Jefferson City High's loss would become Incarnate Word Academy's gain. Napheesa Collier, tall at 6'1", long, lanky, silky smooth offensively and capable of guarding multiple positions effectively, was coming off of her freshman season of playing varsity basketball, one that saw her average 17.9 points, 9.8 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 3.6 steals and 1.9 blocks.
Collier's mother Sarah, now working in hospital administration, moved to St. Louis following her transfer to the larger city. Napheesa would transfer to Incarnate Word, an all-girls Catholic school.
Turns out she was a perfect fit at IWA, averaging 25 points a game playing for head coach Dan Rolfes.
Collier would thrive in her new environment under Rolfes' very demanding instruction. For her efforts, she was named the 2013, 2014 and 2015 Gatorade Missouri Player of the Year, a feat that coincided with the Red Knights winning three consecutive state championships on her way to becoming the most decorated girls basketball player in Missouri history.
Sightings of UConn head coach Geno Auriemma at a number of Collier's games confirmed the seriousness of his pursuit of her. An official visit to Connecticut confirmed her desire to play for him, make Storrs her home for the next fours years all the while giving her the opportunity to compete regularly for national championships.
The former Incarnate Word Academy star and McDonald's All-American returned to St. Louis with the juggernaut that is the UConn women's basketball program in tow to take on St. Louis University last night as part of Auriemma's endeavor to schedule homecoming games for his seniors. The two perfectionists have been a perfect fit for one another since the day he set foot on Missouri soil to watch the highly coveted recruit play.
The sometimes labeled eccentric but mostly misunderstood Auriemma, now 1035-136 for his career, is driven to achieve at a level of perfection that can't be done any better - whether it's the perfect practice, play call, execution of a game plan, the perfect team mate, job coaching, timeout, the perfect sales pitch to a budding star basketball prospect, or the perfect end to a perfect season.
As for making the Women's Final Four 11 straight years, 19 total (both national records), Auriemma relishes the opportunity because of the degree of difficulty, but it's the goal annually. Napheesa is hoping for a bookend finish to her collegiate career that began with her winning a national championship as a freshman in 2016 on an undefeated Huskies team that went 38-0.
She helped the team to conference titles and Final Four appearances in 2016-17 as well as 2017-18. Her role has steadily increased as have the accolades and overall production. Year-1, Collier played in 38 games, averaged 17.2 minutes, 6.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 0.9 assists and 1 turnover. Year-2, Collier played in 37 games, logged 30.2 minutes of playtime, 20.4 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.3 turnovers. Year-3, Napheesa played in 37 games, registered 28.8 minutes of play, 16.1 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 turnovers. She entered last night's game playing 30 minutes and averaging 18 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists, .85 blocks and 1 steal per contest.
Collier was named an Associated Press, WBCA and USBWA First-Team All-American in 2017 and an AP Third-Team All-American in 2018. She was selected the American Athletic Conference's Co-Player of the Year (2017) and was a two-time All-American Athletic Conference First-Team performer in 2017 and 2018. She's on course to garner All-American status once more. Her accomplishments on the basketball court are far too numerous to list in this space. Suffice to say, Napheesa is a stat-sheet stuffer when it comes to the box score and awards.
The Huskies (8-0) rolled into a nearly sold-out Chaifetz as the number one team in the country after soundly disposing of Notre Dame's Fighting Irish (7-1), the defending national champions, 89-71 Sunday at the Joyce Center in South Bend in a game featuring a showdown between the nation's top-2 ranked squads. Collier poured in 16 points and yanked down 15 rebounds in the victory.
Had Napheesa and her team mates lost, chances are they would have come to St. Louis (4-5) in a snit and with a chip on their collective shoulders, fully prepared to take out their frustrations on the Lady Billikens. Now, as top dog (pun intended) they looked to solidify their hold on the top spot with a dominating performance. Dominate is exactly what the Huskies did in trouncing SLU 98-42 with a display of un-wasted, purposely measured motion on both ends of the floor that led to beautiful basketball, evoking appreciative "oohs" and "ahhs" from the crowd for a team that looked every bit deserving of their #1 ranking. In short, UConn put on a clinic!
The long, awaited appearance in her hometown as a vital member, veritable assassin in sneakers and linchpin of the storied Huskies, synonymous with basketball royalty, was well worth it.
Starting with a long, thunderous ovation from the throng that included a large contingent of UConn fans who travel well the moment she took the floor until she was removed from the game, Napheesa was poised, eager to put on a show for the city she starred in and Auriemma obliged by giving her "main attraction" billing in their mutual pursuit of perfection. She didn't disappoint, scoring 22 points, snaring 11 rebounds and doling out 2 assists, though not pleased at all with a 2 of 6 performance from the free-throw line.
The pair, both player and coach, have been striving for excellence, striving for perfection well before they teamed up and will continue to do so after she departs for days with pay in the WNBA where she's sure to be a top-5 draft pick while Auriemma basks in the spotlight after they win yet another national championship to display in Storrs. Napheesa Collier, UConn and Geno Auriemma - perfect!