As Former UConn Teammates Become Opponents, Friendship Remains Strong

After playing together for four years at Connecticut, rookies Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck were on opposing teams for the first time in a regular season game as Jefferson’s San Antonio Stars hosted Tuck’s Connecticut Sun in a Thursday matinee.


Highlights: Sun 72, Stars 68

 

“It’s definitely different, it’s definitely weird not being on the same side as her anymore, but when you step onto the court now, and they’re across from you, you just have to play,” said Jefferson after San Antonio’s 72-68 loss. “But Morgan will always be one of my best friends. It’s weird not to be on the same team with her anymore, but I’m excited that I had the opportunity to play with her and now it’s time to move on to something different.”

One of those “different” things for Jefferson is losing games, which was a rare occurrence during her career run at UConn. Before becoming the first three picks in this year’s WNBA Draft, Jefferson, Tuck and first overall pick Breanna Stewart lost a total of four games in their four years in college.

It’s taken less than a week for the trio to have that many collective losses as pros – Jefferson’s Stars are 0-2, Stewart’s Storm are 0-1 and Tuck’s Sun are 1-1 after Thursday’s win in San Antonio.

“It’s a good learning experience; it teaches you a lot about yourself and how to get through adversity,” Jefferson said about losing games early in her pro career. “A lot of people didn’t see the losses that we had at Connecticut because they didn’t see our practices. Because there we lost daily, so we were a little more prepared for it than people think.

“But it’s just about pushing through it, trying to build a winning culture with the teams that we’re on and keep striving and keep grinding each game, because it will get better as the season goes along. Especially for my team – we’re a really young team, we haven’t been together long, so it’s just [about] growing each day.”

While Jefferson (South Texas), Tuck (Northeast) and Stewart (Pacific Northwest) are spread about as far away from each other as they could be to open their WNBA careers, the college teammates continue to stay in contact with one another and offer each other support during their transition from college to professional athletes.

“We still have the same group text that we had in college, so we’re talking and texting a lot to make sure we’re keeping up with each other, just kind of seeing how their seasons are going,” said Jefferson.

“We talk all the time,” she continued. “We just kind of talk about the differences and similarities from college. And you’re just checking in on each other and making sure they’re doing all right, if they need anything. That’s going to be always, until we’re all old.”

Jefferson congratulated Stewart on her highly anticipated WNBA debut in which the top pick had 23 points, six rebounds, three assists and a block. Jefferson and Stewart will meet for the first time as opponents on June 14 in San Antonio, which allows them more time to become acclimated to the pro game and lifestyle.

“Off the court we definitely have a lot more free time. It’s kind of weird – I find myself sitting and thinking, ‘Well, I have nothing left to do for the day,’” said Jefferson. “On the court, it’s a lot more physical than college. You can get away with a lot more, so that’s probably the biggest difference.”

Part of Jefferson’s off the court time is taking care of her body, which she admits she has to focus on more now than she ever did in college. She is among the league leaders in minutes played as she stepped into the starting backcourt in San Antonio with last year’s starter, Danielle Robinson, sidelined for the season with an Achilles injury.

In Thursday’s loss to Connecticut, Jefferson knocked down the first two 3-pointers of her career, as she finished with 10 points on 3-of-7 shooting from the field and a perfect 2-of-2 from beyond the arc (from nearly the exact same spot on the floor).


Highlights: Jefferson vs. Sun

 

Jefferson struggled with her shot in her WNBA debut, going just 2-of-10 to finish with four points. But where she has made her biggest impact is with her playmaking. Jefferson ranks third in the league in assists at 6.5 per game and has done a terrific job of taking care of the ball as she’s averaged just one turnover per game. Her 6.5 assist-to-turnover ratio ranks second among all players, and tops among players that average at least 15 minutes per game.

The highlight of her young WNBA career was a fantastic wrap-around assist to Jayne Appel-Marinelli for a buzzer-beating layup to send San Antonio’s first game into overtime. Jefferson had a similar pass during Thursday’s game with the Sun as she uses her explosive quickness to drive the lane, draw defenders toward her and then find her teammates for open looks, much like she did for the past four years in college – except now she has new teammates to assist.

It’s been six weeks since Jefferson, Tuck and Stewart won their fourth straight NCAA title and it’s been just over a month since they were drafted into the WNBA. It’s a fast transition for anyone to handle, but so far Jefferson seems to be adjusting quite nicely.

“It doesn’t really seem like it’s been a month,” she said. “It doesn’t seem like I’ve been here that long, but I’m excited to be with the group that I am. We have a lot of great players here and definitely a great coaching staff, so I’ve been learning a lot from them and just fitting into their system.”