Catching up with Stefanie Dolson
Throughout the 2010-11 season, USA Basketball is talking to athletes who competed for the red, white and blue this past summer. We’re asking them to look back at their international experience, to talk about their current basketball season and to describe what they hope to achieve in the future. Check back often to read up on more USA Basketball athletes at usabasketball.com.
The University of Connecticut’s 6-5 center Stefanie Dolson entered school last fall with a leg up on most freshmen basketball players around the country after having been put through the rigors of college-type practices for about three weeks as a member of the 2010 USA Basketball Women’s U18 National Team.
Coached by University of Hartford head coach Jennifer Rizzotti, Dolson also picked up valuable pointers from the USA assistants and collegiate head coaches Sue Semrau of Florida State University and Joi Williams of the University of Central Florida. One of the added bonuses to finding out how college practices are run was the fact that Rizzotti is herself a former All-American from UConn. While she has brought success to Hartford with her own coaching style, Rizzotti did spend four years playing for USA National Team and Husky head coach Geno Auriemma, and one can see flashes of his style during her practices.
Playing alongside some of the nation’s top players on the USA U18 National Team, including current UConn teammate Bria Hartley and 2010 National High School Player of the Year Chiney Ogwumike, who is now playing for rival Stanford University, Dolson helped lead a young squad to a perfect 5-0 slate, the 2010 FIBA Americas U18 Championship gold medal and a berth in the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship.
During that time, Dolson formed friendships and learned that college practices are most definitely more difficult than anything in high school or on the AAU circuit, and she won a gold medal in the process.
Dolson has done well so far this season, stepping into a starting role vacated by USA World Championship gold medalist and All-American Tina Charles. They are tough shoes to fill, but Dolson has been working hard on her game and so far as a starter in 11 of the 13 games she’s played for the 12-1 Huskies, is averaging 7.3 ppg., 4.8 rpg. and has a team second-best 15 blocked shots, while shooting 65.5 percent (38-58 FGs) from the field in a little over 16 minutes an outing.
Steadily improving this season at UConn, Dolson hopes that she’ll be back next summer in a USA Basketball uniform as a member of the 2011 USA U19 World Championship Team. What did she think about winning gold, Rizzotti’s practices and her overall experience? We recently caught up with Dolson over the phone to find out.
What has your first season of college basketball been like so far, minus the hype surrounding the streak?
It’s been tough, but it’s been fun. Coming to practice every day, getting better at what I love to do, which is just play basketball. It’s been good. It’s been a really great experience to be a part of something like this. I’m excited to see where it goes.
What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to adjust to?
Probably the level of intensity that you have to bring to practice every day. In high school you can get away with maybe coming in one day and half-assing it or something, but then still have a good practice. Whereas in college you have to come every day and give 110 percent every time you step out on the court. That’s definitely been the biggest challenge.
How does it differ from anything else you’ve played?
A lot. Just the aggressiveness and the physicalness of when you play. It’s not as easy as high school where you just rebound over the girls because they’re just 5-2 or whatever. It’s a completely different game.
How did playing for 2010 USA U18 National Team head coach Jen Rizzotti and her staff last summer get you prepared for playing at this level?
It got me prepared a lot. I was really, really grateful for that experience because it was right before I went into preseason for UConn. Going there, playing for coach Rizzotti was great because the way she coached definitely got me ready for the way I expected coach Auriemma to be like. Playing for her was a great opportunity, I was really, really happy for it. It definitely got me ready for playing at UCon.
What are some of the similarities between Rizzotti and coach Geno Auriemma’s coaching styles?
When we had practice there, she always expected us to go hard. People were kicked out of drills if they weren’t going hard enough, which is exactly the way it is here. If you’re not going hard, you need to get off.
What are some of your best memories of the USA Basketball U18 National Team - both on and off the court?
On the court, it was such a great experience to get to play against people from other countries. It was so bizarre hearing them come down the court and yelling a play that’s in different language, stuff like that. But it was cool. It was definitely cool because they were great competition.
Then off the court, probably the same thing - getting to talk to people at the end of all the games. We exchanged things, shirts, shorts and other gear. It was definitely cool to meet new people like that. Also it was cool to meet people from other states that were experiencing the same thing as me, like going to a big school for college basketball. It was really cool to meet other people that were in the same position as you. I was so grateful for that experience.
Do you still keep in touch with your teammates?
Yeah, there’s definitely a few. Bria’s (Hartley) here, so she’s easy to keep in touch with. I talk to Theresa Plaisance probably the most. She’s a funny person (laughs), but yeah, they’re all great. They’re all really, really great girls.
What are some of your favorite classes?
I don’t have anything … just kidding (laughs). Psych is probably my favorite so far. Psych and that’s it, because it’s the most interesting one I took. Everything else is not. I took geography, that was not fun, I’m not going to lie. I’m thinking about majoring in psych, so that’s probably why it was the most interesting one for me.
What do you like most about being at college?
Just the experience. The whole environment of it, the freedom of doing what you want, meeting new people everywhere you go. Whereas in high school you just show up, you have a scheduled day, you see the same people every day. Here, you step outside and there’s a new person every day. You meet new people all the time. I’ve had a lot of fun becoming friends with people off the team, outside of athletics. It’s cool to meet so many people here.
Did you follow the USA Women’s World Championship Team this summer?
We actually went to see one of their games at XL Center in Hartford against Australia. We watched that game. It was a great game, we won.
Did you feel more connected to that team, not only having won a gold medal for your country, but having your coach and teammate on the team?
Definitely. It was cool to think that that was kind of what we were doing. That’s what we did, but obviously not on as big of a scale. Hopefully in the future it will be.
Finally, would you come back and play for USA Basketball again?
Absolutely. I would never give up an opportunity like that, the opportunity just to get better and for getting an experience like that again. After you get it once, you just want to keep going and keep improving. If it’s as fun as it was last time, I would love to.