Geno Auriemma coaches his 1,000th game at UConn on Saturday 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.
Debbie Baer-Fiske was the junior point guard on Auriemma’s first Final Four team in 1991. And in her four-year career, she played in 125 games with 275 steals and 413 assists. These days, she an assistant athletic director at St. Joseph’s University and Bob Joyce’s broadcast partner on the UConn’s women’s IMG radio network.
“Although many fans see Geno as an intense and demanding coach, quick with sarcasm and wit, there is a side of him that can be “soft” and nurturing as well. When I was a freshman -.about 11 games in- we played at the Civic Center [now the XL Center] against Boston College. I was horrible. The harder I tried, the more I got in my own way–dribbled the ball off my foot, etc. A nightmare, to the point where I am thinking I STINK and he is never going to play me again.
“Following the game in the locker room, knowing I played the worst game, Coach comes over and puts his arm around me and said, ‘Don’t worry about tonight. I’m not. I know you are a good player and I know you are going to come to practice tomorrow, work hard and be right where we need you to be for the next game. You are going to be fine.'”
“And that was just what I needed, not what I expected, but just what I needed. That is Coach. He knows when to “give you some love” and when to give you a blast. I heard plenty of @#$%^& Debbie Baer in my four years. They bring a smile to my face now! But I also had plenty of “put an arm around you moments.” too.
“I am so thankful and appreciative of my four years as a player for coach.”