In making her college decision Ashlynn Shade, the No. 5 recruit of the class of 2023, wanted a high-level, competitive program that would help achieve her goal of winning a national championship. But she also wanted a place that would be a good fit for both her style of basketball and her personality.
Once the 5-foot-10 guard from Noblesville, Ind., was able to get to Storrs and see what UConn was all about, it didn’t take long for her to know Geno Auriemma’s program was the place for her. After visiting campus last weekend, Shade announced her commitment to the Huskies on social media Wednesday morning, making her the second Class of 2023 commit alongside fellow guard KK Arnold. She had also considered Indiana, Louisville, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Stanford, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
So what made UConn the right fit?
“Literally everything,” she told The Courant.
“I’ve never seen a more perfect place for that kid,” said Natalie Morse, Shade’s longtime trainer and coach who used to coach at Butler. “She called it her little oasis. Everything is women’s basketball, women’s basketball, and it just speaks her language.”
Shade, a combo guard who can do a little bit of everything on the floor, figures to join a backcourt that could still include Paige Bueckers, Nika Mühl, Azzi Fudd and Caroline Ducharme. With Auriemma bringing in frontcourt players Ayanna Patterson and Isuneh “Ice” Brady for 2022, Shade and Arnold could be poised to take the reins in the backcourt once the group of current freshmen and sophomores departs.
Those familiar with her say Shade has a high motor and a maturity in her approach to the game that sets her apart — something that was evident to Morse the first time she saw her as a seventh grader warming up for a youth camp. Part of that comes from her family’s fervor for health and fitness. Shade’s father owns a fitness company called Fit Livin’, created his own pushup machine device and acts as her personal trainer.
Shade doesn’t like going a day without working out, even when she’s on college visits. After arriving in Storrs late the first night of her visit, she had a meeting with the UConn staff set for 9 a.m. the next morning. She texted Morse, who accompanied her on the trip, “see you in the gym at 7.″ It was the same thing for Sunday morning: “See you in the gym at 8:20.″
“I love being in the gym basketballwise, of course,” Shade said. “But also I think that another thing that separates me is my health and strength. I feel like it makes me more athletic, strong on the court and just in great shape.”
She also plays with a competitive edge that Premier Basketball’s Shane Laflin compared to Mühl’s. Shade is a huge Michael Jordan fan and say she tries to emulate his work ethic and passion.
“I just have so much love and passion for this game that every time I step on the court, I want to give 100% and leave no regrets out on that court,” she said. “Basketball is played with a lot of emotion, a lot of passion, so I think just having that love for the game really is what drives me to want to produce and be the best I can.”
“When you talk to her, you think she was the sweetest, kindest person in the world,” Morse added, “and then she gets on the floor and she scares you. That’s kind of the perfect combination of a kid that I think UConn likes to have and the fans like to see, and so she’ll fit in really well there.”
Shade got to see firsthand what being part of the UConn women’s basketball team is like by observing a practice, hanging out with the players and sitting behind the Huskies’ bench at Gampel during their 63-55 win over Creighton Sunday. Even once she went back home, she couldn’t get enough, and was in attendance for UConn’s Wednesday game at Butler.
“From practice to just hanging out with the team to going to the game, it’s a hard feeling for me to describe because it just felt so right,” Shade said. “It’s kind of like when you have a gut feeling, when you just know something is right. That’s just how I felt being there and seeing everything, meeting the coaches, the players. I just knew in my gut that it was the place for me.
“I’ve set so many high goals for myself that I want to achieve basketballwise. I think being pushed every single day like they push their players is what’s going to be best for me, and just being a part of that culture and that drive and expecting greatness out of every single one of the players, I’m really looking forward to that.”
Part of that growth, Shade says, comes from being surrounded and pushed by some of the best players in the country too, such as Bueckers and Fudd.
“I think the mentality of not going somewhere away from where the best players normally go to try and have everything be about herself speaks the loudest volumes to me,” Morse said. “She sees who’s there, and for her that means ‘I’m going to have to up my game to the highest, highest level.’ She’s not afraid.”
Shade hadn’t met any of the other Huskies prior to this weekend, but did know Patterson, who’s from nearby Fort Wayne. The two have frequently played against each other, most recently in November.
“Ayanna is such a great person — and an amazing player,” Shade said. “Her athletic ability is insane. I’m just so glad to finally be on her team and not have to play against her.”
When she’s not working on her own game, Shade helps her dad coach a younger team of girls, Indiana Girls Basketball 2030 Shade, that last year as third graders won the AAU National Championship.
“Every single one of those girls on that team is like my little sister,” Shade said. “I genuinely wanted to be around them after just spending one practice with them. Especially being involved with my dad on the sideline was even better. It’s kind of like our own little family. They are a bunch of little ballers too so it’s great to see them grow and develop.”
Shade say she wants to improve in every facet of the game between now and when she arrives in Storrs. Getting to see a practice up close, Morse said, will allow her to fine tune Shade’s training, especially in preparing Shade for playing in a read-and-react-heavy offense.
When it comes down to it, whatever the coaching staff asks Shade to do once she gets to Storrs, Morse is confident she will answer the call.
“She’s not selfish,” Morse said. “If she needs a score, she’ll figure out a way to do it. If she needs to defend and create energy defensively, she never runs out of that. And so that’s really going to fill some gaps that if you need that one night and that’s going to help you win a game, then that’s what she’ll do. The ultimate competitor is ‘I’ll do whatever it takes to win,’ and that’s her.”
Alexa Philippou can be reached at [email protected]