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‘Something I couldn’t turn down’: Top recruit Azzi Fudd excited for future with UConn

There’s another celebrity coming to Storrs.

Azzi Fudd, a 5-foot-11 guard from St. John’s College High School (D.C.), committed to UConn, giving the Huskies their fourth — and most decorated — pledge of the 2021 class. She announced her decision on ESPN’s Instagram Live account on Wednesday, her 18th birthday and the first day of the NCAA’s early signing period.

The consensus No. 1 prospect in the country, Fudd has been coveted by college basketball’s elite programs ever since she was in elementary school. She landed her first scholarship offer when she was in sixth grade.

For Fudd, who has drawn comparisons to WNBA and UConn legend Maya Moore, Wednesday marked the culmination of a process years in the making — one that ran the gamut of emotions.

“It was really tough,” Fudd told Hearst Connecticut Media. “I’m not a big fan of making decisions, and obviously this is kind of a big decision to make. All along, I didn’t put it off, but I just enjoyed the process.”

“I’m just happy she made a decision,” quipped her mother, Katie, a former college standout at NC State and Georgetown. “It was stressful to a degree.”

UConn now has commitments from four of the top 30 prospects in the class, according to ESPN, with No. 5 Caroline Ducharme, No. 15 Amari DeBerry and No. 30 Saylor Poffenbarger joining Fudd. The class, officially announced by the program on Wednesday, rivals the best in the country.

The last couple months, Fudd said, were the toughest. The Arlington, Va., native narrowed down her finalists to UConn, UCLA, Louisville and Maryland before assembling a list of pros and cons to help her decide.

She kept coming back to a few selling points: UConn’s track record of producing pro talent, its proximity to home, and her friendship with a few current and future Huskies.

“You look at UConn and their history of amazing players, and just the development that those players have had, that was really big for me,” Fudd said. “But also, it’s nice that UConn’s closer to home, and I have two really good friends up there right now and another girl in my grade.

“Getting to play in college and possibly winning national championships, and just to spend three or four years with some of my best friends, that was something I couldn’t turn down.”

“Being close to home is definitely nice,” Katie said. “It wasn’t a deciding factor, but it’s a nice icing on the cake. We will make a lot of trips up there. She can’t get rid of us that easily.”

Fudd said UConn coach Geno Auriemma learned of her decision “pretty recently.”

“He was really excited,” Fudd said. “He was surprised when I told him because whenever they would ask me when I planned on signing, I never really had a set timetable. I always said, ‘Well, before I have to sign or before my birthday.’”

And Bueckers, Fudd’s good friend and teammate with USA Basketball?

“She cried a little bit,” Fudd said with a laugh.

It’s a good bet some fans had the same reaction when they heard the news. Fudd, after all, is considered the sport’s next big thing (after Bueckers, that is). Named after Hall of Famer Jennifer Azzi, Fudd is viewed as complete a player as there is at the high school level. Her jump shot has even earned praise from Stephen Curry, with the two-time NBA MVP comparing hers to the likes of Ray Allen and Klay Thompson.

“I got chills when I heard it,” Fudd said. “That’s one of the highest levels of compliments you can get. But it just makes me want to perfect my jump shot even more now.”

“There’s not one thing she doesn’t do at a high level,” said Kevin Lynch, a national talent evaluator for BlueStar Media. “She’s got a high IQ. Her midrange game is one of the best you’ll ever see from a high school kid. She’s a winner. She’s one those kids that’ll do whatever her team needs her to do.”

Fudd was named Gatorade National Player of the Year in March 2019, becoming the first sophomore to win the award. She averaged 26.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.9 blocks, looking every bit like a program-changer.

The following April, Fudd tore her ACL and MCL during a USA Basketball 3-on-3 event. Though the injury cost her part of her junior season, she returned in time to play 21 games and capture her third state title.

She also has won two gold medals with USA Basketball.

“She was 50 percent at best, at best,” Jonathan Scribner, her high school coach, said. “She had a lot of restrictions. We really didn’t want her going inside, we weren’t giving her any kind of heavy defensive assignments, we were all a little nervous to be honest. She still got 19 (points) a game, which is crazy.”

Fudd is the fifth No. 1 recruit in seven years to land with UConn, following Katie Lou Samuelson (2015), Megan Walker (2017), Christyn Williams (2018) and Bueckers (2020).

Bueckers, the Big East Preseason Freshman of the Year, is already one of the most hyped players in recent memory. So much that Auriemma, a notorious needler, has already dubbed the 5-11 point guard a celebrity.

Certainly, expectations will be just as great for Fudd.

“Obviously they have a lot of really good players there right now. I’ll have to work my way up,” Fudd said. “I’ll have to earn playing time, earn my spot.”

Griffin, Westbrook recognized

A pair of Huskies — sophomore Aubrey Griffin and junior Evina Westbrook — were among 20 players named to the Cheryl Miller Award watch list, the Naismith Hall of Fame and Women’s Basketball Coaches Association announced Wednesday.

Now in its fourth year, the award recognizes the top small forward in Division I women’s basketball. Previous winners include Oregon’s Satou Sabally (2020), Iowa State’s Bridget Carleton (2019) and UConn’s Gabby Williams (2018).

Griffin averaged 6.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals in 16.7 minutes off the bench last season. Meanwhile, Westbrook had to sit out due to NCAA transfer rules after arriving from Tennessee.

dbonjour@ctpost.com; @DougBonjour

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