Even while marveling at a world in which young players can be "famous for being famous," UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma acknowledged that signing No. 1 recruit Azzi Fudd could help usher in another golden era for the most successful program in the sport.
Ranked the best player in the class and widely regarded as one of the best high school recruits in recent memory, Fudd signed with UConn on Wednesday. She is the fourth No. 1 recruit in the past five classes to sign with the Huskies and has a chance to play with two of those players next season in current junior Christyn Williams and freshman Paige Bueckers.
Auriemma pushed back Thursday against the idea that signing No. 1 recruits is a fair measure of a program's success but conceded that similar previous signings provided the cores of some of the most dominant teams in UConn history.
"I want to get as many good kids in here as I can that I think can help us win national championships," Auriemma said. "Whether or not that happens or not, that still remains to be seen. Now having said that, there's a pretty good chance that we'll be pretty good."
Auriemma recalled the near unanimous public acclamation when UConn signed a 1998 recruiting class that included future All-Americans Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Asjha Jones and Tamika Williams.
"Everybody said, 'That's amazing,'" Auriemma recalled of the class. "Well, we were amazing."
As seniors in 2001-02, those four players were part of a team that went 39-0 en route to the national championship and is still regarded as one of the best women's basketball teams of all time.
Auriemma described the similar sentiments that greeted the arrivals of No. 1 recruits Tina Charles and Maya Moore in successive years and later Breanna Stewart. Similar results followed, with those three players helping win six more national championships.
"There is a direct correlation between if you sign those guys, at Connecticut anyway, there's a pretty good chance you're going to be an amazing team for a couple of years," Auriemma said. "Yes, that is a great possibility. Our track record proves that."
All four of UConn's signees this week are ranked among the top 30 recruits by Hoopgurlz, and Auriemma said that Fudd, Caroline Ducharme, Amari DeBerry and Saylor Poffenbarger are "as exceptional as any group of players I've ever brought in ... as far as what kind of people they are."
"There is a direct correlation between if you sign those guys, at Connecticut anyway, there's a pretty good chance you're going to be an amazing team for a couple of years. Yes, that is a great possibility. Our track record proves that."Geno Auriemma, on his top recruiting classes
Bueckers and Fudd have particularly public profiles, even for No. 1 recruits. Close friends, the two have nearly 1 million combined followers across Instagram and TikTok, although their new coach sounded unimpressed by their fame.
"Do you know how many Hall of Famers I've coached?" Auriemma said. "We're talking about two kids that have never won a college game in their life."
Currently a senior at St. John's College High School in Washington, D.C., Fudd was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade National Girls' Basketball Player of the Year award. (Bueckers won the award last year.) The daughter of two former college basketball players who was named after former Stanford star and Olympic gold medal winner Jennifer Azzi, Fudd won a world title with USA Basketball as the youngest member of the under-17 team in 2018.
She tore her ACL and MCL in April 2019 but returned to the court in the spring.
"For me, it's her sense of herself and how she is on the court," Auriemma said of Fudd's strengths. "The way she plays the game, in a way that's not rushed, not hurried, not just helter-skelter. She plays in a way that allows her to take advantage of the fact that she knows the game really well.
"And she's a phenomenal shooter of the basketball. I think anybody that's seen her play will tell you that that's something that stands out. Even among all the really, really great shooters, she's a kid that, when she shoots the ball, it goes in the basket."
As for whether UConn will have a chance to win its 12th national championship before Fudd arrives next season, Auriemma expressed confidence that the women's basketball season will start on time in two weeks. But he also referenced college football, which is going through a spate of coronavirus-related cancellations, to suggest his current confidence means little.
"Let's put it this way: I'm as confident as college football was when they started their season," Auriemma said. "Why? Because everything is OK right now. Will everything be OK two months from now? I don't know. But I'm confident that we're going to be able to do what we need to do, and so far we've done everything that we've been asked to do."
While the UConn men's basketball program halted activities earlier this week after a player tested positive for COVID-19, the women's program is continuing its preparations for the season.
"We're going to do what we need to do to make it work," Auriemma said. "Until when? Until we realize that, you know what, it's not in our best interests -- the players' best interests specifically -- to move on."