Among the coaches attending Wednesday night’s Jimmy V Dinner in New York was Duke’s Joanne P. McCallie. The Blue Devils play UConn at Cameron Indoor Arena on Dec. 17 on ESPN2 as part of the basketball package put together by ESPN to help raise awareness and raise funds for cancer research.
Now that Tennessee is gone, perhaps forever, and Notre Dame is no longer on the schedule or in UConn’s conference [at least for now, we assume] the Duke-UConn matchup remains perhaps the most compelling on the Huskies schedule for a variety of reasons.
On top of the list is that UConn has what Duke wants – eight national championships. And Duke and UConn now essentially recruit many of the same players, which has caused some natural friction between the coaching staffs.
I was thinking about that when McCallie and Geno Auriemma put their best smiles on when posing for photos together last night at the dinner.
Both programs win some and lose some in these recruiting battles. UConn won a very big one when they convinced Arizona guard Courtney Ekmark to verbally commit when she was a junior.
That one apparently stung Duke very badly and from what I understand some nasty things have been said back and forth since Ekmark’s announcement.
“It’s very competitive,” McCallie said Wednesday. “We have not done well with student-athletes that come from New York or Connecticut, for instance, like Bria Hartley and Stefanie Dolson. But you fight and you compete and you [as a program] always want to go after the best players.
“I can’t say we have cornered any market [in recruiting]. It’s been difficult. Connecticut has enjoyed a streak of success and we want kids that want to do something themselves, make their own history. It’s a different thing. We haven’t won a national championship. We haven’t been able to break through yet. We want kids that want to do that.
“Let’s put it this way, I will not be around the sport long enough to break any records or win 1,000 games. But we are having fun rolling the dice and I think we will play the hardest schedule in the country this season.”
Duke opens at California and goes to Oklahoma, Kentucky and Syracuse. It will play at the Paradise Jam. The Blue Devils now get to play Notre Dame twice, thanks to the Irish’s defection to the ACC. And Duke will also play tough ACC rivals like Maryland, North Carolina and Miami.
“It’s all meant to get us ready [for the Tournament],” she said.
And that’s all designed to help try to win the title that UConn now holds. Over the last four seasons, Duke has lost Elite Eight games to Baylor, Stanford, UConn and Notre Dame.
UConn has been to every Four Four since 2008 and has won three championships [2009, 2010 and 2013]. And since 2007, UConn has won six straight against Duke by a cumulative 176 points.
“We couldn’t overcome losing Chelsea Gray [the star guard] last year [to a dislocated knee] and it resulted in our elimination in the Elite 8 [to the Irish].
“But we’ve also played the best players in the country in the Elite 8. We played against Maya Moore and Brittney Griner and Nneka Ogumike. I am proud of my kids. And I know people at Duke are waiting, wondering when we are going to win a national championship. We will. It will come. But it’s a process.”