Geno Auriemma coaches his 1,000th game at UConn on Feb. 22 at Houston. To commemorate the milestone, the Hartford Courant will occasionally publish a memory or remembrance of the Hall of Fame coach from someone who helped play a role in his journey.
Here’s one from perhaps the greatest Husky of all, Rebecca Lobo, the program’s first national player of the year and now one of its most enduring icons.
“We went overseas to play basketball the summer before my senior year at UConn [in 1995],” Lobo said. “One of our stops was Italy. We all enjoyed listening to Coach speak Italian when we went out. We ate great food while in Italy, but my most vivid memory is when we went to a restaurant and many of the girls didn’t like what we were served. I don’t think the food tasted bad, it was just very different from what we were used to. You know, 18- 19- and 20-year-olds aren’t known for their adventurous palates..
“Coach wasn’t thrilled when he heard some players complaining and when he saw that much of the food had gone untouched. So, being Coach, he made each and every one of the players — whether they’d eaten their food or not– bus their own plate by bringing it to the kitchen. He said he wanted each of us to look in the chef’s eyes when we returned the food he’d worked so hard to cook. He wanted to know if we thought we were too good to eat what the man had taken so much time to prepare.
“It was a horribly uncomfortable experience. But it taught us a life lessons that we’ll never forget.”
Following the Friday’s game in New York, the Comnecticut Sun, who broke a three-game losing streak with a win in Indiana on Wednesday, play Seattle at the casino on Sunday. The Storm are without both Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird for the season.
The Sun, Storm, Fever and San Antonio Silver Stars (without stars Becky Hammon and Sophia Young) are four teams dealing with the serious fallout from the WNBA’s dubious decision to cut the roster size to 11 players before the 2009 season.
What’s worse, that move was accompanied with a directive preventing teams from replacing long-term injuries until it reaches the “emergency” state of eight active.
Hearing what Brittney Griner said about how being gay allegedly made Baylor coach Kim Mulkey ask her to keep it a secret so recruiting and perception would not be impacted caused me to wonder something:
What is the current attitude in the WNBA about this? Do coaches worry about how gay and straight players may get along on the same team? Have they ever made a roster decision based on a player’s sexual preferences?
I had no clue whether I’d get a direct answer, let alone any answer at all. But ESPN’s Carolyn Peck, a former college and pro coach, Rebecca Lobo [you know who she is] and Bill Laimbeer, the former Detroit Pistons center who now coaches the New York Liberty offered what I thought we constructive honest answers during Monday’s WNBA Conference call:
I reached out this afternoon to some of my go-to basketball brains to see what they thought of the possibility that the NCAA would add the 10-second rule back to women’s basketball.
If you don’t know what that is, well, before a team could take all the time in the world to bring the ball across midcourt on offense during a possession.
Now, if the rule is enacted as the committee has proposed, an offense will have only 10 seconds to cross the stripe.
It may not sound like a big thing, but it can have a major impact on the already skewed power structure in the game.
Here’s what my experts had to say:
Debbie Fiske (radio analyst for UConn women’s basketball and former Huskies point guard)
“I like the idea of the 10-second backcourt call coming back into play. Before, the advantage went to the offense. Now the advantage slides back towards defense. In addition to speeding up the game it also presents new strategies for teams to employ. In games when teams are down or choose a pressing style defense to cause turnovers to fuel a run, the offense won’t have 90 feet and 30 seconds to break pressure, but will only have the back court and 10 seconds to get the ball over half court – more opportunity to cause more traps and turnovers in addition to getting a 10 second call as a turnover. A team that may be very strong in the half court set, but not the best ball handling team under full court pressure will notice the difference in strategy.”
They have watched film. They have memorized tactics. They have explored what evidence there is to explore. The clinical dissection is done.
There is nothing left now for UConn to do but beat Notre Dame.
“If we are fortunate to win the first game [Sunday vs. California], I’m hoping to goes like 10 overtimes,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said.
After three losses to the Irish this season, four straight, seven of the last eight over three seasons, the Huskies have one last chance for vindication Sunday when the play the Irish in the NCAA national semifinal at the New Orleans Arena.
Geno Auriemma, as masterful with the language as any coach in the history of the game, has basically run out of words to say to motivate his team.
“I have no idea, but I sense it will be great,” ESPN’s Rebecca Lobo said.
Auriemma has started talking to his players in a different way, one that those who have played for him in the past recognize.
He has been dropping hints at various sessions with ESPN and other media outlets. Designed at answers, they are really subtle suggestions.
“Geno does not save it all for that final moment,” Lobo said. “When he is answering our questions [in pregame production meetings] it’s 10 percent for our benefit and 90 percent for his players. He is delivering the message he wants delivered, like saying do we have a player who wants the shot at the end of the game. … He talks to his players through us [the media].”
In the hallway outside the UConn locker room Tuesday night, Rebecca Lobo, who helped telecast the game for ESPN, pondered a question on many minds in the aftermath of Notre Dame’s 61-59 win in the Big East tournament championship.
How has Notre Dame suddenly sapped UConn’s super powers?
“I don’t know if being dominated by one particular team is the biggest issue right now,” said Lobo after the Irish beat UConn for the seventh time in their last eight meetings. “I think not being able to win close games is more significant [for UConn].
“You don’t believe you can win close games, you don’t know how to win close games until you have done it. As much as he [Geno Auriemma] has put the team into that position in practice, and he always does, you need to believe you can win [in those circumstances].”
For most of her competitive life, UConn center Stefanie Dolson has looked down at her opponents. But we’re talking strictly in the north to south sense.
When you stand 6-foot-5, the vantage point a woman’s basketball player enjoys is usually advantageous. And one can grow accustomed to seeing the world from that particular peak.
That won’t be the case on Monday when No. 1 Baylor (24-1) meets No. 3 UConn (24-1) in what should be a raucous XL Center.
When Dolson posts up Monday, it will be against 6-8 Brittany Griner, a three-time All-American, last season’s national player of the year and the tower around which the reigning national champion is built.
And that will be different.
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced the 12 finalists from the North American and Women’s committees to be considered for election in 2013.
Rebecca Lobo, who was on the intitial list on candidates, is not included among those still in consideration.
The list includes six first-time finalists: five-time NBA All-Star Tim Hardaway, three-time National Coach of the Year Sylvia Hatchell, two-time NBA Championship coach Tom Heinsohn, nine-time NBA All-Star Gary Payton, five-time WNBA All-Star Dawn Staley and six-time NBA All-Star Mitch Richmond.
Previous finalists included again for consideration: NBA All-Star Maurice Cheeks, four-time NBA All-Star Spencer Haywood, four-time NBA All-Star Bernard King, five-time NCAA Final Four coach Guy Lewis, six-time NCAA Final Four coach Rick Pitino and four-time NCAA Final Four coach Jerry Tarkanian.
The Class of 2013 will be unveiled at the NCAA Final Four in April.
The day before Brittney Griner led Baylor to an undefeated NCAA Division I women’s basketball championship last April, Lady Bears coach Kim Mulkey, never at a loss for words, took a deep breath during her pregame press briefing.
What followed was a most stirring soliloquy about how complex, how impossibly difficult it is to look different, to sound different, to seem different but know you don’t feel that you are.
“Social media is the worst thing that’s happened … This [Griner] is someone’s child. This is a human being, people,” Mulkey said.
“She didn’t wake up and say: ‘God, make me look like this; make me be 6’8.” This child is as precious [a person] as they come, when it comes to being a good person, a sweet kid and coachable. She probably the greatest player I have ever coached and likely the easiest to coach.
“I love going to work and seeing Brittney Griner’s face. She just makes me happy.”
What hasn’t made Mulkey happy is what she’s heard and read about Griner; the assumptions and cruel jokes, the scandalous accusations; some ridiculous, most just blatantly mean-spirited about her.
“The stuff she’s had to read about, the stuff she’s had to hear, the stuff people say about her, the stuff people write about her, it’s gotta stop,” Mulkey begged. “That stuff’s gotta stop.”
Rebecca Lobo is one of the dozen women’s basketball nominees for induction to the Class of 2013 in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell, Muffet McGraw and Kim Mulkey are also on the list. The finalists will be announced Feb. 15.
Lobo is already in Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010, which will induct her former UConn teammate, Jen Rizzotti in June.
Also nominated are Leta Andrews, Jennifer Azzi, Laurie Byrd (First-Time Nominee), Kathy Delaney-Smith, Harley Redin, Theresa Shank, Dawn Staley and Theresa Weatherspoon