The frigid December Saturday morning in Storrs denied what was to follow inside Gampel Pavilion. The UConn women’s basketball team, having minted three consecutive NCAA Championships, prepared to travel to Columbus to face the top ten Lady Buckeyes. My fellow coach Ralph LaBella and I got a chance to witness their process along with a few other coaches and some season-ticket holders.
Many of the players arrived early for stretching and some warmup shooting. Coach Geno Auriemma arrived almost exactly at noon and the ten players (including two walk-ons who received scholarships) took two laps. Nobody cut a corner. Championship effort begins with executing the fine details.
UConn Women beat Miss St. 98-38 in NCAA tourney. Hate to punish them for being great, but they are killing women's game. Watch? No thanks
— Dan Shaughnessy (@Dan_Shaughnessy) March 26, 2016
Coach Auriemma and his staff put the team through two and a half intense hours of excellence development. They worked heavily on concepts, including transition, small-sided play, cutting and screening, shooting, and offense-defense-offense scrimmaging, often against a team of seven men (who could win the Women’s Championship). The men mimicked what UConn anticipated OSU would do the following week, only better.
The coaches tracked everything. When the players divided to shoot free throws, Coach Auriemma asked, “How many?” “Ninety-two percent” came the answer from the manager tracking results.
Afterward, Coach Auriemma fielded questions from the small group in attendance. “Are you going easy on them because we’re here?” He mentioned that former players thought he was always going easy on the recent UCONN teams. The tempo, timing, and precision certainly didn’t look easy from the stands.
Society has sent women messages for a long time “you’re not good enough”, “you don’t matter”, and “don’t try to be like men.” Sports, especially championship competition, promotes excellence. So when a J.G. Taylor Spink Hall-of-Fame selectee goes rogue on excellence, he delivers a mixed, misogynistic message. You don’t matter; your game doesn’t matter. You’re not worth my time.
I’ve never read this writer saying that Red Auerbach, Bill Russell, and the Celtics ruined “The Association”, that Stephen Curry diminished the NBA, or that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady hurt the National Football League. In fact, as recently as January, he wrote, “The New England Patriots, once the joke of the NFL, are now the gold standard of excellence; the best franchise in America’s most popular sport.”
Unfailingly, sports celebrates winners and excellence. And the UConn women leverage talent, relentless work, and superior coaching into championships. That’s worth watching, whether it’s a cold December at noon or at the Final Four. For a Hall-of-Fame journalist to suggest otherwise fractures his reputation, not theirs.