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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

UConn's Auriemma takes trip down memory lane at Maggie Dixon Classic

While many of the fans eager to see his two-time defending national champion team play in the second game of the Maggie Dixon Classic and had little interest in the first game of the afternoon at Madison Square Garden, the matchup between Queens College and Immaculata held special significance to UConn coach Geno Auriemma.

Auriemma's introduction to big-time women's college basketball came when he worked at the camp of legendary former Immaculata coach Cathy Rush

Auriemma was working as an assistant coach to current Saint Joseph's men's basketball coach Phil Martelli when Virginia women's basketball coach Debbie Ryan placed a call to gauge the interest Martelli would have in  becoming the first full-time women's basketball assistant during her time at Virginia. Martelli wasn't interested but suggested to Auriemma that he consider the opening.

"He got a phone call," Auriemma said after UConn's 70-54 win over St. John's on Sunday. "I had Cathy make a couple of phone calls, I went down there. I wouldn't even be coaching women's basketball if it wasn't (for Rush). I'd probably be doing what Phil is doing, coaching guys in Philly either in high school or college.It is something that changed my life obviously."

The idea of having Queens and Immaculata play the first game was to pay homage to the historic game between the teams at Madison Square Garden in 1975.

While many in attendance may not completely comprehend the place that the Immaculata and Queens programs had in the history of women's college basketball, the significance wasn't lost on Auriemma, the all-time leader in winning percentage among NCAA Division I women's college basketball coaches. He recalls seeing Queens and Immaculata play and beat some program still vying for Division Final Four berths to this day.

"When I ws coaching St. Joe's I remember we were allowed to scout games," Auriemma said, "I had 20 bucks in our scouting budget. Coming from the men's side I didn't know too much about women's basketball but living where I lived I knew about Immaculata, I knew about Montclair. I didn't know about any other schools, the ACC or Southeastern Conference I didn't know anything about that and then that year I spent at St. Joe's, I really got an education about women's basketball, about the Northeast and the great crowds that they used to get at the Garden."

Auriemma received the Maggie Dixon Courage Award before his team's game against St. John's.

"I was saying I don't know what my courage, what exactly I contributed to all of that other than I think I can completely understand the struggle that the family is going through," Auriemma said. "I have wanted to support it fro the very first day. My relationship with the family, the friendship. being with her and a bunch of friends two or three nights before she (Maggie Dixon, a former head coach at Army) passed away. It is an honor, it is quite a privilege. Knowing Jamie (Maggie's brother and the Pittsburgh men's basketball coach) when we were in the league together made it a personal thing, we all kind of felt it (the sense of loss), just keeping this thing alive I think it is important for guys like Joe (Tartamella, the head coach at St. John's) and some of the young coaches in the country to really know the impact you can have on a program."


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