‘I have to take it’: Ohio State transfer Dorka Juhasz relishing opportunity to join UConn

Dorka Juhasz generated the kind of interest one might expect when she hit the transfer portal earlier this month. The All-Big Ten forward from Ohio State heard from coaches all over the country. Too many to count.

She couldn’t possibly talk to them all. Then again, she didn’t need to. Juhasz knew exactly where she wanted to round out her college career.

“My phone was blowing up. They were all great programs and great coaches, but UConn just stood out to me,” Juhasz told Hearst Connecticut Media on Tuesday, a day after she committed to the Huskies. “I loved Ohio State. I played my three years there. I had no problem with anyone there. I loved the coaches, I loved my team, the fans, everyone. It was just a basketball decision.”

After talking through it with her parents back in her native Hungary via FaceTime, Juhasz delivered the news Monday morning to UConn coach Geno Auriemma.

With the NCAA granting players an additional year because of COVID-19, Juhasz has two years of eligibility remaining.

“I have to take it,” she said of the opportunity to play in Storrs. “Where I want to get with my basketball career, it was a no-brainer for me. … I always had dreams of becoming a pro and making sure I’m doing everything in my power and putting myself in the best position to become the player that I can be.”

Juhasz, 21, certainly has an intriguing profile as a 6-foot-4 post who can play with her back to the basket, but also stretch the floor and score from the perimeter. She averaged 14.6 points and 11.7 rebounds in 17 games last season, garnering All-Big Ten honors. Though she struggled from 3-point range in 2020-21 (12-for-59, 20.3%), she was much more accurate the year prior (40-for-101, 39.6%).

What role Juhasz plays remains to be determined. She joins a crowded frontcourt that includes returning starters Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Aaliyah Edwards, along with an incoming freshman in Amari DeBerry, a five-star recruit out of Williamsville South High School (N.Y.). The Huskies, on the heels of a 13th consecutive trip to the Final Four, will be in the mix for the No. 1 preseason ranking.

“I’ve been playing three years as a four,” Juhasz explained. “Whenever I was guarded by a smaller person I was able to post up, and whenever it was a taller player on me, I was able to play one-on-one on the outside. That’s where I can help, be that threat from the outside. Obviously I love rebounding, so I hope I can help out with that for sure.”

With another top-rated class coming in, divvying up playing time will be a delicate balancing act for Auriemma. The roster is currently at 14, which should make for some interesting positional battles. But Juhasz, who averaged 30 minutes as a junior, isn’t harboring any expectations about where she fits.

“I trust the coaching staff 100% here at UConn,” she said. “They’re really going to help me improve. Hopefully, I can help the team win a national title.”

Auriemma made a quick impression on Juhasz by reaching out to her personally when she became available.

“That was a great moment,” she said. “Some schools like you to talk to their assistant coaches first to get to know the player better. That was definitely a big thing for me. ‘All right, he’s super invested in me and his program, and he really wants me to be a part of it.’ We had great conversations throughout the weeks. It’s really important for me to feel that. The coaches are invested as much as I am invested.

“Telling my parents, that was comforting. It’s great for me because I know my parents are not here (in the United States). They just know what I say to them. My mom doesn’t speak English, so whatever I say to them, it feels good for me that I know that they have 100% trust in these people.”

It helped that Juhasz already had some insight into the program from playing under former UConn star Tamika (Williams) Jeter, currently an assistant for the Buckeyes.

“I’ve heard stories about him,” she said of Auriemma. “He’s super tough and he’s challenging players every day, but that’s what I’m looking for. He likes to joke around, too, which is a perfect mix.”

Juhasz wasn’t able to visit Storrs because of the ongoing pandemic, but the coaching staff did treat her to a virtual campus tour. She’s played at Gampel Pavilion before, too, though as a freshman in 2018.

She plans to visit family in Hungary next week and will be arriving in Storrs in June.

“I know the gym well,” she said. “I can see it in my eyes. … Obviously compared to Ohio State it’s a smaller campus, which I think is great. I will be able to just walk around. You don’t have to drive from one side to the other. I really liked it. The weather is going to be really similar, so I’m already prepared for that. After an Ohio winter, it’s probably going to be better.”

Juhasz, who is on track to graduate from Ohio State this spring with a degree in psychology, suggested that academics factored into her decision, as well. She’s in the process of researching master’s programs, perhaps in sports management.

dbonjour@ctpost.com; @DougBonjour