Maria Conlon – University of Connecticut
Growing up in Derby, CT, UConn guard Maria Conlon remembers a day in 1994 when her father called her in to watch Connecticut Public Television broadcast the University of Connecticut Women’s basketball game. “What the heck,” Conlon recalls saying to herself, “I have nothing better to do.”
Ten years of broadcasts and three National Championships have changed that blase attitude.
“You ask any player in the state what team they would want to play for,” explains the Seymour (CT) High School graduate, “it would be UConn. That’s how you measure yourself as a basketball player: Shoot high enough to be good enough to play here, then you’re good enough to play anywhere else.”
Now a junior, the 5’9″ guard was part of the 2000 freshman class which included Vermont’s Morgan Valley and the much ballyhooed Californian, Diana Taurasi. In her first two seasons Conlon average 13.8 minutes a game as the team reached the Final Four in 2001 and won a Championship in 2002.
Many expected that, despite the graduation of last season’s “Fab Four” (Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Asjha Jones, and Tamika Williams), the arrival of a strong freshman class would limit Conlon’s playing time. Instead, she is having a break out season, playing over 28 minutes – third highest behind Taurasi and freshman standout Ann Strother.
Conlon’s calm confidence and ability to slough off pressure has proved invaluable to a young team (three juniors, four sophomores and four freshmen). “You never really know what to expect from four freshman coming in,” comments Conlon. “What’s surprised us all is that we’ve come together and found a way to get the job done – and do it together.”
Her point guard skills have freed up Taurasi, the only returning starter, to wreak havoc against opponents. Averaging 6.3 points and 3.6 assists per game, Conlon has surprised even herself by leading the team in steals.
“I don’t know how,” she laughs, “because I’m not one of the quick ones on the team.” Grudgingly giving herself credit for being able to anticipate opposing player’s move, Conlon also wonders if sometimes the ball doesn’t just fall into her hands. “It’s definitely not the speed,” she adds emphatically.
Conlon knows she has doubters – people who whisper, “I don’t know if she’s good enough to play there,” or “I don’t know if she’ll ever get off the bench,” and use the term “role player” as a thinly veiled insult. “I think it’s a compliment,” she counters. “To be anything on this team is a compliment. Everybody on this team has their own role. It’s just that some people’s roles are a little bit bigger than other people’s.”
Known as a 3-point specialist, Conlon is working to add a 12-15 foot jumper to her repertoire. The challenge, though, has proved far more mental than physical. “Sometimes I’d rather shoot from half-court than from five feet away,” she admi