The talent-rich U.S. women’s basketball team will be aiming for a fifth consecutive Olympic gold medal at the London Summer Games.
Geno Auriemma has made a name for himself as women’s basketball coach at the University of Connecticut - often referred to as UConn - a school he has guided to a remarkable seven national championships. That included back-to-back undefeated seasons in 2009 and 2010, which also featured a national record of 90 consecutive victories.
Auriemma got his first taste of the Olympic experience at the 2000 Sydney Games where he was an assistant coach. He says even though he was an assistant, that was the most pressure he has ever faced. “You just feel like you’re carrying the weight of a lot of people. You know, UConn is me, my staff, the school, you know the fans are the fans. But at USA basketball it takes a lot of people to put a team out on the floor, and you just feel the weight," he said.
Auriemma was named head coach of the U.S. women’s national team in 2009. He led Team USA to the gold medal at the 2010 World Championships in the Czech Republic. Ten of the 12 players who won that gold medal are on his Olympic team. He said they are a great blend of veterans and young players so he has not had to rebuild.
He says coaching the U.S. Olympic team is not unlike coaching UConn’s women’s basketball team. “The expectation is to win the national championship every year. In order to do that you have to get the best players out of high school, and then you have to make sure they keep getting better every year. Here, you’re coaching the best players, and the goal is to win the gold medal. The silver medal doesn’t make anybody have a celebration," he said.
Seven of his team members have won at least one Olympic gold medal and some have won two. Five are playing in their first Olympics.
Half of those on his 12-woman roster for the London Games played for him at Connecticut. They range in age from 22-year-old Maya Moore to 32-year-old Swin Cash. Auriemma says that is a big advantage. “You know when two people don’t know what to do, they both stand there and stare at each other. The fact that I’ve got six of my players on there, one of them will know what to do, and makes a cut (a move on the court) and that helps the other person tremendously. So just by being there, they’ve helped the other six be better players," he said.
Maya Moore won two national collegiate titles at the University of Connecticut in 2009 and 2010. She won last year’s WNBA title with the Minnesota Lynx, then played for Ros Casares in Spain which won both the Spanish League and Euro League titles.
She says it is great to be reunited with her college coach, Geno Auriemma. “He has so much experience and just a way to connect with his players that makes his players want to really just be better," she said.
The U.S. women’s Olympic basketball winning streak is at 33, and Coach Auriemma knows his team is heavily favored.
“Until somebody proves us otherwise, we’re the best team in these Olympic Games. So we’re going to go do exactly what we intend to do. No disrespect to the other teams, but I’m not sure that every other team, their aspirations are gold medal or we’re going to be tremendously disappointed. A couple teams have that. But we have been there, we’ve done that. To come back with anything less than that would just be unacceptable," he said.
Geno Auriemma says his approach to coaching the U.S. women’s team is no different than at UConn, only on a bigger stage against international teams, rather than against other universities. He said he tries not to think about it because it can be overwhelming.
But he is ready for the challenge in London to try to extend the U.S. women’s 33-game Olympic winning streak and win a fifth straight gold medal.