Geno, Stewie and the journey
STORRS – The icon and the legend. The king of his sport and the queen of her sport at least on a college level. Geno and Stewie. Geno, the mastermind who has turned Storrs, Connecticut into the capital of the women’s basketball world and Stewie, the 6-foot-4, bundle of unguardable talent in search of perfection.
The destinations are undeniably brilliant with more to come but on a night when another UConn opponent was dusted off, this time Kansas State, 97-57, there was time for some reflection on the journey.
For Auriemma it was the 30th anniversary of his victory at UConn. Meanwhile, Stewie was becoming just the ninth UConn player to go over the 2,000-point mark. Thoughts of tomorrow turn on the experiences of yesterday. It wasn’t about the game this night, it rarely ever is with the Huskies. It was about the icon and the legend.
Auriemma has 10 national titles, that’s one every three years. UConn flattens most opponents like a heavy roller over newly laid down pavement. In the era of ruthless brilliance and beauty, it is good to be reminded that it wasn’t always like this. And Auriemma remembers.
“You think about how different everything is and how much has happened in the last 30 years,” he reflected. “And how things have changed – the first game and being on the bus to New Rochelle to play Iona and trying to get everyone’s meal money in one spot so we could all eat something more than just a sandwich.
Winning that game (73-67) and the next six games that year for those kids that were on that same team that was the same feeling as the team that won 90 games in a row because they had never experienced anything like that.”
They clamor now to come to UConn, the Mt. Everest of women’s basketball. They come from Russia, Canada, Texas, California, Ansonia and countless other places to touch greatness and add to it. They didn’t clamor back then. Storrs had a dairy bar, a hole in the Field House roof and a young coach who at times didn’t know what he was doing there.
“I would have said I wanted to live anywhere but where I was living. To be honest the university was not such a great place to be at,” Auriemma says with a chuckle 30 years in the making. “You would be hard-pressed to go back and figure out what it was like then and how difficult it was to be a basketball player at UConn 30 years ago. Those kids I have a lot of admiration for.
There wasn’t a whole lot we could offer them and yet they still came. I’m forever grateful to them for coming. Back them it took a lot of guts to come here. They were being recruited by other schools. They ended up here and that is the biggest, craziest story ever.”
Three years after that first class, UConn was in the NCAA Tournament. Then kids like Bascomb, Lobo, Taurasi, Moore Abrosimova, Bird and Charles lit up the Conneticut nights and days and arenas far and wide.
Geno thought about that the other night. He knows where he is. He hasn’t forgotten where he was. It has been a journey, yesterday for today.
A short time later it was Stewie’s turn. It’s never been that Breanna Stewart is a surprise. She came to UConn out of Cicero High as the best high school player in the country, 76 inches of arms and legs and more diverse game than any opponent had an answer for.
Has she been as good as advertised? Nope.
Inside, outside, long-range, short range, here, there and everywhere. Now 2,000 points, two National Player of the Year Awards and three Final Four Most Outstanding Player Awards later with most of a season yet to go she is at the top of the class with Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi.
But you get reminded about Stewie and how complete the package is. There has never been a more complete package here. This is no stunning revelation. But she reminds you of the beauty of her game.
On a night where she hit a point milestone the stat sheet read: 24 points, eight rebounds, five assists, three steals, three blocks.
“Stewie comes out every night and does something different, she’s a great screener, rebounder and can block shots. Stewie is amazing,” said her All-American running mate Moriah Jefferson.
Auriemma talked about the points and pointed out that she averages about 15 shots a game and how good that is. But it is all else with Stewie that is the difference maker.
“The think I like about her is the intangibles in addition to the points,” said Auriemma. “The rebounds, she’s always been a little bit of a rebounder, she’s always been a good passer, she’s always wanted to block shots. The thing I most appreciate about Stewie right now as a senior is in her own way she’s become very vocal and I don’t mean chirping out there.
When she has something to say she says it and everybody listens. And she asks a lot questions and that never used to happen because she’s seeing things and trying to get better every day. It’s hard to get more stuff on a stat sheet than she gets.”
Stewart talks about her ongoing journey and what has taken her from the atmosphere to the stratosphere. She has always had incredible game, she needed to figure the rest of it out like so many people at UConn’s level.
During her sophomore year, Auriemma called her stubborn and told her that was going to get in her way.
“Not that (Stewart) wasn’t open to listening but you had to give it to her on her terms and that doesn’t usually fly well at Storrs,” said Auriemma.
“One thing is that him and I and the coaching staff got on the same page,” said Stewart. “I understood what they were trying to do. “You have to make practices the hardest thing you’ve ever done and when I was a freshman I tried to make them the easiest thing I ever did and the game was 10 times, 100 times harder. Once I realized that If I’m working harder than I thought I ever could in practice it’s going to carry over into the game and you don’t think about it, you’re just playing.”
The mindset melding with the skillset. Throw some National Team participation in that has taught toughness and bred even more confident and you have Breanna Stewart.
On a night when UConn took down another opponent the journey behind the destination took front and center. The icon and the legend – knowing where they are and remembering how they got there.