UConn freshman Caroline Ducharme out to prove she belongs: 'She's got a huge chip on her shoulder'

STORRS — Geno Auriemma isn’t one to easily dish out compliments.

So when the UConn coach recently identified Caroline Ducharme as the team’s most improved player this summer, it spoke volumes.

“She’s got a huge chip on her shoulder about a lot of things,” Auriemma said. “I like that.”

The freshman has made a quick first impression on her new teammates, including senior Christyn Williams, whom Ducharme has caught by surprise on more than one occasion during workouts.

“She’s deceivingly long,” Williams said. “I was shocked a couple times that she blocked (my shot) because her arms are so long. I was like, ‘Oh, She’s going to be good.’”

While Ducharme isn’t the most hyped recruit in the Huskies’ class — that distinction belongs to consensus No. 1 prospect Azzi Fudd — she’s a tantalizing talent. Maybe even a little underrated, according to Auriemma, because of both injuries and where she’s played — Noble and Greenough, a small boarding school in Massachusetts.

The 6-foot-2 guard was ranked 41st by ESPN at the time of her commitment, but has since shot up to fifth. She repeated as Gatorade State Player of the Year in May after averaging 31 points, 15.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 4.5 steals and 3.3 blocks during the COVID-shortened season.

“A lot of these people who tell you how great everybody is, they forgot all about her,” Auriemma said. “So she was like an afterthought to everybody. Then she came on the scene late and everybody’s like, ‘Wow, this kid came out of nowhere.’ Then coming here, I think she has this sense of ‘I want to prove to everybody that I’m better than they think I am.’”

“Caroline’s really sneaky good,” added teammate Paige Bueckers. “People obviously know her, but the big talk is about Azzi. Caroline’s really good. She’s sort of like deceitful. She doesn’t seem like an aggressive sort of personality, but once she gets on the court she’s taking people to the cup.”

Ducharme agrees with Auriemma’s assessment.

“I feel like I’ve always been under the radar,” she said. “I feel like I’ve always tried to play with a chip on my shoulder. I’m always trying to prove something.”

Auriemma likened Ducharme to former UConn guards Carla Berube and Amy Duran, calling her “competitive as hell.”

“She’s not afraid,” he said. “She works on her game constantly.”

For Ducharme — one of four freshmen on the roster, including Saylor Poffenbarger, who enrolled and joined the team midway through last season — the focus now is on adjusting to the physicality and speed of the college game and the intensity of Auriemma.

“Our first workout was pretty surreal,” she said. “They don’t ease you into it. It’s just right off the bat. You’re just going right away.”

Ducharme has an opportunity to carve out an important role. Maybe not as a starter — at least, initially — but a rotational shooter who can stretch the floor. With nearly the entire roster back, including backcourt mainstays Bueckers, Williams, and senior Evina Westbrook, there’ll only be so many minutes to go around.

Whatever the situation, Ducharme plans to work hard.

“It’s pretty surreal to think that through all my injuries and stuff, I’m actually here,” she said. “I try not to really look at that as much because I haven’t done anything here. I’m trying to prove myself still.”

With UConn’s offseason conditioning program ending Friday, Ducharme intends to spend the rest of her summer at home in Massachusetts. She wants to catch up with family, including her brother, Reid Ducharme, who is being recruited by UConn’s men’s team. Reid, a Class of 2023 prospect from Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, was on campus last month for an unofficial visit.

Might Caroline try and sway him toward Storrs?

“That’d be great if we could play together,” she said, “but I want him to make his own decision.”

dbonjour@ctpost.com; @DougBonjour