She has a galaxy of stars and an inscription on one foot. When she was 16, Stefanie Dolson and her older siblings Ashley and Courtney decided to get tattoos. A sister thing, Dolson says.
One got, "Live." Another, "Love." Stef got "Laugh." Of course, she did.
Dolson, who along with Bria Hartley will join the Huskies of Honor on Saturday at senior day before UConn faces Rutgers at Gampel Pavilion, has a tattoo on her other foot. She and Caroline Doty got fleurs-de-lis after April's NCAA Final Four, fitting since UConn's eighth national title came in New Orleans. That was a sister thing, too.
"Caroline and I had been roommates, and she was graduating," Dolson said. "We were separating, but we thought it was the perfect thing to get. We'll always have something to remember we won it together. And …"
There's more? "Yes," Dolson answered a little sheepishly.
Where is it? Is it a secret?
"Yeah," she said and then broke into a laugh.
Stefanie Dolson is one of the greatest laughers in the history of the world. She insists that she has bad days. She insists that she gets angry. She hides it well. For when all the victories and national championships, all the diverse talents and characters are gathered one day, they will each bring a chapter to one of the greatest stories ever told in women's athletics. Big Momma Stef will bring the bucket of joy.
Geno Auriemma was talking at practice the other day about how he and St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli had observed how so many young players look like they're playing at gunpoint. They are a generation of unenthusiastic, as if someone is forcing them to play.
"Then you get somebody like Stefanie Dolson, who acts like, looks like, carries herself like those two hours she is in the gym, there's no other place she'd rather be," Auriemma said. "That two-hour bus ride? On the plane? In the locker room? In your office? Wherever she is, that's the place to be.
"You don't find much of that anymore. As a matter of fact, I'm having a hard time trying to pick out how many of those I've seen this year … ah, none."
Dolson will have one and maybe two national championships to forever ride shotgun with those tattoos. But she is missing some things from when she arrived in 2010 from Slate Hill, N.Y.: pounds.
Dolson not only gave me permission last fall to use her twitter handle, "Big Momma Stef," in columns, she encouraged it. She's proud of being 6 feet 5. She's proud of being a big girl. She's also proud of being, "A Little Less Big Momma Stef Than She Used To Be." She dropped 20 pounds a couple of summers ago and, while building muscle, still is 12 fewer than she was.
"I hate seeing pictures of me as a freshman now," Dolson said. "I came in, I don't think people expected that much from me when they saw my physical appearance. I was big, slow, tall, not very physical.
"After two years, I didn't help my team as much as I wanted to, and that's when it really clicked that I needed to change physically. So I did. I dieted. I got in shape. I got quicker. I got tanner."
Big laugh. Stef likes the salon. She loves makeup. Crank up the music in the morning, she says, and start the process. "Eyeliner, I can make some sweet cat eyes," she said. Lipstick. "There are so many different colors and shades," she said, "love that every day you can look a little different."
Dolson certainly looks at food differently.
"In high school, I ate everything," she said. "I have always loved food. I love to cook. I love to bake. It's something that really soothes me. But I ate whatever I wanted, thinking I'd just run it off in basketball — not realistic."
Asked the one thing she couldn't walk past without eating, Dolson immediately answered brownies. She started getting specific, "Cosmic Brownies. And those little muffins, can't remember what they're called. Just killed them all the time.
"This is going to sound really sad, but fast food. I mean I absolutely loved going to Wendy's, McDonald's. It was disgusting what I filled my body with."
Associate coach Chris Dailey gave it to her straight after the loss in Stanford that ended UConn's 90-game winning streak. She told the freshman to get in the weight room. Get more fit. Dolson started in on it. She worked with conditioning coach Amanda Kimball on redesigning her diet. Yet it wasn't until after her sophomore year that the real transformation took place.
"I really went on the diet, it was low-carb, but it was really no-carb, only 30 carbs a day or less," Dolson said. "That's how I lost that weight, doing Insanity [workouts with Shaun T]. It was extreme, but that's what I needed to do at the time. When you're playing basketball, you need energy, so I would have died if I kept that up."
She's into maintaining now. She has become a student of a healthy diet. On the run now, she grabs almonds, nuts, Trail Mix. She loves rice cakes with peanut butter, and Greek yogurt with fruit. Big Momma Stef went organic.
"Don't write that I never go for a brownie," Dolson said. "I still splurge. Everyone has to now and then."
As her aerobic capacity improved, so did her game. The big girl with big potential leaves as an All-American and a top WNBA draft pick.
"Seeing my physical transformation absolutely makes me proud of what I've done," Dolson said. "I dug deep. I know how hard it is for a lot of people to do it. I didn't have my family here. Nobody else on the team was doing it. It was hard for me, too. To go through it, to keep it up, it's definitely something I'm proud of."
It's a lie to portray Dolson, circa 2010 and 2011, as some kind of slug. She averaged 10 points and six rebounds starting as a freshman and sophomore. Yet her game jumped to seven rebounds and nearly 14 points as a junior and 12.9 points and 9.1 rebounds as a senior. She's 28 points shy of 1,700 and six rebounds short of 1,000. The Huskies with Dolson and Hartley? How does 133-11 sound?
"The improved conditioning expanded my game," Dolson said. "I'm now able to move more for my teammates, making sure I can get them open more and that helps me get open more. My rebounding has gotten better because I'm quicker. I used to get rebounds when it came right to me and I couldn't get out of the way."
Big Momma Stef is big-time nimble now.
Look, nobody is going to accuse Dolson of leaving Storrs without filling the scoresheet. She battled Brittney Griner. She went skydiving. She has been honored for her academics. She gave the president bunny ears in a photo last year at the White House when UConn was honored for its national title.
"I challenged the president to a dance-off when I was there last time, and he said if we come back he will," Dolson told a group of reporters Thursday. "So we shall see. I'm going to say, 'Obama, we're back, we're having a dance-off!' "
That confident in your moves?
"I don't think I'm a great dancer," Dolson said. "I think my secret is I pick the right moment. I love to dance. I got decent rhythm for my size. I can't tell where I got it from. I don't ever want to see my parents dance. Neither of them are dancers. But my little brother is really good. I taught him well.
"You know, I'm one of those people who when I'm by myself in my room thinks about life and what has happened. So this is really sad for me that it's coming to an end. I've had so many amazing experiences in college, because of the team and coach, unmeasurable opportunities. I also know wherever I go from here I'll make the best of it. I always make the best of everything."
That, Big Momma Stef does.