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home : lt sports : sports August 21, 2017

4/7/2017 7:25:00 AM
It's time to recognize Auriemma's basketball greatness

Nick Sabato
River News reporter

Two months ago, Bill Belichick won his fifth Super Bowl with the New England Patriots. Every pundit in America shouted from the roof tops that he is now the greatest NFL head coach of all time.

Mike Krzyzewski has been lavished with praise in recent years after becoming the first Division I men's basketball coach to win 1,000 games, while leading the United States to three consecutive Olympic Gold Medals.

Both deserve the praise awarded to them, but Connecticut women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma has quietly been alongside them.

Auriemma passed legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt in NCAA Tournament wins, Final Fours and national champions, and he is just nine wins away from becoming the fourth NCAA coach - men's or women's - to reach 1,000 wins. Not to mention also leading the United States to three Olympic golds.

No college coach has won more national championships than Auriemma, including the great John Wooden.

UConn has had consecutive win streaks of 70, 90 and a 111-game win streak that came to an end in the Final Four against Mississippi State last Friday.

Yet, because Auriemma coaches women's basketball, he is hardly put on the same plateau as men's coaches.

It's time for that neanderthal ideology to come to an end. Auriemma is one of the greatest college coaches ever. Men's or women's. Period.

Auriemma brings in talent year after year. UConn lost arguably the best women's college basketball player ever in Breanna Stewart. This year was the year the Huskies took a step back. It didn't happen.

It took a Herculean effort and an overtime buzzer-beater from Mississippi State to pull off the greatest upset in college basketball history.

To put it in perspective, the 1991 Duke team that upset an unbeaten UNLV in the Final Four avenged a 30-point loss in the national title game the year before.

UConn drubbed Mississippi State by 60 in the 2016 Sweet 16. That's right, Auriemma's crew crushed one of the top 16 teams in the country by 60.

Ending the streak finally forced the entire college basketball universe to acknowledge that UConn had a streak.

The Wooden-era UCLA teams that won 88 straight from 1971-1974 only had 16 single-digit wins during the streak. UConn - which had already better the 88-game streak once before - only had three single-digit wins in 111 games.

There are valid arguments that the American Athletic Conference is weak and the women's game doesn't have as deep of a talent pool as the men's, but UConn won 31 games against ranked opponents during the streak, and it did so by an average of 24 points per game.

Yes, the streak is over, but Auriemma will have his team reloaded again for next year, like only he can.

It's time to acknowledge his greatness, not just as a women's coach, but as a basketball coach.

Auriemma is one of the best basketball coaches ever and if he wanted to, he could move across the hallway to the men's program and win there too.

Nick Sabato may be reached at nsabato@river

newsonline.com or via Twitter @SabatoNick.

Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, April 7, 2017
Article comment by: GD Holcombe

"It's time for...neanderthal ideology to come to an end!" "Acknowledge his greatness!"?

Whoa, there. I think we're getting a little over-excited. Those who follow woman's college basketball know who Gino Auriemma is, and many of us who don't follow the game know who he is as well. I've not noticed a shortage of articles extolling his success. I've seen a lot of them over the years--without looking for them.

I do find it tiresome, though, when his fans feel the need to insist he'd be every bit as successful as a mens' coach. We'll never know, and what difference does it make? No doubt he'd have success whoever he coached, but we don't know how much success he'd have in the men's game any more than we know how well Duke's men's coach would do in the women's game. I'm sure they'd both do well, but anyone who's coached both men and women (or boys and girls) at any level understands that the games have similarities and differences.

Even Auriemma himself had this to say when it was pointed out to him that the UConn mens' coach, Kevin Ollie, made more than he did (both made millions) in the year both won titles:

"On the women's side, there isn't the same kind of revenue. We aren't getting a part of the CBS contract that March Madness brings. We're at a different level. I don't ever use that Title IX crap about how I should get paid what Kevin gets paid because we do the same job. I've never bought into that or believed that for one moment since I started coaching."

My sense is that this writer's real complaint is with the relative lack of popularity of the women's game. Some people just think it's somehow "wrong" that the American public doesn't follow or appreciate women's basketball more than it does. Or, for that matter, both men and women's soccer. Or curling. But this isn't a matter of what "ought" to be--it just is.

Who knows why the rest of the world fawns over soccer and most Americans change the channel? Who knows why some people follow MMF and NASCAR? Who knows why women's tennis and gymnastics are more popular than men's tennis and gymnastics? (Pretty sure it doesn't have much to do with ideology.)

Who can guess why six-man girls' high school basketball in Iowa was more popular for decades than Iowa boys basketball--before losing favor after they changed the girls' game....to be like the boys' game. Who knows why some people like college basketball and have little use for NBA basketball? I know why I don't, but I don't know about you.

Gino Auriemma is an outstanding basketball coach who's done some remarkable things in the game. He's been well-compensated for it and he's reasonably well-known. The titles and the streaks are impressive for any sport. Hopefully, he's accomplished them with a lot less cheating than the more-acclaimed coach of the University of North Carolina men's team. That issue seems to me more worthy of discussion than whether I or anyone else have some kind of silly obligation "to acknowledge [Auriemma's] greatness," whatever that means. (Am I supposed send a check to his favorite charity? Get a tattoo of his image?)

It's not always about politics, or ideology, or discrimination. Sometimes it's just about what we happen to enjoy and choose to pay attention to. And, at the end of the day, it's still just a game.

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