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, November 08, 2013

UConn Coach Geno Auriemma Gets Inducted Into Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame

Guru Note: Here is the program bio piece your Guru wrote on Auriemma. Later will transcribe his acceptance remarks which were made via video recording.

By Mel Greenberg

Growing up in suburban Norristown in his formative years after arriving from his native Italy and playing high school ball at Bishop Kenrick, few could envision that Geno Auriemma would later take a job in charge of the University of Connecticut women and become one of the great basketball coaches of all time.

But that is where the Huskies mentor is in life as he adds a special hometown touch tonight to his vast collection of Hall of Fame honors, especially alongside those from Naismith in Springfield, Mass., and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn.

Unlike many hall of fame inductees whose enshrinement marks the final chapter in a career well done, Auriemma, with star-studded rosters, both nationally and internationally, still has the potential to reach mountaintops that none previously have achieved in his sport, let alone the overall basketball universe.

For example, as Auriemma launches his 29th season with the defending NCAA women’s champions this Saturday afternoon, his Huskies are favorites to win it all again and if they do, he will break a tie with the legendary former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt and add a ninth title to the UConn trophy case.

Only the late great UCLA men’s coach John Wooden has claimed more with 10, though Auriemma could easily top the Wizard of Westwood not too distant in the future.

On the heels of leading the United States to another Olympic gold medal at the London Games last year with six of his former players on the 12-member squad, Auriemma recently accepted USA Basketball’s offer to become the first coach on the women’s side to go for more gold at the 2016 Games in Brazil and join Duke’s men’s coach Mike Krzyzewski as multiple winners with the American contingent.

Though the 1981 graduate of West Chester has achieved greatness outside the region, he remains a Philly guy through and through and even some of his highlights are associated with his hometown.

For example, UConn’s first NCAA regional title occurred in 1991 at The Palestra, sending Auriemma’s team to the first of 14 Women’s Final Four appearances through 2013, including twice posting five consecutive trips, a record the first time in 2004, while the second extended to a record sixth straight last season.

He has had four teams go unbeaten, one at 35-0 in 1995, and three others at 39-0 in 2002, 2009, and 2010.

In 2000, Auriemma’s bunch began taking off to greater heights in winning the NCAA Women’s Final Four over Tennessee at the then-named Wachovia Center in South Philadelphia for the Huskies’ second crown.

In the conference wars of the old Big East, which UConn dominated, visits to Villanova always brought out the locals, especially several years ago when the Wildcats were on the Huskies’ victims list of what became a combined NCAA men’s and women’s record of 90 straight victories. The mark eclipsed the 88 straight previously owned by Wooden’s UCLA Bruins.

Auriemma’s personality and wry wit has helped attract one of the largest local media followings in the sport as they have chronicled such instant quips from him as “Do you know how difficult it is for me to be me?”

And there have always been Philly-influenced comments like the time at a postgame press conference he looked at the box score after a win and criticized one of his substitute players, saying, “Today she was the Ballantine (Ale) girl: Three rings - No points, no assists and no rebounds.”

Auriemma, a close friend of Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli, first became involved in the women’s game when his friend Jim Foster made him an assistant at Bishop McDevitt and later he was Foster’s first assistant with the women’s team on Hawk Hill at St. Joe’s.

Past recruits of Auriemma with Philly backgrounds include recent graduates Caroline Doty (Germantown Academy) and Meghan Gardler, whose father Buddy was Auriemma’s high school coach at Bishop Kenrick before Gardler coached at Cardinal O’Hara.

Meghan Pattyson Culmo (Central Bucks East) was on his first Final Four team in 1991.

Besides against Foster (now at Tenn.-Chattanooga) in games with Vanderbilt and Ohio State, Auriemma has been on opposing benches against such coaches with local ties in the women’s game as Pat Knapp (Georgetown, Penn), Harry Perretta (Villanova), C. Vivian Stringer (Rutgers), John Miller (La Salle), and Kelly Greenberg (Penn, Boston U.).

This season in the new American Athletic Conference, an outgrowth of the Big East schism, Auriemma will go against two former longtime aides in Temple’s Tonya Cardoza and Cincinnati’s Jamelle Elliott. His season and home opener Saturday will be against Hartford’s Jen Rizzotti, a recent Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee.

Rizzotti is one of 16 first-team All-Americans produced under Auriemma and among seven national players of the year that include such WNBA stars as Maya Moore, Swin Cash, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, and Tina Charles along with ESPN women’s analyst Rebecca Lobo.

Auriemma, a seven-time recipient as national coach of the year, has also produced 12 Olympians.

He worked in the Catholic League with Martelli and then became a women’s assistant at Virginia under Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer Debbie Ryan before his hire at UConn in 1985-86 when his first team went 12-15 the only losing record before a current winning run that has included 18 of the past 20 seasons with 30 or more triumphs.

All told, Auriemma’s record to date is 839-133 with a winning percentage of .863 that is tops among Division I women’s coaches. He is one of six coaches who have posted 800 or more wins and Auriemma got there the fastest. Down the road he could join Summitt as the second women’s coach to reach 1,000 wins.

Auriemma’s son Michael played a season for Martelli at Saint Joseph’s and he has two other daughters, Alyssa and Jenna along with his two grandsons, Christian and Andrew. His wife Kathy is from Cheltenham.

He has also become an entrepreneur of sorts, owning Geno’s Fast Break pub and food court at the Mohegan Sun casino near New London, Conn., besides another establishment, Geno’s Grille, in Storrs near the Connecticut campus.

Auriemma has recently given his name to a brand of wines and one would expect each crop production will be like his annual recruiting classes – vintage.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


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