The stage belongs to Geno.
It is UConn’s stage this Final Four. Let’s be honest it has been their stage for a while. Maryland, South Carolina and Notre Dame know that. Oh, they won’t back down but the trio knows that the title goes through so much tradition, history along with Breanna Stewart, Kaleena Mosqueada-Lewis, Morgan Tuck, Moriah Jefferson, Kiah Nurse, Kiah Stokes and the rest of the pride of Connecticut looking for a third straight national title and 10th overall.
So that makes it Geno Auriemma’s stage. Still a youthful 61-years-old, time is treating him well, although maybe the sun reaches through the famous head of hair a tad easier than it used to. For all the high-powered clientele that has left its mark in Storrs, players with names like Bascomb, Bird, Taurasi, Sales, Moore, Stewart, Mosqueda-Lewis, Rizzotti, Jefferson and so on, it is his program and brilliant running show.
The relentless wit and quip leaves you gasping and laughing, ask him how the state of the men’s game is these days or the women’s game for that matter. Many are afraid to trash their own sport particularly on the eve of the biggest event. Geno isn’t. Never has been. He is bitingly honest with foe or friend and player.
You don’t like it? Too bad. As a player you don’t like? Go play somewhere else. There is no mellowing. ESPN announcer and former Husky Rebecca Lobo was relaying a story about the fire and lack of mellow in Auriemma right before the Regional semifinal against Texas.
Lobo was watching practice and Auriemma was blistering Kiah Stokes.
“He was relentless, brutal, screaming and I was sitting on the side thinking that if I was that I kid I would have hated this,” said Lobo. ‘I’m thinking why Kiah, why now? Of course they’re playing Texas and he needs her to play well. So he is challenging the heck out of her. Relentless, though. Then she has a great game against Texas. He knew he needed her and then gets her to where she needs to be. Some people say he has lightened up, he has not, he has not. The practices I’ve seen I don’t think so.”
Who else would say he wished his team lost more yet has a program that fights that very thought better than any team in the country.
“I wish we would lose more. I really do. I wish we would lose on a regular basis like everybody else does that when we don’t play well or the other team plays great and we get beat, it becomes part of the college landscape at Connecticut,’ Auriemma said. “ Hey, you know it’s all right, they’ll bounce back. They’ll be fine.”
The context of the comment was about learning from a loss, not that Geno just wants his Huskies’ to lose. But who says those things. Most coaches would tell you, perfection is an admirable target and a nice place to be.”
Auriemma talked about easing off in March but not caring so match about being nice between October and March. Spring and titles are what UConn plays for. It’s all a buildup to get there and if you can deal with it you can deal with winning title after title after title.
But, there is a nurture to Auriemma. He raves about his players. He’ll pick and choose his times when to and when not he may be saying just the opposite. Ask Stewie. He has her ranked up with the best ever and talks of her greatness and greatness still to come. But he’ll also tell you that Stewie thinks she knows everything. He is a master at the game.
He’ll trade banter with Mosqueada-Lewis who will give it back to him and joke with the rest. It is who he is. The Italian maestro from Philly with the big game at time big tonsils and a big heart.
It is Auriemma’s stage because he created the show. From Storrs, Connecticut to the state-of-art women’s college basketball program in the country. Undefeated seasons, nine national titles, a 90-game win streak. He drove the bus to the mountaintop and refuses to move it. He dares those to move it for him.
“It’s not our job to get worse, it’s the rest of the team’s job to get better,’ he said.
So this stage is his until somebody pushes him off and it has to be more than once. He’s never made a shot or committed a turnover for that matter. But make no mistake nobody has done it without him and this kind of result.
The players use the stage that has bred an excellence never seen. But at best, they share it with the maestro. UConn’s stage, Geno Auriemma’s stage.