- Glenn Nelson, ESPNHS HoopGurlz
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Connecticut has spent so much time at the top of our national prospect rankings, coach Geno Auriemma darned near has a permanent seat at the ESPN HoopGurlz dinner table.
So it's not surprising that Wednesday, the start of the early signing period for National Letters of Intent, we find ourselves breaking bread with Auriemma once again, this time in celebration of the signing of No. 1 Breanna Stewart of North Syracuse, N.Y.
What's maybe not altogether surprising, but certainly unprecedented, is that we'll also tip our wine glasses to the fact that he and the Huskies are signing the nation's No. 2 prospect, Moriah Jefferson of Glenn Heights, Texas.
With 12 ranked prospects still uncommitted, a lot of things remain up in the air with the recruiting class of 2012. That Connecticut has the top signing class in the country is not one of them. It's difficult to pick against any class that has the top two prospects, no matter what the other schools have assembled. But the Huskies also have the No. 15 prospect, Morgan Tuck of Bolingbrook, Ill.
Tuck is an interesting recruit, maybe easy to overlook and not just because of the more heralded Stewart and Jefferson. More than two years ago, she was in the discussion with her future college teammates for the top spot in the class. Long, polished and athletic, Tuck had a go-to game on the low boxes, a mid-range game and explosion in transition. But after suffering a tear to her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) during the 2009 USA Basketball trials, Tuck has long-term health questions to answer and thus could be one of the most undervalued prospects in the class.
Being underrated due to injury is a theme among the 2012 class' elite prospects. No. 8 Rachel Hollivay (eye, Rutgers), No. 12 Alyson Beebe (ACL, Stanford), No. 20 Andraya Carter (ACL, Tennessee) and No. 22 Tierney Pfirman (left-foot stress fracture, Maryland) are other top-ranked recruits who held higher rankings before their injuries. No. 21 Katie Collier (Washington) had established her lofty ranking before being diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia; she is expected to be cleared by doctors to play college ball next season.
There is no questioning the likely impact of the rest of Connecticut's signing class -- either individually or as a tandem.
Connecticut has signed the prospect ranked No. 1 in her class by ESPN HoopGurlz in five of the past seven years.
At 6-feet-3, Stewart is the scariest versatile big player to come out of high school since Candace Parker. She is long, explosive and skilled, effective down low and outside the lane, trouble brewing in transition. Stewart also likely is the most internationally experienced high school player ever, having already represented the U.S. four times.
Jefferson, on the other hand, has never made a national team, and she's carried that slight like a torch that keeps her competitive fires burning. There may never have been a more dynamic, creative backcourt performer to emerge from the high school ranks -- ever. And Jefferson could be the most fearsome high school player with a game on the line since another Husky who had just had a pretty successful college career -- Maya Moore.
It's difficult to imagine a more devastating duo in the pick and roll, or pick and pop, than Stewart and Jefferson. With Tuck on an opposite block and 2011's No. 1 prospect, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, spotted on a wing, UConn could be near-impossible to defend. Not to mention that both Stewart and Jefferson have extreme ability to create their own shots.
Defensively a veritable Texas twister, Jefferson can change momentum and games with her on-ball ferocity and passing-lanes freelancing. Stewart's shot blocking and rebounding will provide backup and an interior defensive wall.
Connecticut this year has a youngish team that isn't expected to reach the program's usual dominant heights. With a signing class like this one on the way, don't expect that to last -- maybe beyond even this season.
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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Seattle University and Columbia University, he formerly coached girls' club basketball, was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, has had his photography displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, and was a longtime national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.