to do whatever Coach wants me to do and not think of myself.

"The main thing is that I want to win."