HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Geno Auriemma allowed himself to feel a little nostalgic after becoming just the third coach in Division I basketball history to reach 1,200 wins.
With UConn’s 67-34 victory over Seton Hall on Wednesday, Auriemma joined former Duke men’s coach Mike Krzyzewski (1,202 wins) and Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer (1,206) as the only ones to reach that milestone.
After opening a piñata with his team and being showered with confetti and balloons in the locker room, Auriemma’s thoughts returned to a 1987 doubleheader in Hartford with the UConn men’s team, when about 50 people arrived early to watch the women beat Central Connecticut. .
On Wednesday night, there were more than 14,000 fans in the same building, including thousands of girls, dozens of whom were waiting by the tunnel for a photo or an autograph with one of their heroes.
“We created a subculture that didn’t exist,” Auriemma said. “I was not there. And through a lot of hard work and a lot of people putting a lot of effort into it, a culture was born out of nothing.”
Although he remains third on the wins list, Auriemma’s achievement is unprecedented in several ways.
He reached 1,200 wins faster than anyone, reaching the mark in his 39th season. Krzyzewski coached for 47 years and VanDerveer is in her 45th season as head coach.
And unlike Krzyzewski, who also coached in the Army, and VanDerveer, who was at Idaho and Ohio State before Stanford, Auriemma has done it all at one school.
He turned UConn from a program that had only one winning season before arriving in 1985 to a perennial title contender. In addition to the 11 titles, the Huskies have also been to 22 Final Fours and recorded six perfect seasons. His teams have not won fewer than 25 games in a season since 1992-93.
“What stands out to me is the totality of what he has built at Storrs,” said Rebecca Lobo, who led UConn to its first title in 1995 and now serves as an ESPN analyst. “The national championships, the league championships, the consecutive winning streaks, the teams that seem to be annually inducted into the Huskies of Honor, the surefire Hall of Fame players. Twelve hundred is amazing on its own, but when you look at it intertwined with everything else, it’s mind-blowing.”
And DePaul coach Doug Bruno, a longtime friend and assistant coach on the 2012 and 2016 Olympic teams, said Auriemma’s impact goes far beyond the numbers because he has expanded the sport’s audience.
“I will argue with anyone in any bar in any city in the world and in the United States of America about which college program has done the most (for the game),” he said. “And it’s UConn.”
Women’s soccer began to grow, Auriemma said, when parents began to see their daughters watching players like Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore and began to understand the power of women’s sports to create role models.
Current star Paige Bueckers, the 2021 National Player of the Year, said she was one of those kids.
“Just to come here, to be a part of this legacy and to be a part of the program that he and (associate head coach Chris Dailey) have built and all the alumni, it’s just a blessing,” he said. “It’s amazing. It’s what you dreamed of as a kid: to be a part of this amazing program.”
Auriemma was quick to point out that Dailey has been with him for all 1,200 wins and is a big reason for the program’s success.
But he was cryptic again when asked how long he could continue training, saying he won’t add hundreds more wins, but rather “more along the lines of single digits” and that there is no number or “whale.” that he is chasing.
“I could probably say, with a lot of certainty, that I will never be number one in wins, I don’t think that will happen,” he said. “And I’m still going to enjoy my wine and sleep well tonight.”
AP Women’s College Basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball