UConn assistant coach Shea Ralph was sitting in her office recently when freshman center Kiah Stokes strode in with a big smile on her face.
During a decade as an assistant at Pittsburgh and UConn, Ralph has learned to expect anything at times like this. So she braced for the impact of the update.
"Kiah is very fun-loving," Ralph said. "Her smile really lights up the room. She's silly, but in a good way, and she really loves to have a good time."
"But she's also one of most accomplished kids, academically, that we've had here in a long time. She came in to say she got a 100 on her statistics test and I'm thinking, 'I don't even know if that's ever happened here before.' "
Not every freshman that comes to UConn winds up as Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Renee Montgomery, Tina Charles or Maya Moore, to name five of their All-Americans, WNBA stars and Olympians.
Some live just as accomplished lives outside the sport by using the skill sets they learn in a different way.
There is no way to tell what will become of Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Brianna Banks or Stokes four years down the road. But while it's expected that KML might develop into the next great one, what greatness awaits Banks and Stokes will be just as interesting to chart.
"I think I'd like to be anesthesiologist, like my mother [Julie] is," Stokes said.
What's certain is that Banks, a guard from Georgia, and Stokes, a center from Iowa, possess quite different personalities at this point.
"If you don't know Brianna, you would think she was kind of introverted,"' Ralph said. "That's not how she really is, but she does like to assess things before she dives in. She's a listener; she looks around, takes things in."
Banks, who might remind UConn fans somewhat of Kalana Greene, does not dispute Ralph's assessment.
"Sometimes, I think too much, especially on the court, which kind of slows me down and confuses me," Banks admitted. "It's just because I am reluctant to make a mistake. But I'm just like that in regard to basketball. I don't think about life in the same way."
"No, I don't really say much, but I assume I will be talking a lot more than I am right now when I am a junior and senior."
Banks should provide big doses of speed, perimeter defense and a surprising dose of offense.
"Brianna is smaller [5-9] than Kalana, and I know Kalana wasn't really noted for her three-point shooting when she came to UConn," Ralph said. "Brianna is a little better of a shooter than she gets credit for right now. And I don't know if she's really the rebounding guard Kalana was at this point. She'll be more on the perimeter [playing defense] for us."
Said Banks: "I think taking the ball to the basket is my best attribute [on offense]. I can shoot the three, but I don't jack one every chance I get unless I am wide open."
Stokes, 6-3, is the daughter of Greg Stokes, one of the great guards in University of Iowa history. Greg Stokes was a prolific scorer, one who eventually played in the NBA. His daughter will be more a defender and rebounder.
"She has long arms and is very athletic," Ralph said. "And she has very good defensive timing. So that is something we will be looking for her to do right away. The offensive part is probably the hardest thing a post player has to learn because of how physical it is in the paint. We're planning to put her in a lot of different positions because she can also shoot the ball from the outside."
Banks and Stokes are no different than every freshman in that it has taken them time to adjust to the advanced pace that UConn demands.
"I was most curious about what the intensity level would be like here," Banks said. "I didn't have an idea about how hard we would be asked to go. So that was the big thing with me. That question was answered the first day I arrived."
Both also understand that the time they play will be earned from how well they practice. And they've both heard coach Geno Aureimma say they've had as many down days and good ones so far.
"I look forward to helping the team right away with rebounding and blocking shots," Stokes said. "The rest of it will come because getting used to playing against girls my size will take some time."
"The academics have always come somewhat easy for me. And I've been able to find a pretty good balance thus far with my studies. I have a pretty good idea of how to handle it."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun