SALT LAKE CITY — No one was happier when Andrea Torres earned Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honors this week than her teammates, especially Utah’s three other freshmen.
“We’re so close, so family based, it’s like, ‘Look at my sister! She’s doing so good!’” said Dre’Una Edwards, a freshman forward who has earned the award twice this season. “We want to be there for each other. We just hype each other up.”
Redshirt freshman guard Dru Gylten agreed that their competitive nature doesn’t cause friction within the team because of the familial atmosphere created by both coaches and the team’s four seniors.
“I don’t think one time jealousy has crossed our minds,” said Gylten, who earned the honor a week after Edwards did. “I think our coaches don’t just recruit good basketball players, they recruit good people. … And just like our coaches say, each week, it might be someone different stepping up.”
In fact, Niyah Becker, the only freshman who hasn’t earned an individual award (yet), said her teammates' accolades only inspire her. As for Torres, her delight comes more from contributing to Utah’s 12-0 record with her breakout game against Colorado last weekend in which she scored 18 points than it does from being singled out by the conference.
“All my teammates have confidence in my shots,” she said. “The guards were just attacking, and they left my shot open. It felt good.”
As Utah has earned victory after victory, there have been some constants — the leadership of its seniors and the depth of talent of its freshmen. Not only does Utah have the second-best start in program history, the Utes have now scored more than 70 points in all 12 games — also second-best in school history. So how have Utah’s freshmen come to play such a key role in the team’s success this season? Well, they’re really good basketball players with a great work ethic and phenomenal team chemistry.
“They’re very talented, and they were highly recruited, so we knew this group had the potential to be special,” said Utah head coach Lynne Roberts. “The personality of what it takes to be good your freshman year, at this level, it takes some swagger, it takes some confidence.”
Roberts said the program is designed to encourage excellence by rewarding players for their hard work and contributions, rather than trying to accentuate top recruits or senior starters.
“As long as I’ve been a coach … I don’t care who you are,” she said. “If you’re good enough to help us get better and win, you’re going to play. If you’re a fifth-year senior, great. If you’re a walk-on freshman, great. I don’t care. If you’re going to help us get better, you’re going to play, so these guys are getting opportunities.”
And all four of them have taken full advantage of their opportunities, something their more experienced teammates noticed — and respected — right away.
“We all love each other so much, and we’re all friends, so we want each other to do well,” said senior forward Megan Huff, who has earned Pac-12 Player of the Week honors as well. “We want other people to have a good game. I think that’s what comes along with friendship and not having insecurities. … We all just want the team to do well.”
Huff said the freshmen showed their true colors when they met them in the summer before school started.
“I think they all just came in with the mindset that they want to work hard,” Huff said. “All of them came in really driven. … They have no entitlement; they know they have to work for it.”
In fact, if the freshmen brought an above average work ethic, the seniors met that with an unusual level of generosity.
“That’s a huge component,” Roberts said. “Our seniors are quick to compliment and accept them. It’s not ‘this is my program, sit down.’ That’s actually the key reason why these (players) are able to thrive is because the seniors are not threatened.” And they shouldn’t be.
In the game against Colorado where Torres had her break-out performance of 18 points, Huff scored 13 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. She’s had six double-doubles in Utah’s 12 games. For the younger players, the leadership of Huff, Daneesha Provo, Sarah Porter and Erika Bean has helped them find their footing much more quickly than they anticipated.
“They’re like our big sisters,” Torres said. “They always try and make us better, whether that’s teaching us something or having our back.” Becker said the seniors didn’t just offer to help them learn the system or practice shooting, they helped them in myriad small but important ways.1 comment on this story
“They took time to get to know us when we first got here,” Becker said. “Like did we need rides anywhere, getting to know us, and that just carried onto the court. When we need help, they explain things. When we play well, they cheer us on.”
The players feel no pressure about trying to maintain their win streak as No. 22 Arizona State visits the Huntsman Center Friday night at 7 p.m. The first 150 fans will receive a Utah basketball "Toy Story" long-sleeve shirt. The first 500 fans will receive a Utah basketball "Toy Story" sign. The first 150 kids will receive a "Toy Story" wall decal, and the first 100 fans will receive a Chuck-A-Ball.