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.
Mel Thomas was one of the greatest three-point shooters in UConn history, an incredibly hard-nosed player who fit perfectly into Geno Auriemma’s plans during her career (2004-08). There was no more heartbreaking end of a career than the one she experienced at Syracuse in January of her senior year when she injured her knee. That kept her from playing in what would have been her first and only Final Four.
“It is hard to put into words how thankful I am for how much Coach has influenced my life. My journey at UConn definitely started with some tough love. I remember the ups and downs of my freshman year and all the incredibly sweet things he said to me, “I used to have Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi and now I have YOU!”, “You are the worst player I’ve ever coached”, and “You can’t guard a chair”. However, no matter how tough he was, I knew how much he cared about me as a person,” Thomas said. “I’ll never forget the times he was there for me to offer support and believe in me, even after I graduated. He has always been there and I know he always will be in the future.
“Coach has achieved so much in his career but none of his accomplishments have ever been about him. He brings out the best in his players and makes us not only better on the court, but more importantly, better people. It’s much more than just basketball at UConn – the importance of relationships, believing in one another, and being part of something that is bigger than yourself. He has created something so special that everyone who has played always comes back. This is a testament to the type of person Coach is and the family he has created at UConn. I am so grateful for my experience and that I continue to be a part of it.”