Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Friday, September 06, 2013

USA Basketball Says UConn's Auriemma the Rio deal to Return As Women's National Coach

(Guru's note: There is a sidebar under this post with some lighthearted comments on the event as well as some WNBA chatter.)

By Mel Greenberg

It is not much of a big surprise or even mild surprise over the news sputtering out Thursday in advance of Friday's press conference at the University of Connecticut announcing Huskies coach Geno Auriemma returning to the women's bridge of USA Basketball to guide the Americans on another run to glory next year at the FIBA World Championship in Turkey and then at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2016.

With the trend already set on the men's side with Duke's Coach K taking the helm a third time it is obvious that whoever holds power beyond the formal structure of a committee that Geno had to be the Rio deal in addition to talking Turkey next year despite his public reluctance for another run.

Otherwise it would not have taken this long for the next annoouncement though the timing right now fit into the Guru's guess considering the entire USA brass was going to be in the neighborhood for this weekend's Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductions in nearby Springfield, Mass.

Several persons who had been on the guessing list for USA women's coach if in fact Auriemma would not return all said Thursday that if there was really a committee believing that Auriemma was unttainable the interviewing process would have already included contacts with potential candidates.

Even a year ago when Auriemma hyped up his comments of no interest in the job the Guru never believed him for a moment and in private social comments the Guru sensed that there was a resignation that because there was no other absolute strong candidate in terms of the ever-changing qualifications in the end he would have to answer the call to duty.

And sensing that fate, he hypothetically said if he had to take the job ... mentioning several wants that won't be stated here because the discussion was not a formal interview on the topic but just talk among Philly guys who go way back in time.

With Auriemma now being in position besides being the first repeat women's coach which gives him the prospect of the first women's coach to win double gold, he also may end up increasing the number of his former college players who he will have coached internationnally.

For now, in this blog to go down memory lane here are excerpts from a posting a year ago right after the USA gold-medal triumph in London in which the Guru forecasted Auriemma already would be the prohibitive choice to return again.

From mid-August, 2012 ...

In the last several days the Guru has had some informal off-the-record chats with veterans over the years who have been around the block in USA Basketball circles serving on selection committees or involved in other duties.

But before continuing in this dialogue, note that this is occuring just as if the scene existing now gets superimposed to when decisions have to start being made anew.

Unfortunately, that can't be the reality because a four-year cycle is a long time in terms of the coaching and player ranks in USA Basketball.
Jobs change. The structures in place to run the process change. Players' fortunes change. Veterans suffer injuries or get slowed as they become more veterans and phenoms come along to replace them.

There are also unforeseen circumstances and events that suddenly become the top of the moment in the 24-hour news cycle.

Which is important to understand because while he quickly put aside all discussion in London for the moment about coming back again, the conensus in Guru circles is that if he wants to do it, Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma should return and take another shot the same way USABasketball on the men's side quickly reached out a second time to Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

The rules were changed after 2008 but in hindsight the pick of Auriemma turned out to be correct, not necessarily as an anti-Staley action but more as a pro-Auriemma move.

One reason people have noted is the dynamic in which because of the WNBA schedule and pro player commitments overseas there is little time to bring everyone together for tours, practice, and final preparations for the Olympics.

The 12-player group for the final push reunited in Washington on July 14, just one day after the WNBA entered a one-month hiatus, and had two sessions over the weekend and then an exhibition game against Brazil before heading for the mother country.

Given the sure-to-happen strong influx of former UConn players destined to make the squad, six became half the roster, the addition of Auriemma assured a big chunk of chemistry to get the machine operating smoothly.

In 2016, though a few former Huskies may not return, a few could replace them, but even so, there seems to be seven or eight spots already likely to be filled and all will have now played for Auriemma without regard to Huskies DNA.

Furthermore, Auriemma might be the one coach among the higher profile schools in the country who rule women's basketball, whose collegiate program could avoid hiccups while tending to two separate entities.

"You'd think he'd want to do it if they come back to him," said one person in recent days who has been close to the WNBA and USA Basketball scene.

"He'd be the first on the women's side to do it twice and there's the prestige of guiding two gold medal Olympic champions as Coach 'K' has just done with the men."

The USABasketball crowd does not have to make the choice anytime real soon because winning the Olympic tournament carries the perk of an automatic berth to the 2014 FIBA World Championship at a country to be named.

(Note: The name on the women's side is not being changed to World Cup as it is for the men and the event is held in a different nation.)

So there also exists the possibility of a fail-safe: Let Auriemma come back in 2014 and then let everyone decide. If a return to guide the Olympians in Rio is not in his cards, then simply make sure the heir apparent is already on the 2014 staff to take over.

In conclusion make Auriemma option one and let's move on to the rest of the story ...
(which is now moot since option one has been sealed.).

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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