Women’s Basketball Success a Team Effort Off-Court, Too

The team has been celebrated for both its athletic and academic prowess everywhere from national media accounts to the nation's White House.

Lucy Gilson, professor of management and a faculty advisor to some of the women's basketball players. (Photo courtesy of Lucy Gilson)

Lucy Gilson, head of the management department and faculty advisor to several of the women's basketball players, says 'If we each do our jobs well, we perform well as a team.' (Photo courtesy of Lucy Gilson)

During the early days of March Madness, which now seem like the distant past, Lucy Gilson was scheduled to meet with a business major who had wedged the half-hour appointment to discuss her independent study into a hectic schedule.

Just as the meeting began, the fire alarm sounded in the School of Business. Remaining in Gilson’s office was not an option. The six-foot-tall Gilson and her equally tall student, notebook in hand, strode out of the building to continue the conversation.

“When you’re a six-foot-tall woman, you stand out,” said Gilson, who is head of the management department in the School of Business. “But when you are two six-foot-tall women, you stand out more. And she is also highly visible because of who she is.”

“She” is a member of UConn’s Women’s Basketball Team, which broke all sorts of records in the Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis last night. And Gilson was there, sitting behind the bench as the faculty advisor of the Geno Auriemma UConn Leadership Conference and the faculty advisor to several of the players.

Gilson’s various roles dovetail nicely with her area of academic expertise. She researches team effectiveness and teaches about leadership – and is particularly passionate about women’s leadership.

Gilson was courtside not just last night but at many, many games this season. “I’m there working … watching Geno lead, watching my students perform,” she said. “We are all doing our jobs.

“If we each do our jobs well,” she added, “we perform well as a team.”

Do a search for news about UConn women’s basketball, and you’ll find that the team’s effectiveness and Auriemma’s leadership are a consistent theme.

That should come as no surprise, given the fact that the UConn women’s team – and Auriemma – last night clinched their 11th national championship, the most of any college basketball program in history. In doing so, Auriemma surpassed John Wooden, the legendary men’s basketball coach at UCLA, who won 10 national titles.

Women’s leadership? Just look to senior Breanna Stewart, who has been honored as the Final Four Most Outstanding Player four times, something that’s never been done before in NCAA basketball history. What’s more, the team has won every game this season by double digits.

If we each do our jobs well, we perform well as a team. — Lucy Gilson

But it’s not just their prowess on the court that attracts attention. One CNN story leading to the championship game noted the “5 Reasons why UConn’s Women’s Hoops Dominance is Incredible.” Among them are the records listed here. But included on the list is also a non-athletic kudos: “The Huskies Score in the Classroom, Too.”

The women’s basketball team GPA is consistently above 3.0, noted the reporter, who went on to mention the graduation rate: 100 percent. That achievement was also noted by President Barack Obama, who has met with the championship team so many times that he quipped if they came back to the White House a fourth time during his presidency, they’d need to name the White House basketball court for the team.

Gilson – a former college athlete herself – is well aware of all the pressures the players are under both academically and athletically, as well as being highly visible in the media, where their every move is scrutinized and their performance fodder for comments. As a faculty member working closely with some of the players, she tries to mentor them and prepare them for life off the court.

When player Morgan Tuck was asked earlier this year about how she balances the demands of sport as well as a full class load, she replied, “It’s with the help of our advisor, our team, and having study hall on the road. These resources make it so we’re not just focusing on basketball. Our coach also sets very high standards for how we do in school, and if we don’t do well we might not be able to play, so it’s a big incentive for doing well in school.”

Because of the many ways Gilson interacts with the coaches and team, she can be forgiven for forgetting which hat she is wearing at any given moment.

When scheduling an appointment with her student player in regard to the independent study, Gilson questioned the early morning time.

“I don’t know if I can meet with you at that time, because it’s a late game tonight,” she joked, knowing full well that her student would be up late that night, too.