Evina Westbrook and Christyn Williams spent their summer playing with the boys

The two seniors took a different workout approach after leaving campus in July.

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Evina Westbrook and Christyn Williams spent their summer playing with the boys

When UConn women’s basketball finished with summer workouts in early July, Evina Westbrook and Christyn Williams went home and stayed sharp by employing a unique method: They played against guys.

Westbrook became the first woman to participate in the Portland Pro-Am Basketball League in over 50 years while Williams took a more informal route, playing pickup with guys from back home in Arkansas.

For Williams, it’s something she started in the summer of 2020. With UConn’s summer workouts canceled because of the pandemic and a lot of local gyms closed, players had to find creative ways to workout. Even with things mostly back to normal this past summer, Williams felt the experience helped her and decided to run it back.

“I just played [1-on-1] against guys from back home,” she said. “Guys are more physical, stronger, quicker, so just playing [1-on-1], it’s really helped me do that.”

Despite being one of the best players on the top women’s basketball program in the country, Williams was met with plenty of skepticism from the guys when she stepped on the court. It didn’t take long to prove herself, though.

“You get respect. It’s really funny because we’re girls, and they know we play for UConn, but when we step on the floor, they don’t really know what to expect so you gain a lot of respect because they’re, like, shocked,” she said. “They get frustrated and it’s funny. It’s very funny.”

As for Westbrook, she had grown up playing against guys through high school. Because of that, she knew a lot of people who were involved with the Portland Pro-Am Basketball League and received invites from three different teams.

“I kind of picked my little home team that I grew up playing against,” she said.

The league featured the likes of Boston Celtics guard Peyton Prichard — who scored 92 points in a single game — and a host of other current and former NBA and Division I players. Yet even with so much talent on the floor at any given time, Westbrook felt she owned a significant advantage as a UConn player.

“Guys out there kind of just try to break your man down, play 1-on-1 and look real smooth but here — I think Coach (Auriemma) talks about that as well — we play the game of basketball. Like, really play the game,” she said. “So when I’m making passes out, they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, how do you see that?’ Because I’m playing the game. I’m not playing to just play 1-on-1.”

While confidence isn’t a problem with Westbrook, the experience of playing in the Portland Pro-Am League still helped re-affirm that self-belief.

“I know I can play with and against anyone,” she said. “I knew that growing up but it’s also good to have a reminder and to feel that, you know? So it was amazing.”


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