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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Auriemma proud to see seven former Huskies as Olympic finalists

Geno Auriemma is aware of the skeptics out there who scoff every time a senior national team roster is released with a heavy UConn representation. Although he dis not actually cast a vote for the team he coached to the gold medal in the 2010 World Championships or the one he will pilot in the Olympics later this year, he does have the chance to make his feelings known.

That is what makes Auriemma choose his words carefully when he is asked about the contingent of former Huskies in contention for the Olympic squad. USA Basketball announced the 21 finalists and a third of them played their college ball for Auriemma as UConn led by two-time Olympians Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi. Swin Cash, a member of the 2004 Olympic squad, is on the list along with Tina Charles, Asjha Jones, Renee Montgomery and Maya Moore.

"I have a very delicate situation here as a coach because I am trying to step away and look at it objectively," Auriemma said. "I'm trying to appreciate them as someone who is looking at it from the outside, really be amazed at what they've done since they left UConn and how happy I am for them, how proud I am for them and how they have represented themselves, their families, the University of Connecticut and USA Basketball. I am trying to look it that way and as a coach I am trying not to let it cloud my view looking at them any different than I look at any of the other kids that are finalists.

"I am trying to look at them as a coach and trying to evaluate 'are they the best we have to offer' and then step back and say 'wow, I can't believe these guys have done what they have done.' The one thing I am proud of is if I step back and remove myself from the situation, I can honestly look at them and say that no matter who the coach was these guys would be finalists, they have earned it, they have proven it, they deserve it."

Auriemma spoke specifically about Bird and Jones. Barring injury, Bird is a lock to make the team and Auriemma believes she is "the best point guard in the world. We start with that and that gives us an advantage over most teams at that position, I would say over every team at that position - me being biased or not biased, it doesn't matter. Everybody else thinks the same thing."

As for Jones, Auriemma considers her one of his favorite players for the blue-collar, no-frills approach she brings to any team she is on.

"Asjha Jones, obviously I am biased coaching her in college and watching her career. She is a consummate pro and Asjha has been there and done that. Some injuries have prevented her from doing all the things that she has wanted to do for USA Basketball but she has been tremendous at the World Championships in helping us win. I love Asjha, I love what she brings to teams. Every team she is on she brings a level of professionalism and you can't underestimate that."

Auriemma also addressed the difficult next step of getting down to the final team of 12. USA Basketball National Team Director Carol Callan said that the 12 players and alternates could be named by the time that the U.S. will hold a training camp in May since "we certainly don't want to pull players away from WNBA teams that would not be on the (Olympic) team."

"It is going to be a very difficult decision," Auriemma said. "Getting down to 12 is going to be an arduous task to say the least. I am not looking forward to being in that room when that decision is made because it is going to be very difficult. Some people are going to be left out that is going to break your heart not to have them on the team."

Auriemma was also asked about the excitement level he feels about the Olympics even though he is in the middle of trying to coach his second-ranked Huskies to another Big East title and run at another national title.

"It's fun, it's draining, it's exhausting, it's exciting, it's pressure, it's all the things that you would want," Auriemma said. "There is no way to get around it. I don't go to practice or I don't go to work at UConn thinking about necessarily what I want to do with the Olympic team and I don't spend time when I am with the national team players thinking about what I am going to do at UConn. Even though those things do happen, they are not conscious decisions that I make. Coaching my team is one thing here at Connecticut but for me, it is such an incredible rush. It is so exciting to be around the best players in the world and to watch them execute, watch them do the things from a coaching standpoint that you can only sometimes dream about.

"It takes it toll, no question about it. It is a long, grueling experience. I understand that. I went through that with the World Championships and it was the most pressure, the most tired, the most exhausted I've ever been after a competition but I am also more excited that the energy level and adrenaline level. When it starts going, I think all of us are going to be swept up in it."

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