STORRS, Conn. — When Dorka Juhász committed to UConn as a graduate transfer from Ohio State, she didn’t entirely know what she was getting herself into. She had spoken with the UConn coaching staff and former Husky Tamika Williams Jeter, then an assistant in Columbus, about what being part of the program entailed, but due to recruiting restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, she wasn’t able to visit campus, watch practice or meet any of her future teammates or coaches in person.
A month into her time in Storrs, Juhász has confirmed she made the right decision.
“It’s a highly competitive environment, and after I came here like Day One [the team] was already competing,” Juhász said last week, as the Huskies’ summer session was coming to an end. “I love this. This is where I belong.”
Juhász, originally from Pecs, Hungary, was a two-time first team All-Big Ten selection at Ohio State, where she spent the first three years of college before graduating this past semester. With an eye on getting drafted into the WNBA down the line, Juhász was looking for a program that could elevate her game and provide a more competitive environment than she had in Columbus.
That’s exactly what she’s experienced in Storrs so far. The summer workouts have been intense, Juhász said, but that’s just what she wanted in her new school.
“Everything has to be perfect, we have to push our limits,” Juhász said. “That’s something that I was missing at Ohio State. Just being able to compete, and just being pushed hard, and obviously the coaches are going to be on our butts all the time, every single day. There’s no days off, which I love.”
The high standards of excellence aren’t just pushed by the coaching staff but by her teammates as well, including the freshmen.
“They’re tough, they’re competing, they don’t care about who’s a senior, who’s a freshman,” Juhász said. “I think that’s what’s so special about this team. Everybody’s coming in and competing and so that was a really good surprise for me. … Everybody wants to win, and I think when everybody’s on that mentality and the same wavelength, that’s when teams are the best. I have a really good feeling about this team.”
The competition is particularly strong in the Huskies’ front court. Juhász, who is 6 feet 5, gets to learn from, and go up against in practice, the likes of senior Olivia Nelson-Ododa, UConn’s two-year starting center, as well as junior Aubrey Griffin and freshman Amari DeBerry. Once preseason starts, sophomore Aaliyah Edwards, who missed UConn’s summer session while playing with the Canadian national team, will also be back in the mix.
“I like to compete. I like to play against really good post players. They make me better, I make them better,” Juhász said. “I think it’s awesome that we have so many talented people, and I think that’s what’s going to give us the benefit. It’s been fun. A lot of great battles for sure, Liv, Amari, Aubrey. It’s good to have different post players, a little bit undersized, a little bit taller people, so you have to learn how to finish against different types of players.”
Unlike the others, Juhász is more of an inside-out post who can both get it done in the paint and shoot the 3. The Huskies would love for Juhász to come out with the sort of shooting proficiency she had from her sophomore season, where she hit just under 40% of her 3-point shots.
“She’s bigger than I thought,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “She’s all of six-five, and she’s long and aggressive as hell. She’s fitting in nicely in a lot of ways. She can shoot the hell out of it. And she’s really highly skilled. Just need to calm her down a little bit. She’s so excited about playing, being here. But I love her personality, I love that she brings an old-school work ethic.”
She figures to be a nice complementary piece to the Huskies’ returning front court, offering skill, toughness and experience and further bolstering the unit’s depth.
“I think they work really well together,” senior Christyn Williams said of Juhász and Nelson-Ododa. “You can definitely tell Dorka is experienced. She’s been here before. And she just came in, she jelled right along with the rest of us. I’m very excited to watch her and Liv work together.”
“You can tell she’s been doing this for a while now. She’s extremely tough, kind of reminds me of Aaliyah in the way she plays super extremely hard and with maximum effort and tries to do stuff on both sides of the ball,” sophomore Paige Bueckers added. “I’m really impressed with Dorka. I really like her game, and I really like who she is off the court.”
Juhász is in a unique spot of being both a newcomer to the program and one of the oldest and most experienced players on the team (she, Evina Westbrook, Williams and Nelson-Ododa each have three years of college ball under their belts). While she’s displaying her experience on the court so far, Juhász is also trying to show up as a leader for a team with nine freshmen and sophomores.
“As a senior, I definitely feel like I’m stepping up as a vocal leader on and off the court,” Juhász said. “It’s obviously a little bit different for me, I still have to get to know the team so they can trust me. They can see that every single day I work, I push them hard, I push myself. So I think I’m on a great way to get there.
“I’m being very vocal, I’m trying to at least do that, and then I think as we go through preseason and we start getting ready for the games, I think that role has to be as a senior, I have to step up and help them out.”
Off the court, Juhász is getting acclimated to Storrs — rural Connecticut is a far cry from the busy, vibrant college town of Columbus.
“I got here and I look out the window and I see deer, a lot of animals running around. I really liked it,” Juhász said. “It’s kind of reminding me of home, being a little bit more quiet and not that busy.”
But the transition to UConn has gone as smoothly as she could have hoped, made easier by hitting it off with her new teammates.
“I feel like everybody has a great personality,” Juhász said. “I don’t think Coach ever recruited someone that has not a great personality that fit into the team. It was a pleasure to just come here and work together.”
The feeling is mutual among her teammates.
“It’s so good to have Dorka. She’s so versatile and off the court, she’s funny. It’s just us Europeans,” laughed Nika Mühl, who is from Croatia. “I love Dorka. I think she’s going to be a great add on for our team and help us a lot this year.”
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