Geno Auriemma wasted no time in setting high expectations for Dorka Juhász’s second season at UConn. Less than a week into summer training – which Juhász can’t even fully participate in while recovering from a broken wrist that ended his debut campaign at Storrs – the coach has spoken unequivocally of the graduate player.
“I think Dorka is going to have the kind of season where I would be shocked if she wasn’t one of the top five or six players picked in the draft next year,” Auriemma said.
This is both a bold and relatively mundane prediction. Juhász is a 6-foot-5 physical forward who can hit shots from the perimeter, so she has the tools to play at the next level. She also averaged just 7.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game in her first year as a Husky, meaning she has yet to prove she can fully utilize those tools.
Last season, Juhász had moments where she seemed unstoppable, whether it was the show against Fort Hays State where she totaled 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting to go with eight rebounds; a 16-point, 16-rebound effort against UCLA to avoid back-to-back losses followed by a 15-point, eight-rebound performance against Louisville; the three-game streak in January where she averaged 12.0 points and 10.0 rebounds; the streak of four consecutive games with four assists each time in February – which also featured performances of 22 and 21 points in consecutive games; or a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds in the NCAA tournament opener.
These were, however, only the peaks of an often turbulent campaign. Over the first seven games of the regular season, Juhász scored a total of 20 points while turning the ball over 12 times. After Juhász’ double-double in Game 1 of the NCAA Tournament, she went 0-9 on the court in the next two games and was benched in the Sweet Sixteen after just three minutes of action. These are just the more notable occasions when she was a non-factor.
With such a turbulent year, Juhász has a simple goal for the campaign ahead.
“Be more consistent,” she said.
To do this, Juhász has simple instructions from Auriemma. In the coach’s mind, Juhász’s potential breakout won’t be the result of increased comfort in the system with a year under his belt or the bigger opportunity with Olivia Nelson-Ododa for the WNBA. Instead, she will have to be in the best shape of her life.
“Conditioning-wise, we have to make sure she can last 30 minutes, but more importantly, be able to last five, six, seven minutes in a row and not have a good three minutes and then start diving. a bit,” Auriemma said. “Last year, when she was good, she was amazing. But then when the fatigue factor kicked in, it really affected her.
Last year, Juhász entered pre-season in good shape before a series of injuries slowly eroded her fitness level.
“I started really well last summer and then there were these nagging injuries that held me back a bit,” she said. “I had a quadriceps strain, I was out for a few weeks. So it was always something that kept me from playing. Then the stress response [in my foot].”
For this reason, injury prevention is Juhász’s goal in order to maintain his conditioning – while recovering from injury. In the Elite Eight, she suffered a broken and dislocated left wrist after being fouled under the basket. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that Juhász can still partake in many drills and activities as long as it doesn’t involve her left wrist, unlike her teammate Caroline Ducharme, who is much more limited when she is working after hip surgery.
“My legs are working out which means I can run a lot. I can do everything with my right hand,” said Juhász. “This year, I think my goal is to stay healthy. So [I’m] working hard but also being aware of my recovery process and making sure I do everything on my own outside of basketball that can help me get through the season and be healthy. Then hopefully the conditioning part won’t be a problem.
By adding Juhász last summer, Auriemma hoped she would be the piece that put UConn on top to break into the Final Four and win the program’s 12th national championship. This dream came crashing down when Juhász got injured in the regional final. Although the Huskies qualified for the title game, they were heavily outplayed by South Carolina in the frontcourt and lost the rebound battle 49-24.
But if Juhász can stay healthy this season, she could be UConn’s missing presence.
“We have to be able to do two things better than last year, I think: we have to score more in the hallway and we have to defend better in the hallway,” Auriemma said. “I think Dorka can be that person.”