UConn working to get foreign players in country

UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma said Wednesday the school is working with members of Congress to try to help with travel issues that international students -- including three of his Huskies players -- are experiencing because of the coronavirus pandemic.

His hope is that all members of the team can return to campus in Storrs, Connecticut, by the last weekend of July.

Auriemma had a Zoom teleconference with the media in which he talked about several issues, including the school officially rejoining the Big East, how he and the program are dealing with the pandemic, and his thoughts on former Huskies in the WNBA who are preparing for a season in Bradenton, Florida.

"Do I have reservations, no. But questions, yes," Auriemma said about his players coming back to campus and the continually updated protocol on that. "Questions about, 'What's it going to be like? What do we have to do?'

"You know, we've had roughly 1,000 students here on campus since March that couldn't go home. Through testing and quarantine, we've not had one single positive case on our Storrs campus. It's just a really safe place to be right now. We tried to explain that to parents; we had a Zoom meeting with parents and players. The players are all pretty comfortable with that. The issue of getting some players here? Not so easy."

Three members on the 2020-21 UConn roster are from outside the United States: sophomore Anna Makurat of Poland and freshmen Nika Muhl of Croatia and Aaliyah Edwards of Ontario, Canada. None of them currently can travel into this country, Auriemma said.

"Nika needs to fly over from Zagreb, but the U.S. Embassy hasn't been open. So getting a visa has become a real problem," Auriemma said. "These issues have been really, really difficult to overcome.

"Professional athletes have no problem traveling back and forth, so we started asking questions like, 'Why is that?' We've got some good people in Washington, D.C., looking into how do we do that for international students, not just athletes, and not just at UConn. And hopefully we can work with the NCAA and say, 'How can we get this done?'

"It has to start with your congressman, and I'm fortunate I have a great relationship with our congressman in Connecticut. This isn't like a one side wants it, one side is going to argue about it. This isn't a Democrat or Republican thing. This is something that affects an awful lot of people in the country; it doesn't matter what side of the aisle you're on. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that something can be done to facilitate these kids coming over and being able to go to school. Again, the athletic piece is just a small piece of it."

Auriemma said there will be a quarantine period after players arrive on campus. Then coaches can work with players in small groups. "We know seven of them are going to be here on July 26," Auriemma said. "We don't know about the other three [international players] yet."

Auriemma also said he has been in contact with several former UConn players about their decision whether to play in the WNBA "bubble" this season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. He said some players have trepidation because of the pandemic, but others are just eager to get back to playing.

According to WNBA protocol, players have to take three tests for the coronavirus that come back negative, plus self-quarantine, before going to Bradenton on July 6. Once there, they'll have to be tested again and quarantine in their lodging for four days. Testing will continue daily for at least two weeks after that. One former Husky, Chicago's Stefanie Dolson, contracted the coronavirus earlier this year, as did members of her family. They all recovered.

Since the WNBA announced on June 15 that it would attempt to have a season from late July through October, two former Huskies, Atlanta's Renee Montgomery and Tiffany Hayes, have announced they won't play. Minnesota's Maya Moore announced back in January that she would take off this season, as she did last season, to continue focusing on social justice work.

"Except for Tiffany, Renee and Maya," Auriemma said, "I haven't really talked to any of my [former] players that said they're seriously considering not playing."