What to Read: Daniel Connolly is covering college basketball's team to beat
This week, we interviewed Daniel Connolly, who writes UConn WBB Weekly, a publication that provides in-depth coverage of the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team—one of the best programs in the country this season and for the last 30 years.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What's your Substack about in one sentence?
The UConn WBB Weekly is premium coverage of University of Connecticut women’s basketball with stories, insights, and analysis that (we believe) you can’t get anywhere else.
How did your relationship with UConn women’s basketball get started?
I started covering UConn women’s basketball my senior year of high school, during the 2015-16 season, the last time the Huskies won the national championship. I then attended UConn for four years and covered the team throughout my time there.
The UConn WBB Weekly came out after I graduated as a way to recap everything that happened with the Huskies over the past week. We kept it as a once-a-week, free newsletter for all of last season, and in May, we launched our premium coverage as a way for me to become a full-time UConn women’s basketball beat writer.
UConn has perhaps the most beloved (and hated) women’s basketball team on the planet. What do you think makes the fandom around it so fervent?
There are a few elements about UConn that make it so popular. First, being the most successful team in the sport—especially one as consistently great as the Huskies—helps a lot. Just look at the Patriots, Yankees, Duke men’s basketball, Alabama football, etc. All those teams have huge fanbases outside their geographic region, just like UConn.
Second, Connecticut doesn’t have any major league sports teams, so UConn (both men’s and women’s basketball) fills that void. It’s not uncommon that 16,000 fans pack the XL Center in Hartford for marquee matchups.
Lastly, [head coach] Geno Auriemma plays a major factor. He has a big personality and is never afraid to say what he thinks, so you either love him or hate him. Auriemma is sarcastic and witty but can also be harsh and critical to both his own players and opposing coaches. UConn and Geno are one and the same, so it’s no surprise that since the coach is polarizing, the team is as well.
Who is the greatest UConn women’s basketball player of all time, in your eyes?
This argument comes down to three players: Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore, and Breanna Stewart. Taurasi won three national championships and had the weakest support cast of the trio, Moore has the best numbers but won only two titles, while Stewart became the first player ever to win four national championships in four years but gets knocked because she had so much talent around her.
For me, it’s Stewart for this reason: Taurasi was a freshman on arguably UConn’s most talented team ever, but she shot 1-15 in the Final Four against Notre Dame and the Huskies lost. Stewart had an up-and-down freshman year but she figured it out in the NCAA Tournament and carried the team to a national title and won Final Four Most Outstanding Player.
Success at UConn is measured by trophies. Since there isn’t much daylight between the three players, that’s where I give Stewart the edge.
How has the nature of reporting on women's basketball shifted since the pandemic began?
Before the pandemic, I always tried to make my coverage unique from the other beat writers because I needed to prove myself as both a college student and as someone who wrote for a non-traditional outlet. Once everything got moved to Zoom, there really wasn’t a way to get players individually because everyone would be on the same call. Since then, I’ve made an effort to center my stories less on quotes and more on breakdowns and analysis.
What excites you about the upcoming season?
First, I’m excited that things are mostly returning to normal this season. Fans are back in arenas, we’re back in-person for interviews and the job feels fun again, unlike last year. As for the upcoming season of college basketball, there are three teams above the rest: South Carolina, UConn, and Stanford. Even though the Gamecocks just beat the Huskies, I’d still be very surprised if those weren’t three of the four teams in the Final Four this April. UConn brought in Azzi Fudd, the number one recruit in the country who is supposed to be a generational talent, and looks to have one of its deepest rosters in years. Whatever happens, it should be a really fun season to cover.
Who's another Substack writer you’d recommend?
I’m a little biased since she’s part of our UConn coverage, but Megan Gauer’s View From The Top is great. Not many know the sport better than Megan and even fewer can take statistics and metrics and present them in a way that’s digestible for those of us who aren’t as smart as her (me, I’m talking about me).