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.
Kerry Bascom, from a tiny town in New Hampshire, was Geno Auriemma’s first superstar, his first prolific scorer (2,177) who averaged over 20 points in each of her final three varsity seasons and was largely responsible for UConn’s first trip to the Final Four in 1991 – her senior year. Even after all these years, the three-time Big East Player of the Year is still fourth all-time in scoring.
“As a member of Geno’s second recruiting class, he came to meet with me and my parents during a home visit and was the only coach that told me I would have to work for everything I got and that nothing would be handed to me,” Bascom-Poliquin said. “He told me he wanted to build something special and he wanted me to be a part of it. He said all this even though UConn had yet to have a winning season. Who knew then that he would build UConn women’s basketball into what it is today?
“When I decided to go to UConn for an “official” visit they never showed me the field house or the locker room because they were shared areas. The field house court had a curtain that wrapped around it so that during practice the baseball team could have batting practice and the track and field team could run around the track. The locker room was given to the team that was in season and only had five stools for the entire team and generic metal lockers.
“During my freshmen year, my father stood outside the fieldhouse with athletic department staff handing out sandwiches at the games to get students to come in, and that the students that were in Coach Dailey’s physical education class checked in with her during the game on the bench to get extra credit for her class.
“Returning for my sophomore season, we had two returning juniors (which included Kris Lamb) along with myself and my classmate Laura Lishness. We had six freshmen that year (Megan Pattyson, Wendy Davis, Debbie Baer, Shannon Saunders, Stacey Wetzel, and Pam Rothfuss). We won UConn’s first Big East Championship that year. What few people remember though, is that Chris Dailey coached us to that victory (as due to a scheduling conflict Geno was banned from even being in the gymnasium at Seton Hall University for the game). That was also our first time in the NCAA tournament.
“My junior season we moved into Gampel Pavilion and we received a lot of our fans that year who came just to get a good look at the inside of the dome. We were so excited the first time we filled the entire lower section of Gampel.
“Then came my senior season. Geno walked into the locker room at the beginning of the year and told us that we were going to the Final Four and that the only people that would truly believe it were the ones in the room. We all believed it could happen (even though we thought he was crazy at the time) but guess what, we went to the program’s first Final Four in New Orleans that year.
“Throughout my four years at UConn if I had a nickel for everytime that I heard Geno say to me “you are the worst player in America” I think that I would have as much money as him right now. Through the years though, it is funny when sharing stories with others players how many players he actually said that to.
“However, for all the stories that can be told in the early years, one thing remains consistent – the coaches. Everything that Geno wanted to build came true through hard work and determination. Yes, he is demanding; yes, he wants things done his way, and yes he is a perfectionist. He wants from you everything that you have to give and nothing less.
“The thing that defines him the most though is how much he cares about his players not just on the court but off. During my junior year, my mother passed away from Multiple Sclerosis.The night of my mother’s wake, I remember looking up and seeing Geno walk in with the entire coaching staff and team. They all got on the bus, drove 2 1/2 hours from UConn to my home town, Epping, N.H., to support me through one of the toughest moments of my life.
“Geno sat with me for quite a while that night and he told me that he would always be there for me and that my UConn family would be waiting when I returned to school. I can’t say enough about Geno but one thing that he has always said still holds true…..“Once a Husky, Always a Husky”.