Geno. A sportswriters dream.
TAMPA: It can’t ever, ever, ever be understated how great it is to cover the one and only Geno Auriemma.
For those of us who work in the business of needed to get and repeat information, the guy is simply a winning lottery ticket. No make, that back to back Power Ball wins with the Power Play.
As he looks for his unprecedented (in women’s college basketball) 10th National Championship on Tuesday night when his Huskies take on rival Notre Dame, it struck me just how open, honest and available this head coach has been over the past two years that we have spent time with him.
The gems flow and the soundbites dance off the podium like the sun off the pool I’m going to hit later tonight back in Clearwater. (I apologize to my family and friends back in chilly CT for that remark).
Here are just a couple of key parts of the Hall of Fame head coaches press conference from Monday during an extended media session.
The set up.
UConn’s five starters, Morgan Tuck, Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Kia Nurse were on the dais with their head coach.
Somebody asked about how much the current players knew about the UConn players of the past and while some responded that they were in grammar school at the time and not tuned into the workings of the brand that is Connecticut women’s basketball, the head coach chimed in.
“You have to rephrase that for Kiah Nurse because in high school she was watching the dogsled races in Alaska,” Auriemma said, “This is a different Yukon. You have to be specific if you want her to answer.”
Classic Geno. Deflected the bigness of the stage off a freshman who, even though she spent time playing for the Canadian Team, is on this platform for the very first time.
Notre Dame comes in as the underdog, something that the Irish are not used too and a position the Huskies hardly ever find themselves in.
How does he feel about the underdog label?
“Yeah, I mean, I think we all aspire to be in that situation at some point in our lives,” Auriemma said, “you know, where you’re going to capture the imagination of a lot of people. It’s that whole Rocky Balboa thing in Philadelphia. The city has a statue of a guy who made a movie, a fake boxer, in front of one of the great art museums in the world. You know what I mean? It’s a crazy city.”
Auriemma continued, “But I think it’s part of the lure of sports, that felling that, let me tell you what it’s like to be the underdog, what I think, what is was like for us when we were in that situation. When you’re the underdog, all your game plans are about this is what we’re going to do this, and we’re going to do this and we’re going to beat your ass. And everybody gets fired up, yeah. Then you go out and play. When you’re in our situation, I get up every day and I go, damn, if they do this and they do this, we’re going to lose. So it’s a flipped way of thinking because when you’re the underdog you think all things are possible. All you have to do is play the perfect game and all things are possible.”
He warned though, that being the non-favorite has it’s own inherent drawbacks.
“And yeah, I miss being in that situation. But hopefully history holds true. The underdogs don’t really have a good record against the top dogs.”
Auriemma talked about the all-time leading three point shooter in program history, Mosqueda-Lewis with his usual mix of compliments and humor.
He was asked to sum up the senior who will play in her last college game on Tuesday night and how she has impacted the program moving forward.
“I had a coach tell me the other night that Kaleena is a one-dimensional player. I thought it was pretty funny because Kaleena’s freshman year she had 31 (against the coach). And to me, the beauty of somebody like K is that because she’s such an incredible shooter, that if you’re not paying attention, you think that that’s all she does. And yesterday she had seven assists. And she’ probably or bset screener. She’s one of our best passers. She gets in the was defensively once in a while and causes her man to..she confuses the offense the way she plays defense. She makes you think she’s guarding you but she’s really not. That’s a real talent that not a lot of players have.”
Classic once again. Build up, break down.
When a player has earned it as KML has though, it ends on a high note.
“But over the last four years, she’s become a really good basketball player, somebody you can count on. And that didn’t used to be the case when she was a freshman. And each year after that,” Auriemma said. “And that’s what you want players to do. You want them to grow and become a little more than what they are coming out of high school. And she’s had an incredible career and she’s put her name in the record books and those memories will last a lifetime.”
He was asked to talk about his vision of what good offensive basketball is supposed to look like and man, it opened up a good one.
“You know, in any sport, people are kind of drawn to the players who make things look easy, five players who pass the ball to each other open, get an open shot, knock it in,” the head coach said, “That draws people like, wow, how did they do that or I like the way they do that. In any sport. Doesn’t matter what sport it is. I grew up in Philadelphia. So I saw one version of hockey back in those days. We touch the puck. We throw it in the corner. Five guys are going to run after it. Three guys are not going to come out of that corner, they’re going to the hospital. And then we’re going to score and we’re going to win. So that’s the version of hockey I grew up with. Then there’s the Edmonton Oilers version of hockey. So there’s a lot to winning but some ways I think are just more appealing.”
He goes on to talk about Irish star, Jewell Loyd, who chose Notre Dame over UConn and is now one of the key players in the way of his 10th title.
“Well, I liked her a lot better in high school before she told me she was going to Notre Dame instead of coming to Connecticut. I don’t like her as much now,” Auriemma joked, “I watch her play and I think there’s something special about her that is different than any other women playing college basketball today. It’s just something, she just has something, she has the way she moves, the way she touches the ball, the way the ball comes out of her hands. She just has something.”
Maybe a top five, with this team, came from Tuck, who has become such a force on the offensive side of the ball this year, a huge plus for a team with three All-Americans not named Tuck on the roster.
A year ago, during her rehab from a serious of knee issues, her coach let a classic flow in her direction and it stuck, not in a bad way but in a funny, motivation way.
“My most memorable one,” Tuck said, “We were about to practice last year and I was in rehab while they were practicing and coach came over and was talking to me about my knees and he was telling me that if I was a horse I would be shot already. Just because I have bad knees. I’ll never forget that but he’s made me a better player by pushing me harder than I thought I could handle and I think it’s made me a better player because of it.”
I could go on and on. That’s just from an hour of talking to players and the coach talking to the media.
He’s truly worth the price of admission and Huskie fans and those who cover them for a living are better off because of it.