Since 1995, Geno Auriemma has grasped the hand of three sitting presidents of the United States. That’s the kind of access freshmen congressmen likely wish they had with their boss.
Yes, winning eight national titles has turned the White House into a summer timeshare for the UConn women’s basketball program. Some years they visit, some years they don’t, just like most American families.
But what’s clear is the winning culture that’s evolved since Auriemma began coaching at UConn in 1985 has made these trips both comfortable and familiar. When the names Auriemma and Wooden are used in the same sentence, and they are so frequently these days, you have a feeling there will always be an open invitation to visit.
Led by precocious freshman Breanna Stewart, UConn won its eighth national championship in New Orleans in April.
Just back from Lithuania with UConn teammates Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck, Stewart helped lead the U.S. to a U19 world championship last weekend. Stewart arrived in Washington on Tuesday, her nails freshly lacquered, her anticipation peaked as she walked along K Street.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Stewart said.
The ultimate reward for the national championship will be paid later Wednesday when the program gathers in the East Room for a reception with President Barack Obama.
This will be the third time Obama has welcomed a UConn champion since 2009. Bill Clinton greeted the Huskies first two title teams in 1995 and 2000. George W. Bush welcomed three straight champions from 2002-04.
“And it was funny to see President Bush butcher Coach [Geno Auriemma’s] name every year as well,” said former UConn post Jessica Moore, now playing for the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.
Unlike some of their past visits, when the women literally shared the stage with UConn’s men’s team (2004) and the Syracuse men’s team (2003), they alone will have Obama’s attention.
“I remember meeting the other winter sports [basketball and hockey] teams that were honored at the White House with us,” Moore said. now playing for the WNBA’s Washington Mystics. “It was great getting to mingle with them. But it was really special when we went with the UConn men. “When we were there with the Syracuse men, Hillary Clinton [then a U.S. Senator from New York] was there to support them. I was so happy I got to take a picture with her and shake her hand.”