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April 1, 2015

Geno Auriemma


RICK NIXON:  Good afternoon, welcome to everybody to today's Women'S Final Four head coaches media teleconference.  For the next several minutes you will have the opportunity to visit with UConn Head Coach Geno Auriemma.  UConn will be playing in its record 8th straight Women's Final Four in 2015.  They will be playing for an unprecedented 10th National Championship coming up.  First game will be this coming Sunday against Maryland.  The second game of the doubleheader of the National Semifinals with play April 5th here in Tampa Bay.
With that I'd like to turn it over to Geno for a quick opening statement.
HEAD COACH GENO AURIEMMA:  Thank you, Rick.  I appreciate the opportunity.  Obviously anytime you're in the Final Four it's a special time of the year.  Anytime your team gets to play for something as important as the National Championship, it's the ultimate in a player's college career, I think.
So we're really fortunate and really happy and excited.  It doesn't matter how many times you find yourself in this situation, the feeling is always the same.
The other thing that's the same is the best teams in the country usually find their way to the Final Four, and that's no different this year.  I think the four best teams in the country are in the Final Four.  It should be an unbelievable weekend of basketball and I'm looking forward to getting down there and getting started.

Q.  Kiah Stokes, what did you learn about Kiah during her four years?  For you what are the satisfactions and frustrations of seeing her progress over the four years?
HEAD COACH GENO AURIEMMA:  Well, it's been an interesting four years, to say the least.  Very rarely do you get to coach somebody that has more blocked shots and shot attempts during her four years.  That's kind of unusual.  But there's been a lot of games where Kiah has been the difference in the game.  I'm sure that there's a part of her, there's a part of us, that, wow, it could have been unbelievable had we figured out a way to get even more minutes, more production.
But having said that, I don't know that there's a lot of centers in the country that got a lot more done than she did, that she came into college with.  You look at some of these kids that graduated the same year she did and you look at what they've done and you look at what she's done, and she's had a great career.  And I think most people look back and they wish I could have done this, wish I could have done that.  But just like in the game against Texas, and probably in the game against Maryland coming up, she's going to be a huge part of what we want to do this weekend.

Q.  Earlier in the year you were talking about looking for leaders, when did you find them and who are they?
HEAD COACH GENO AURIEMMA:  Well, you know, sometimes it's easy, you know, leaders just kind of throw themselves into those leadership positions.  And sometimes they just emerge out of necessity.  We had a huge personality on our team last year in Stefanie Dolson, and we had a four‑year leader in Bria Hartley, who‑‑ those guys just dominated the team in so many ways.
So replacing them and stepping into that void was not going to be easy.  And in the beginning everyone just kind of felt like someone else would do it.  And as the season progressed in late November, December, whatever, our juniors kind of took the reins.  Kaleena, I think, came out of her‑‑ she's a real in introvert.
So I think that the four starters all in their own way that were here last year and the year before, we don't have a single leader, one person that we look to.  Right now on the floor Moriah Jefferson has been that.  But Stewie has taken over in her own way, something that is more subtle.  And in just looking at the way our team operates right now I would say those four have equally shared the load.

Q.  Your first eight or nine years when you guys weren't successful in winning a National Championship, what kind of things did you sell to get players there to buy into your program, a program that hadn't been very good before you got there?
HEAD COACH GENO AURIEMMA:  Well, in the beginning it was an opportunity to be a part of something.  The kids‑‑ their other choices weren't necessarily great choices in terms of they weren't the kind of players that were going to help you win a National Championship initially.  They weren't the kind of players that were turning down National Championship type programs to come to play at the University of Connecticut.
So the kids that we got were the ones that wanted to be on the ground floor of something, wanted to play a lot.  And believed in what we were trying to do.  We didn't have much to offer in terms of facilities or recognition, so it was Chris Dailey and I going around and trying to sell them on what we wanted to build.
We even tried on some official visits to take them to Yale, to take them around that campus and tell them it was UConn, but I think Chris Dailey shot it down, but that would have been my way of recruiting players.
But it took an while and we finally got to the Final Four in 1991.  It was only six years after we got here, five or six years after we got here.  And then things kind of started to open up after that.

Q.  I know there's a lot that goes into recruiting, but when did you know that you could build on what you guys had already put together?
HEAD COACH GENO AURIEMMA:  Well, I thought in '91, we went to the Final Four in '91, and we didn't have one player coming out of high school that was on the top 100 on anybody's recruiting list.  Those kids reminded me of the team we just played.
But in 1995 I think winning that National Championship in 1995, we started getting kids from outside the northeast, in '96, '97, 98.  That's when we realized that we could get involved with the best players in the country.  People knew who you were.  We had created a little bit of a brand.  The way the '95 season unfolded, the mystique around that team, I think it was after that that we realized that we could be pretty special.

Q.  I know you've addressed this in the past, but your program has been so dominant, especially in the last couple of years, the majority of the game haven't really been that competitive.  I know it's been good for you and the program.  Overall has it been good or bad for the popularity of women's basketball?
HEAD COACH GENO AURIEMMA:  Has it been good or bad for the popularity?  Well, I would like to think that what we've done over the course of the last ten years or so has been really good for the popularity of the game.
I think the attention that comes from being really good and having a certain standard that we set and a certain level of recognition, I think it has been good in that sense.  I think coaches around the country and their athletic directors can say, hey, look, look what happened up in a small place like Storrs, Connecticut, look what they've been able to do, why can't we do the same thing.  South Carolina, wasn't today what South Carolina was ten years ago.  Neither was Notre Dame, before 2000.  Just in the last ten years looks what's happened.  So you see Dayton playing in the tournament.  You see Gonzaga playing.  You look around and a lot has happened in the last ten years.  Is it good?  I think it's good.
You look at the four teams in men's basketball, a lot of shockers there, huh, in the Final Four, you know.  I think everybody is stunned at the four teams that are in the Final Four in the men's round.  Those guys hardly ever get to the Final Four.
So the good teams are going to be good all the time because they have the culture of winning.  And it's up to everybody else to catch up.  And I think the catching up is happening.  We're not invincible.  We're not unbeatable.  I just think that we've been on an amazing run and it's going to end.  Somebody is going to knock us off; maybe this weekend, who knows?  And we'll have to start all over at some point to build it back up.
But I hope it's good.  All the naysayers are going to say it's bad.  And I'm sure half the people in women's basketball want us to lose, maybe more than half.  And some maybe are just tired of it.  Nothing we can do with that, not one thing we can do about that.  My players work just as hard if not harder than anybody else.
We're not going down there thinking that we're so good that it doesn't matter.  Any team that's down there this weekend can win the National Championship, we don't buy into this nonsense that we're the only team that can win this thing any more than I'm sure the rest of the country thinks Kentucky can't lose in the Men's Final Four.  That's not the case at all.  Things happen in the Final Four that you just don't expect.

Q.  Two questions for you, Geno.  First off, you lost to Stanford on November 17th.  And I wanted to know what stands out for you the most about November 18th, November 19th, November 20th, the days immediately after that loss?
HEAD COACH GENO AURIEMMA:  One of the things that stood out was we didn't really have the same reaction that I'm used to having when we've lost in the past.  Usually you lose a game and everybody is upset, everybody can't wait to get back on the court.  Everybody is edgy.  That didn't happen with this team.  It's almost like they've won so much, some of these kids have won so much and won two national championships and they've forgotten what losing was like.  And even when they got reminders, oh, that's a fluke.
So it was up to us as the coaching staff to remind them that, hey, you know, this isn't last year.  And we're not unbeatable.  It took a while but we were not a very mature group, we really didn't know how to respond.  And we've grown up.  We've matured a lot since that November weekend, absolutely we've matured a lot.

Q.  Is there something specific to that maturity, growing, or is that just the course of what happens during a season from November to March?
HEAD COACH GENO AURIEMMA:  I think if you have winners on your team, if you have people that are competitors, they start to find their level and they start to‑‑ whenever there's any kind of a void people tend to step in and fill that void.  I don't think there's anything I can put my fingers on, it's just‑‑ we have a lot of players that have never been in that situation before.  Moriah Jefferson never had to run a team.  She wasn't responsible for all the things she's responsible for now.  Kaleena Lewis, if we couldn't find her at the end of games, it didn't matter, because other guys were going to step up.  Morgan Tuck didn't play last year.  Kia Nurse was playing in high school in Canada.  So we have a lot of players that are in way different situations than they were in the past.  And it took some time for them to grow into those roles.
But I think in the Dayton game the other night I think we saw a little bit of that maturity come out, especially after the devastating circumstances of being down one at halftime, especially after all that adversity that we had to endure, the audacity of that team to be up one against us (laughter.)  You should not believe how our people responded to that.
But I think that was a big help for our guys to understand that's what most people go through during the season.  And we're no different than most people.  We just sometimes make it look like we are, but we're not that much different.

Q.  Geno, two questions for you.  First, I know you're focused in on the task at hand but I'm curious if you've allowed yourself to appreciate that three of the four coaches in this year's Final Four have really strong ties to the Philadelphia area, and if so is it special at all to you?
HEAD COACH GENO AURIEMMA:  It obviously has not been lost on me.  And we're all connected in certain ways.  I was assistant at St. Joe's and when I left Jim foster hired Muffet to take my place.  And obviously I have Dawn on my staff now with the U.S. National Team.
There's I think a lot of respect there among the three of us.  And I think we're all proud of where we come from and how we learned the game and the way we carry ourselves, and what we expect from our teams and the way we view the game.  I think we're all obviously a product of where we grew up.  And Dawn from right inside the city and Muffet and I from the outskirts.  But we all have similar traits.  And I think it's evident when you match our teams play.  And I'm really excited.  I'm excited for both of them and this is Dawn's first one as a coach.  And I'm really thrilled.  I wish I was a bystander and could sit there and root for all three of us.

Q.  My second question is, obviously you're one of the most accomplished coaches in the game, I'm curious about coming up in the Philadelphia area, what accomplishments from back then stand out to you, are you most proud of?  Does anything stand out to you?
HEAD COACH GENO AURIEMMA:  Well, it's probably one of the reasons why I had to leave.  I didn't have very many accomplishments when I was down there.  I think one of the accomplishments that I had was I left.  Not very many people leave the Philadelphia area, obviously.  It's got such a hold on you when you grow up there.  It's one of the most unique places in America to grow up because you just feel so compelled to be there and to be a part of it and never leave.
But I was happy that‑‑ I'm proud to think that I grew up in an era where being on a really good team was important, that being a great teammate was important.  And I was fortunate to do that, regardless of whether it was the Kennewick or Montgo or any other an place I've been, to be able to coach and play and be around great people that valued being on good teams and valued being a great teammate.
The most fun I ever had in the Philadelphia area was I got to be in the batter's box in the American Legion game and play against Jon Matlack, before I knew who he was, and I didn't strike out.  That was the best part of my growing up in the Philadelphia area.

Q.  Where was that?
HEAD COACH GENO AURIEMMA:  We played in a tournament in‑‑ in Westchester.  I think he's from that area.  We played in a tournament in Westchester.  And we got in a van and drove down there.  I thought I needed a passport to go to Westchester back then.  I think I was 15 or 16 and I'd never been out of the area.  We had a great pitcher, Joe Geisley, who was a great pitcher, we had a good team and we thought we were hot shit.  And we're like, who the hell is this guy?  And then we find out after the fact, the following summer he's pitching for the Mets.

Q.  You know being the star at UConn for now over a decade is something, not just what the player does on court, but she's a figure nationally, she's a figure in the community.  And everybody kind of develops their own personality, you know, going all the way back to Rebecca and Sue and Diana, Maya, what's that been like, that process, for Breanna, and how have you sort of watched her grow not just for her whole personality?
HEAD COACH GENO AURIEMMA:  Well, I could be mistaken, but I think Breanna had so much more success at such a younger age than any of the ones you mentioned that starting 8th and 9th grade and being USA basketball, and I think she's won more gold medals than anyone her age right now at this stage of their career, than anyone.  I just think she's‑‑ and she's done something in college that no one's ever done, being MVP of two Final Fours, her freshman and sophomore year.
It's been a little different for her.  I think the expectations on her were greater.  When my an came here as a freshman, things were a little bit different for her.  When Diana got here as a freshman, she didn't even start.  We had a great team, and Sue, the same thing.  And you look back on all those guys, still they came here under different circumstances, the height of the whole social media and the expectations.  And she's got to be Breanna Stewart every night.  Here's a kid that averages 18 points a game, and a dozen rebounds and four assists and three blocks or whatever the numbers are.  And everybody goes, ah, she didn't have a great year.  The expectations for anybody else that would do anything resembling what Stewie did, would be looked upon as God's gift to basketball.  But it's been different for her.  It's really, really been different for her.  And she doesn't really have that edge that Dee had.  Nobody has that.  But that some of the great ones have had, the way they carried themselves.  She's much more laid back, and much more easy going.  And that edge comes out at the NCAA women's time.  But her four‑year‑‑ three, almost‑‑ has been quite different than all those other players.  But no less impactful, that's for sure.

Q.  If I can ask you a completely different question, back in '91, and I realize this is going a ways back, you played Dawn's Virginia team, Dawn Staley, when she was at point guard or guard at Virginia.  I just wonder what your thoughts were going into that semifinal in terms of facing her back in '91 and I guess how you rated her as a college player then.  Was she somebody that you expected would go on to the coaching ranks based on how she played?
HEAD COACH GENO AURIEMMA:  You know, going into that Final Four I thought we had a really, really good team.  I thought that we were the most difficult team to play against in the country because of the way we played, what we took advantage of and all five of our starters, we played without a center, and all the teams that we were going to play, they relied a lot on their inside game and we didn't.
When we were getting ready to play Virginia, we thought they would have a difficult match‑up with us, and we thought we would have a difficult match‑up, we knew we couldn't guard them, but we also knew they couldn't guard us, either.
But then we go down there, and we kind of got caught up in the festivities of the Final Four and not really preparing for the game as well as we would have liked, looking back.
But obviously Virginia was the star studded team, Dawn was a national figure and so were the Burge twins, and Tanya Cardoza, and they just had a lot of great, great players.  And they maybe had the best team in the country that year.  But it was a four‑point game with a minute to go and they had the best starter guards in the country.  They did.  And we went toe‑to‑toe with them.
And obviously Dawn went on to be a great player in the Olympics and a great player in the WNBA.  You just never know if those guys want to be coaches.  When you're that good as a player, you have so many doors open to you that you just don't know whether they think that coaching is in their future.  But obviously she's taken everything she's learned and become a hell of a coach.  I'm not surprised that she's there this weekend.

Q.  Jeff Walz, Louisville, said recently, when he sat in on one of your practices he was kind of amazed by just how much the kids policed themselves and demanded of themselves.  Ideally is that the way it is at this point in the season at Connecticut, where your kids are studying the ball by yourself and there's not a lot of needling or yelling required?
HEAD COACH GENO AURIEMMA:  I think it depends on the group that you have, but, you know, we have‑‑ hopefully we have some upperclassmen who understand if you do these things and if you do it this way good things will happen.  We have a culture of that here that we created.  And it took some time.  But by the time you get to be a junior and a senior at Connecticut, there isn't much I can say to you that I haven't said a thousand times.  There's not much more I can do to motivate you.  It's got to come from inside you.  I'm not out there on the court.  I'm not in the middle of every play, of every scenario, I'm not in the locker room when you guys are there.  I'm not in the back of the bus.  I'm not in the hotels when you guys are there together.
So there's got to be a sense from the upperclassmen of this is what we do at Connecticut, this is how we do it, and it's going to be done like this all the time.
If I still have to do that when a kid is a senior or junior, there's a pretty good chance they're not going to play a big role in that program.  The practice where Jeff was at we had‑‑ I think was one of the best teams we've ever had, and we had all great upperclassmen, and some teams just lend themselves to that.  Other teams, you've got to stay on them all the time.  Like this particular team right now, you've got to be really careful with this team.  You're too hard on them, they're, why are you doing that.  If you go easy on them and go, okay, guys, it's on you.  Like, hey, you know, a birthday party.
So this team you've got to zig and zag a little bit with, and so far we've guessed right.  I hope we can keep guessing right.

Q.  I think many people would consider this year's Player of the Year, if you want to call it a race or whatever you want to call it between Jewell Loyd of Notre Dame and Breanna.  And I for Breanna's purposes, are things like that important to her, even if she's not as edgy or Diana and some of the other players that you've had, how much does she look at that kind of individual stuff in terms of letting it be known externally that she's the best player in college basketball?
HEAD COACH GENO AURIEMMA:  I think it's really important to her, I really do.  I think it's important to Jewell Loyd.  I think kids that have the opportunity to be the National Player of the Year, I think it's important to them.  If they say, it doesn't matter, I just want my team to win.  That's not true.  They want their team to win and they want to be National Player of the Year.  That to me is what great competitors do.  And I think if somebody said to me, Jewell, that kid is really good.  And she's really, really good.
And Stewie is the same way, I think she wants to be the National Player of the Year.  She wants everybody to think she's the best player in the country.  I don't think she would sacrifice for that winning, and I don't think Jewell Loyd, either.
But I say to the kids, when people vote on awards, you've got to take had that with a grain of salt.  You don't know why somebody is voting against you.  You don't know why somebody is voting for you.  We talk about that all the time.  When people are voting, and when people vote they have biases.  If my coaching staff voted we'd vote for Breanna.  And if Notre Dame's coaching staff voted, they would vote for Jewell and they'd both be right.

Q.  One more on Breanna.  Because she has an opportunity to be around some of the best players in the world, I should say the best players in the world, forgetting about play on the court, did you notice that she picked up anything mentally in terms of attitude after having been around and practicing with players who really are at the highest level of being competitive, that it's not just women's basketball, but in sports?
HEAD COACH GENO AURIEMMA:  I think a little.  I think she was too young to understand really what was going on.  I think she was just caught in the moment.  Like, hey, I'm on a national team and I just finished my sophomore year in college, I must be really good, I must be really cool.  And I kept trying to tell her, no, you're not.  You're not anything like these guys.  And I want you to pay attention to the guys that prepare a certain way.  I don't want you to pay attention to all these guys, because not all of them prepare the same way.  I want you to pay attention, who prepares the best?  Who gets ready?  Who's there every day?  Who comes to work everyday the same way?  Who can you count on?  I want you to pay attention to that, not pay attention to I'm with the pros.  I'm with the best players in the world, all that, because every time she steps on the floor she got her ass beat.  And that was good.
But, you know, when you're as young as Stewie was, when that happens to you, sometimes that knocks you for a loop, because all of a sudden you realize, man, I'm not nearly as good as I thought I was.
So I think it was good for Stewie to be in that environment.  And I also think maybe not so good.  So when we got back, we had some work to do.  She struggled a little bit.  And obviously she's where we want her to be right now.  But I think you've got to be careful when you put young kids in the middle of all those great pros.  It can work both ways, and I think in this case it was a little bit of both.  It helped her a little bit and it hurt her little bit.

Q.  (Inaudible.)  How difficult is it been to bring in players like Stewart, there is has to be the right type of personality to be able to play together for four years?
HEAD COACH GENO AURIEMMA:  Yeah, we're not perfect.  We don't hit a home run on every recruiting trip.  We bring kids in here and sometimes it just doesn't work out.  We're not that different than any other school.  People say, Connecticut, kid transferred from Connecticut, yeah, kids transfer from every school, you know why, because coaches make mistakes, and kids make mistakes.  So you try really, really hard to not‑‑ in the case of Sue, Asjha Swin, Tamika, we had a home run there, we had a Grand Slam there.  Four great personalities, four great teammates and three Olympian.
With this three that we've got new Stewie, Tuck and Moriah, same thing, three great kids, great personalities, great teammates, phenomenon on natural players, who don't step on each others toes, who respect each other.  And are willing to share and sacrifice some things for the bigger good.  And not everybody wants to do that.  And the roll of the dice, you take the chance, and you hope it works.  And with these three it certainly did.

Q.  I was just wondering your thoughts on the new RFRA law in Indiana, especially with the Final Four set to be there next year?
HEAD COACH GENO AURIEMMA:  You know, I'm not completely familiar with the fine print on what it is exactly that they're trying to do.  And I heard this morning on the news that somebody is backtracking on what it means and what it doesn't mean and how to rewrite it and how to make it so that everybody understands it better, and what you can do and what you can't do.
And I'm probably not the best person to ask.  I'm a basketball coach.  I get to coach a lot of different types of people, different backgrounds, different raises, different religions, different orientations, whatever it is, and to me that's personal.  And I try to stay out of their personal life unless they want me in it.
But I've got to tell you, I've always been fascinated by people who care so much about what other people are and what they do in their personal lives.  Like how small minded do you have to be to care that much about what other people are doing?  Life is hard enough as it is, trying to live your own life.  What do you care what other people are doing, as long as it doesn't affect you.  And if it's true, and hiding behind this religious crap, that's the most cowardly thing I've ever heard it.
So I don't know all the details but what I've heard and what people have told me, it's just‑‑ it's 2015.  I'm sure those people are nice people out there.  I'm sure they don't want the Final Four to be canceled.  I'm sure they don't want all this bad publicity that they're getting.  Nobody wants that.
So some on, some to your senses, here.  Just go on with your life and let everybody else go on with theirs.  That's my approach with my team and I don't understand anybody who's got a different approach.

Q.  You've read a lot about the state of the men's college game this year, that the game is not as fluid, efficient, exciting, well played as it has been in years past.  There's many reasons people would surmise that from more freshman, sophomores playing than juniors and seniors.  I know you are obviously an authority on the women's game and your team.  But you're a basketball coach and a basketball fan, so you see a lot of men's college basketball.  What has been your thought about where you see the state of the men's game is right now?
HEAD COACH GENO AURIEMMA:  It's funny, you asked me that, I just had a conversation with Phil Martelli yesterday and I think he's the president on the ABC board of directors or whatever.
And we had this conversation and we talked a lot about where the game is and what the future of the game is.  And obviously it's immensely popular.  You look at the interest paid on the NCAA tournament.  I don't know that it's as immensely popular during the regular season as it used to be, but obviously the tournament is just at another world when it comes to that.
Having said that, I think the game is a joke.  It really is.  I don't coach it.  I don't play it, so I don't understand all the ins and outs of it.  But as a spectator, forget that I'm a coach, as a spectator, watching it, it's a joke.  There's only like ten teams, you know, out of 25, that actually play the kind of game of basketball that you'd like to watch.  Every coach will tell you that there's 90 million reasons for it.
And the bottom line is that nobody can score, and they'll tell you it's because of great defense, great scouting, a lot of team work, nonsense, nonsense.  College men's basketball is so far behind the times it's unbelievable.  I mean women's basketball is behind the times.  Men's basketball is even further behind the times.  Every other major sport in the world has taken steps to help people be better on the offensive end of the floor.  They've moved in the fences in baseball, they lowered the mound.  They made the strike zone so you need a straw to put through it.  And in the NFL you touch a guy it's a penalty.  You hit the quarterback, you're out for life.  You know, in the NBA, you touch somebody in the perimeter, you whack guys like they used to do when scores were 90 to 75, they changed the rules.
This is entertainment we're talking about.  People have to decide, do I want to play 25 bucks, 30 bucks to go see a college scrum where everybody misses six out of every ten shots they take, or do I want to go to a movie?  We're fighting for the entertainment dollar, here, and I have to tell you it's not entertainment from a fan's standpoint.
So that's just‑‑ I'm talking as a fan, not as Geno, Auriemma, the basketball coach.
RICK NIXON:  Thanks to everybody for being on the call with us.  Geno, good luck to you and we'll see you this weekend in Tampa.
RICK NIXON:  Thanks toll all.

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