By the time halftime arrived Tuesday night, No. 1 UConn had assembled a 30-point lead on SMU, one which would double by the end of a 61-point win.
Frankly, what was there to talk about?
But that’s not the reason everyone didn’t run immediately to the locker room, as usual. The Huskies stayed on the floor to participate in a ceremony Geno Auriemma believes holds as much significance as any other run by the athletic department.
The entirety of UConn’s student-athletes were honored for making the athletic director’s honor roll for achieving at least a 3.0 GPA either last spring or this fall.
Among the approximately 300 representing UConn’s varsity sports were seven of Auriemma’s 11 players – Stefanie Dolson, Breanna Stewart, Bria Hartley, Tierney Lawlor, Briana Pulido, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Kiah Stokes.
“It is undervalued and underappreciated how hard out players work — late nights flying home, late nights in hotel rooms, how hard they have to study and how much time they have to make up,” Auriemma said after UConn wrapped up its 30th straight win. “It’s a credit to them and their upbringing that they value doing really well in school and getting great grades as much as they do winning basketball games.”
Auriemma naturally takes great pride in the academic accomplishments of his players. Wendy Davis, Rebecca Lobo, Jen Rizzotti and Maya Moore were all Big East Scholar-Athlete of the Year during their careers, even more impressive since Lobo, Rizzotti and Moore were also the Associated Press National Player of the Year at the same time.
When he’s out recruiting against academic powerhouses like Stanford, Duke and Notre Dame, he often fields questions from parents and players about UConn’s ability to hold serve in the classroom.
So watching more than half his team honored for their school work filled him with pride.
“I think they’re just an indication of most of our student body or most of our student-athletes anyway,” Auriemma said. “That speaks to the character of the players that we recruit as an athletic department, the coaches that we have, and what we stress.”
The players seemed to enjoy being recognized as much as their coach did.
“It’s extremely difficult,” said Dolson, who qualified for her work last spring. “I think people underestimate it. The schedule is so hard. We’ll come home, get off the plane at 1 or 2 in the morning and then go to class at 8 or 9 in the morning. Our coaches and advisors do such a great job carving out time for us to make sure that we’re getting work done … We’re striving to get to 3.0, even though it’s tough sometimes.”
Hartley and Mosqueda-Lewis both made it for the first time in their careers.
“I was really excited,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “I have been working really hard, trying to find a major, trying to do well in school and in basketball. It is great to finally be out there with a 3.0.”
Mosqueda-Lewis, a junior, tries to keep herself on schedule so she has the time in every day to do what’s required.
“I have to write everything down and schedule everything so I know I am here to do this and for me it helps to do a lot every day,” Mosqueda-Lewis said.
Hartley, a senior, hopes the honor helps dispel a major misconception some people have about athletes and academics.
“Just look at our schedules. I think a lot of people just don’t understand,” she said. “They think [athletes] always get away with things [academically]. But it’s so hard to balance things at times as a Divison I athlete. But the fact we have some many players on our team out there is awesome.”
Auriemma said he is proud of Hartley’s resilience.
“Sometimes when kids struggle at times, they dwell on it and it gets worse. They pout, feel sorry for themselves,” Auriemma said. “She is competitor on the court and a competitor in class.”
Auriemma wants the numbers of academic stars to grow. He said the coaching staff has stressed again the importance of excelling in the classroom to the other four players still striving to make the cut.
“I know there are people disappointed they didn’t get it [the honor],” Auriemma said. “They’ve heard about it. But the ones who did get it deserve it. They are hard-working kids. They should get it. These are the type of kids we recruit.
“They should [excel in the classroom]. We give them everything they need to be successful. They have all the tutors, all the help they want. If they don’t get it, it means they aren’t working hard enough. Our approach is, you should [achieve].
“I don’t want them to think those who are honored are special …Those who don’t get it are the ones who should think something is wrong. That is how we treat it.”