BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — It’s been four years since my now-former colleague Phil Terrigno and I chronicled Saniya Chong’s senior year at Ossining before she left for UConn as the all-time leading scorer in Section 1 and one of the best players to ever come out of the Lower Hudson Valley.
Chong has had a roller coaster career at UConn thus far — named to the American Athletic Conference All-Freshman Team, started the first two games of her sophomore year, injured most of her junior year — but still cut down the nets from three NCAA titles.
Whether it’s because of the talent she possesses, the playing time (or lack thereof) she’s getting at UConn, or a combination of both, many fans in the area have long felt it would be in Chong’s best interest to transfer out of Connecticut for any one of the prominent programs that recruited her in hopes of raising her profile.
I’ve long maintained that Chong wasn’t going anywhere, using the defense that she knew what she signed up when inking her National Letter of Intent with the Huskies — from (potential) national titles, to (potential) lack of playing time. I made it a point that while covering this year’s regional final against Texas, I would ask Chong once and for all.
“We’re a family,” Chong said. “It doesn’t matter about playing time or whatever. It’s because we all have each other’s back, we all support each other — no matter what — and just, the family, the bond that we’ve created, I love it.”
Chong noted that it’s a “huge transition” from high school, where all of UConn’s players were stars, to college in freshman year. As far as playing time goes, it is Chong’s belief that it’s not about how much time you get, but what you do with it that matters.
“It doesn’t matter if I’m coming off the bench,” she said. “All I know is that when I step on the court, I’m going to work as hard (as if I started).”
UConn has a history of rewarding that mindset. Any evidence of that begins and ends with Kiah Stokes, a senior center last year who averaged just 18.3 minutes of playing time yet was the No. 11 overall pick in the WNBA Draft.
UConn also gives Chong a platform no other program can offer.
Women’s college basketball already gets little love on a media scale, relative to their male counterparts, but the UConn’s women’s basketball team is one of the handful of elite programs that will get somewhat regular air time for its games on primetime networks.
The University of Connecticut has given Chong so much in her three years. Beyond the three national championships and free education, which is already more than most high school standouts could ever hope for, the Peekskill native has found a role model and best friend in senior teammate Breanna Stewart.
Stewart, who competed against Chong in high school while at Cicero-North Syracuse, is also her roommate. When they came back to New York to watch the state championship against their alma maters in 2014, they weren’t nearly as close as they are today.
“I think we made a (bigger) connection once I got to UConn because we’re always playing with each other,” Chong said two years ago. “We know each other (well), we hang out a lot — off the court, as well. I think that we’re just becoming (better) friends.”
Their relationship goes outside of the gym, and it’s those memories and that bond that Chong will take with her when she eventually graduates and pursues her next move. That’s not to say Chong wouldn’t make friends at another school, but it goes to the point that staying at UConn goes beyond winning basketball games.
Next year will be interesting for Chong. Her All-American teammates Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck will all be graduating and bound for the WNBA, leaving three starting spots open.
Sophomore point guard Kia Nurse and freshman guard/forward Katie Lou Samuelson will return to the starting lineup, with the 6-foot-3 Samuelson likely playing more of a forward role when Stewart (6-foot-4) leaves.
If two guard positions open up, it will likely be a three-way battle between Gabby Williams (started 12 of 38 games), Napheesa Collier (started nine of 38 games) and Chong, who started three of the 33 games she played in, despite injury.
What happens next year remains to be seen. Chong will rehab from her IT band syndrome injury and should be at full strength for her senior season. Maybe she’ll start, maybe she won’t; that we don’t know. What we do know is that when Huskies head coach Geno Auriemma calls her name, Chong will be ready to go.