Geno Auriemma has what he has long desired.
He has his Olympic team all to himself, exclusivity to its time and talent. He finally has the chance to mold 12 astonishing players into one historic team, carve another indelible niche into the game’s lore.
And to be honest about it, he’s a little apprehensive about the whole thing.
“This is like UConn on steroids,” said Auriemma.
The reasons are clear. The Americans are expected to win. And they are expected to roll.
“I didn’t feel [the pressure] as much at the World Championship [in 2010], even though it was incredibly hard to win,” said Auriemma. “It doesn’t have the same feeling. You don’t get the same vibes from it.
“But at the Olympics, you are surrounded by the best athletes in the world, at every position. A coach is simply selected; the players earn their way in by reaching the finish line faster, landing a vault a little better. It’s kind of overwhelming. You want to feel worthy of it.
“Winning for USA is expected. We’ve won four gold medals in a row. We might be the most dominant team in the Olympics since the Red Army [Russia] teams. We are supposed to win and we are supposed to win by a lot. It’s a lot for the players to carry around. There are no parades if you win the silver medal.”
Monday, the USA plays Brazil at the Verizon Center (5:30 p.m., ESPN2). This will be the final domestic exhibition game for the Americans before they leave for Great Britain to begin the final phase of preparation for medal play with a series of addition exhibitions.
And when it is over, one way or another, Auriemma rest, reflect and then resume his life as UConn’s Hall of Fame coach, fully aware he is not allowed to run for a second term.
“Right now, I don’t know if I can finish the first term without having a breakdown,” said Auriemma. “I’ll do the best I can and whatever happens from here happens.”
The USA will complete its second day of practice Sunday at American University. It is expected that all 12 players will work, including Asjha Jones, the Connecticut Sun forward, who missed Saturday’s practice with a sore left foot and ankle.
Jones is one of six former UConn players on the team, and one of three – along with Sue Bird and Swin Cash – from the Huskies freshman class of 1998.
“Seeing those girls out there playing for him is going to bring so much joy to his him,” said Tamika Williams-Raymond, who along with Keirsten Walters comprised that five-player freshmen class that helped UConn to two national championships.
With Diana Taurasi almost recovered from the leg and hip injuries that have limited her to just two games and 36 minutes for the Phoenix Mercury this season, Auriemma will have many options to chose from with one major exception.
He can’t lose.
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