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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Unforgettable day for Geno Auriemma and U.S. national team

While working with some of the world's best players as part of the process of repeating as FIBA World Champions, U.S. and UConn head coach Geno Auriemma made sure that the time spent at the U.S. Naval Academy was not only about basketball.

The U.S. team was visited by Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia, the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Auriemma, the U.S. coaching staff and 17 players taking part in training camp observed 4,000 midshipmen get into noon formation and held a pair of clinics in the evening for local youths.

Here are Auriemma's thoughts as well as those of former UConn stars Sue Bird, Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley courtesy of USA Basketball.

USA head coach Geno Auriemma (University of Connecticut)

Looking at this morning, what are your thoughts on having Sgt. Maj. Battaglia address the team?

Anytime we’re in this situation where we get to expand our horizons, so to speak, basketball is the most important thing to these kids -- they’re trying to make the USA National Team -- but when we can bring in someone to talk about people who are making a similar commitment in other areas, and they’re representing their country as well as we’re representing it, it shows them that this isn’t just any team you’re trying out for. It’s not like your pro team, or where you play in Europe. If they didn’t already feel that certain extra commitment that they have to make, I think that when they listened to Sgt. Maj. Battaglia, they got that.

 On the noon formation and chow hall experience:

I’ve never seen anything like that in my life. To move 4,000 midshipmen in like that and have them all sit down and eat, it took about 10 minutes to do all that. Then when you walk into that room, I’ve never seen 4,000 people eat at one time and do it in such a fashion. It kind of leaves you staring. I can’t believe they do all that. From the whole ceremony, from the time they got into their formation, while they were marching in, just the whole tradition about what they do, it was great for our players to see that. To see that kind of precision that they take great pride in. I didn’t want it to end.

 How can you relate the precision you see at the Naval Academy and the teamwork you’re trying to build with the USA National Team?

They are all on a team. The midshipmen here, they’re on the big team. They’re in the U.S. Navy. And then they’re on smaller teams, whether it be their company or their battalion, wherever they’re assigned to. There’s always teammates and a lot of the exercises that they do here are to reinforce that feeling of camaraderie and that feeling that you don’t let your teammates down and I think that’s what great players do. The great players really care a lot about their teammates. They care about earning the respect of their teammates and they don’t want to let their teammates down. So, all the things that they learn here are things that we’re trying to teach our players as well.

Sue Bird (Seattle Storm)

Why is the USA Basketball Hoops for Troops program an important initiative?

This is one of the few initiatives where it really makes sense, because you have two groups of people who have so many similarities. It’s really been a cool experience to get to know some of the troops here. We went to lunch with them and just being able to ask questions and hear some of the kind of day-to-day things they go through, it’s really similar to what an athlete goes through. Mind you, on a much larger scale with much more serious things at stake. But, I think that’s why it’s such a perfect union, because there are so many similarities in terms of the discipline and the teamwork, getting to know the people you have to work with and making that work. It’s actually been really cool. Obviously I’ve been around and done a lot of things like this, but this is one of the few times I’ve really felt connected to it. So, it’s been a lot of fun.

Stefanie Dolson (Washington Mystics)

On the day’s activities:

I had a lot of fun today with all of our Hoops for Troops activities. It definitely inspired me seeing these kids at the boys and girls club playing, working hard and paying attention to what we were teaching them.  I wish I had a great club like that when I was younger to get out and get more active. Today, meeting the midshipmen and eating lunch with them it was a lot of fun.  I got to go on my “date” with them and we got to talk and interact with them and it was an experience that I won’t forget.

Bria Hartley (Washington Mystics)

On the day’s activities:

I had a great time at the Hoops for Troops clinic today. It was a lot of fun playing with the kids, doing the drills and having races with them – they were really fun to be around.  It is always great to come back into the community and give back and do something for the kids because I didn’t always have that when I was growing up.   Having lunch today with the midshipmen was great today. I had a great time hanging out with them.  I even met a girl from New York like me.   She played for the same AAU team as me. It was a really cool day and I really enjoyed it.


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