Ayanna Patterson didn’t need to visit Storrs to know that the UConn women’s basketball program was where she wants to spend her college career. But finally being able to make the trip out east for first time last week, where she attended First Night, only reinforced to the 6-foot-2 wing from Fort Wayne, Indiana, that she made the right decision when she committed to Geno Auriemma’s squad this past spring.
“Everything that I had heard and everything that I had believed in was there,” Patterson, the No. 4 recruit in the Class of 2022 per ESPN’s HoopGurlz rankings, told The Courant this week.
Patterson enters her senior season at Homestead High after an exciting few months for her basketball trajectory. In March, she became the second 2022 prospect to commit to UConn, joining San Diego product Isuneh “Ice” Brady (No. 5 in the country per HoopGurlz). Later in the summer, she was named to USA Basketball’s U18 3x3 World Cup team and won gold in Debrecen, Hungary, in August.
Patterson hadn’t played 3x3 ball since the 2019 USA 3x3 U18 National Championship but knew she could step up and help Team USA. The squad, which also featured Mikaylah Williams, Kiki Rice and Janiah Barker, was at a slight disadvantage in that they’d never played together. Nonetheless, they were able to string together a 6-1 record and take down Spain, 21-14, in the final.
“On the floor, we had to pay attention to what everyone did well and everyone’s strengths and what people were uncomfortable doing and what people were comfortable with,” Patterson said. “Off the floor, we played team chemistry games, like ice breakers. We did charades. We did anything that could bring our team together more. We always communicated on the floor to make up for that chemistry part, to make sure everybody’s on the same page and can understand what everyone’s doing.”
Patterson scored 21 total points in the tournament and ended the trip on a high note by dunking during warmups of the championship game — certainly not something other countries’ players or fans are used to seeing from a 6-foot-2, 17-year-old girl. Statewide, Patterson’s two-handed dunks have gone viral since before her commitment to UConn.
“The crowd went crazy,” Patterson said. “I had been trying to dunk out in the warmup lines forever. I finally got one down, and I was really relieved because I was like, ‘I can’t put one down to save my life.’ I was doing it in the back, but I couldn’t get it in front of the crowd. When I finally got it I was like, ‘Oh, finally.’”
Playing so much 3x3 has helped Patterson improve her defense, she said, since 3x3 requires you to guard all positions on the floor. From the intense, fast-paced practices and needing to stay mentally tough during games, she experienced the “whole different mentality” that goes into winning gold in the USA Basketball tradition.
It’s not too far off from what will be required of her at UConn.
Even before visiting Storrs last week, Patterson was able to get a little taste of what it will be like to be a Husky. She participated in the ACES Omni Elite Classic in New York City in May alongside current UConn freshmen Caroline Ducharme, Azzi Fudd and Amari DeBerry, the week before they left for Connecticut’s summer session.
Future teammates Paige Bueckers and Saylor Poffenbarger also stopped by one of her summer games in Washington, D.C., in July.
“My teammates really loved them coming out,” Patterson said. “I was appreciative of them coming out, coming to watch me play. That just shows the love and family that UConn has.”
Things became that much more real for Patterson when she made it out to Storrs for the first time this month. She really liked the campus, got an even better feel for the academics and was finally able to see the facilities and a typical practice in person.
“Just being out there and seeing the difference of actually being in practice, seeing how hard they work, the different drills — they don’t ever take a play off — it was really great to see that in person,” Patterson said.
Getting to meet future classmate Brady was a cherry on top.
“[From] when she first came down there, she sees the difference in the program and the players that are there now,” Patterson said. “It was really fun getting a chance to talk to her [and hear] the things that she wants to accomplish while she’s there, so it was really great.”
Rice, Patterson’s USA Basketball 3x3 teammate, was also there on a visit but has yet to make her college decision. According to Premier Basketball, she is considering Stanford, Arizona, UConn, Duke and UCLA.
“I’m trying to influence her that UConn is the way to go,” Patterson said with a laugh. “We were teammates before, so we can make it happen in college, so hopefully she takes my advice and she commits there. But there’s really no pressure. It’s her decision. She wants to win multiple national championships, so there’s no better place than UConn to do that at.”
Patterson will soon sign her letter of intent to play at UConn (early signing period starts Nov. 10) and after that has plenty of goals remaining for her senior year, including winning a state title, earning McDonald’s All-American and Jordan Brand Classic honors, maybe even Naismith High School Player of the Year.
But there’s no doubt she’s eagerly waiting to join the Huskies in just a few short months. Before she knows it, she too will be making her official introduction to UConn fans at Gampel Pavilion.
“It was super crazy,” Patterson said. “People say UConn basketball is serious and the crowd really comes out for it, but you don’t really get to experience it until you’re there. And those were just the students. I can only imagine with outside fans coming in, it’s much more crazy.
“You could feel the love in the atmosphere, that they love basketball down there. It’s really the basketball capital of the world.”
Alexa Philippou can be reached at email@example.com.