USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and women’s national team director Carol Callan knew that after leading the 2012 United States Women’s Olympic Basketball Team to the gold medal in London, Geno Auriemma had said he would not return as the team’s head coach for 2016. Each time he was asked by reporters about a return, Auriemma said the same thing: “I did it, and now it’s time for someone else to take a turn.”
But in remaking USA Basketball following the men’s national team loss in the 2004 Athens Olympics, Colangelo began to insist on greater continuity throughout the program, including the women’s teams. He managed to convince Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski to return for a second tour as men’s coach for 2012, and Colangelo wanted Auriemma back.
“The women’s dominance in basketball has been unbelievable. There’s a little bit of pressure in trying to maintain that dominance,” Colangelo said, during a news conference Friday at Gampel Pavilion to announce Auriemma’s return as head coach for the U.S. Women’s National Team. “You need the kind of a personality who’s ready for that kind of a fight. I think Geno represents that. Since I took over USA Basketball in 2005, continuity was an important thing to me and changing the culture was an important thing to do. We were able to accomplish that.”
Auriemma has been involved with USA Basketball since 1993, when he served as head coach for the U.S. Olympic Festival West Team. He subsequently served as head coach for several other Select and Junior teams, and was an assistant coach on the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team that won the gold medal under Nell Fortner of the WNBA’s Indiana Fever. The 2012 London team led by Auriemma included former Huskies Sue Bird ’02 (CLAS) of the Seattle Storm, Swin Cash ’02 (CLAS) of the Chicago Sky, Tina Charles ’10 (CLAS) of the Connecticut Sun, Asjha Jones ’02 (BUS) of the Connecticut Sun, Maya Moore ’11 (CLAS) of the Minnesota Lynx, and Diana Taurasi ’05 (CLAS) of the Phoenix Mercury. All of these former UConn student-athletes have also had a long history with USA Basketball.
Auriemma said he knew USA Basketball had never asked a women’s head coach to return for another tour to lead the national team, and he did not want to presume that he would be asked to return. In the meantime, he said “U.S. leaders” – whom he declined to name – were asking if he would return as coach. Then in July, as the 2013 NCAA Champions were about to meet with President Barack Obama at the White House, Auriemma’s telephone rang.
“The phone rings and it’s Carol and [USA Basketball executive director and CEO] Jim Tooley saying, ‘We’re calling to ask you be the Olympics coach and this is why,’” Auriemma said. “I’m thinking, this can’t be an accident. This was planned when you’re in Washington and you’re being asked to represent your country again.”
Auriemma said he would think about the offer, checking with his family to determine whether they thought it was the right thing to do. They said yes.
“Now it’s my job to ask all those players who won the gold medal in London to come along for this ride and help win a gold medal again,” he said.
Callan said USA Basketball would begin training for the national team soon, noting the challenge of having the nation’s top women’s players still finishing the WNBA season, with most having commitments later to play overseas.
Auriemma said USA Basketball had already started to contact members of the 2012 Olympic Team to see who would be interested in playing for him again.
“So far the only ones who’ve been on the fence are the six who played for me at Connecticut,” he said, breaking up the room with laughter.
Alumni, friends, and fans are invited to an evening with Coach Geno Auriemma on Oct. 10, hosted by the UConn Alumni Association Southeast and New Haven Chapters. For more information, go to the Alumni Association website.