HARTFORD, Conn. — When Dorka Juhász plays basketball, she’s playing for more than just her school, which will be UConn upon graduating this spring after three years at Ohio State.
Juhász (pronounced YOU-haas) is motivated by the example set by her mother, a former successful professional player. Juhász takes pride in representing her home country of Hungary, where she grew up before deciding to pursue a collegiate playing career in the United States. And one day soon, Juhász hopes she can make her family and country proud by getting drafted into the WNBA.
Her best shot at making that dream come true, Juhász decided, was to leave behind Ohio State for the opportunity to finish her college career at UConn, where she hopes to be pushed to become the best basketball player she can be. Juhász announced this week that she’ll be joining the Huskies as a graduate transfer ahead of the 2021-22 season with two years of eligibility remaining.
“UConn is an amazing program that has so many talented players. That was the biggest reason why I chose them, because I know I’m going to be surrounded by awesome players that are super talented and a great coaching staff,” Juhász told The Hartford Courant Friday. “I know that there’s going to be hard work. I know that I can develop a lot and just grow a lot as a player.”
Juhász, a 6-foot-4 forward, comes from a big basketball family, her mother, Hajnalka Balazs, was one of Hungary’s best players during her prime. Juhász’s dad, now a pediatric surgeon, was on a practice squad facing off against Balazs’s team when they first met. As Juhász grew up in a big basketball town of Pecs, family talks at the dinner table largely circled around the sport, Balazs offering feedback and pushing Juhász to improve while still “always very, very supportive.”
That Juhász would eventually find herself playing in the U.S. wasn’t a given. After playing as an amateur on the PEAC-Pecs Professional Basketball Club and for Hungarian national teams, Juhász had to decide whether to come over to the States and play collegiately or to stay in Europe and start her professional career.
Juhász opted to try things out in America, and her last three years at Ohio State were a resounding basketball success. A three-year starter in Columbus, Juhász is coming off back-to-back seasons as a first-team All-Big Ten selection, averaging a double double (14.6 points and 11.1 rebounds) this past year for the Buckeyes.
Her personal growth was just as meaningful to her.
“I knew I would really enjoy this new experience,” Juhász said. “I love to learn about different cultures and everything. Looking back, I think it was great. I’m really happy. I do not regret coming out (to America). I learned so much, and I think I grew a lot on and off the court, being more mature and becoming independent.
“Living alone in different county and learning and speaking and listening to a foreign language all the time, it’s super challenging. I’m definitely super proud that I did that. I was brave enough to come here alone knowing no one.”
After three seasons with the Buckeyes, Juhász faced another fork in the road: graduating in three years from Ohio State, she was well-positioned to explore other basketball opportunities. After making that initial leap to move to an entirely new country, this decision was a bit easier.
“That was a basketball decision for me. I loved everything about Ohio State. I love the girls. I had no problems anywhere here,” Juhász said. “I felt like for my basketball career, I needed to take that step to enter the portal and look for an opportunity where I can just develop and make sure that I am doing everything in my power and am in a program that can prepare me for a professional life.”
Juhász is familiar with UConn from afar, growing up watching stars like Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird. She twice played UConn as a Buckeye, including in her third collegiate game, and remembers looking up at the walls of Gampel Pavilion where the names and accomplishments of Husky legends are immortalized. She heard stories, too, from Ohio State assistant Tamika (Williams) Jeter about her time as a Husky and how coach Geno Auriemma is tough, sarcastic but pushes players to be the best they can be — exactly what Juhász wanted in her next school.
“One of my biggest goals is to go to the WNBA. As a Hungarian girl, that’s something that I’m super looking forward to [after] playing at UConn and improving, if it takes me there,” Juhász said. “I’m trying to get the most out of my experience and making sure I can get better as much as I can to develop as a player here.”