UCONN WOMEN—HUSKIES ARE A CHAMPIONSHIP BREED; WIN OR LOSE

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I have come to praise UCONN not bury them.

Sports teaches life skills and one of those realities is that “you can’t win them all.” Well, the UCONN Women came damn close to doing that yet again this season!

The UCONN women lost a heartbreaking overtime game in the national semi-final. If they played that same team 10 times, my belief is they would win nine of the ten…MSU got UCONN on that 10th and most unfortunate time….please do not think I am trying to distract from what Mississippi State did, they played well and deserved to win the game.

What has been accomplished in Storrs is one of the all-time great sports stories and in my opinion, and that is all this is, Geno Auriemma has to be considered on par with John Wooden, Adolph Rupp, Roy Williams and anyone else who compares. The fact that he did it with women is not the story, he didn’t have to teach them to be great athletes; they were already there.

I would be lying to you if I said I followed the UCONN women’s basketball team religiously over the years. Of course I am aware of their exploits and was as amazed as anyone. Having worked in college athletics I was fortunate to watch some really good women’s basketball players (individuals) from many different colleges, but nothing close to what UCONN has produced over the years, individual talents and teams.

But, what I started to do was pay attention to what Geno’s message was…his (and his staff’s) methodology. Watching the HBO Special UCONN March to Madness certainly helped, but I got a first-hand account into what the program was about when I attended the Fairfield County Sports Commission dinner last October where former Husky Rita Williams was inducted into its Hall of Fame. Williams was effusive in her praise of UCONN Associate Head Coach, Chris Dailey (“CD” ) who took time to come down for the event and surprise Rita. She spoke about  how CD always made sure the players presented themselves in a first class manner on and off the court, for example when all players from other teams would come to certain events wearing sweats, CD would insist that they get dressed appropriately in an effort to consistently “present” themselves as professionals. These “players” were being taught the right skills, as fine young women on and off the court and post UCONN!

I formed a new admiration and respect for the program, its coaches and players. I dropped CD a congratulatory email note (we have never met despite my many years in college athletics). Chris Dailey could’ve put my email in the tomb of the unknown fan folder, but being a class act she sent a nice note back thanking me and sharing some personal thoughts; big deal? No. But not everybody does it!

Class.

Sometimes class, professionalism and sportsmanship trump winning. The reason I disdain many college and pro teams and coaches are that they have the opposite philosophy. It is not just about winning and losing. Having spent many years in College athletics and being a part of people’s lives, even in a small way, seeing former student athletes go on to do things like teaching, school principals, and as business leaders is very rewarding. I can’t imagine the feeling that some coaches have and in this case the UCONN contingent feel when they look at their former players and the success stories they have become.

UCONN (women’s basketball) had made me a fan for life. Of course, those who know me and the teams I root for will probably connect the dots and realize the fact that I started rooting for UCONN was the reason for its demise!

A BASKETBALL PURISTS POINT OF VIEW

The truth is the purist form of basketball being played today is the women’s game! Over the years, I have gotten less enamored with the NBA, not so coincidentally with the league focusing on the youthful (millennial) market with less of a “team” game and more of a “show.” I don’t watch it at all. I am convinced a good percentage of players in that league would be more interested in seeing their highlight dunk or shot on the so called “worldwide leader in sports” than if their team won a game—that might be a tad harsh, but I didn’t start writing this to take shots at the NBA.

I continue to be college basketball fan, but more and more would find myself turning to the women’s game if I wanted to see the game played right. This, to me is the purest form of basketball as playing “above the rim” is really not an option.  Pure and simple the women play the game the right way, the way it was intended to be played. The women are less inclined to be mugging for the camera and they are more instinctive in terms of their basketball abilities closer to the basket. They play defense, they play hard, and they care.

It is an amazing achievement what Geno and the UCONN women have accomplished and that is a vast and gross understatement. Whether you like Geno or not, you have to admit that this man has gotten this team to play basketball the right way, and in fact this program is stellar in so many ways that it should be the example for any athletic program in any sport across the country.

If you were to tell me years ago that I would write something like this, I would’ve said you were nuts, which may be true. But let’s give credit where credit is due—to a world class coach, his staff and his program.

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