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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

UConn's Auriemma recalls meeting legendary coach Dean Smith

Years before the women's basketball world even knew about an Italian born, Norristown raised Geno Auriemma, he was just another wide-eyed assistant coach thrilled to be in an area when he would occasionally rub elbows with some legendary figures.

When UConn played at East Carolina on December 31, he was downright giddy that former Virginia men's basketball coach and former ECU athletic director Terry Holland took in his press conference. Today he reflected on the legacy of another ACC men's basketball coaching legend - the great Dean Smith who passed away on Saturday night at the age of 83.

When Auriemma was an assistant women's basketball coach at Virginia in the early 1980s he still remembers Smith bringing in his star-studded North Carolina team including Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Sam Perkins to play the Cavaliers.

"I was coaching at UVa and they came in I was so excited to watch them play," Auriemma said after Sunday's practice at Gampel Pavilion. "It was the time with Michael Jordan, (Sam) Perkins, James Worthy and all of those guys and Virginia we had Ralph Sampson, Othell Wilson and that group. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. There can't even be anything better than this is all of basketball. I was lucky, our men's soccer office was right next to the visiting locker room and I could hear everything. I would sit in there for the pre-game (talk) and at halftime and thought it would be really cool to meet him some day."

That day would come some years later when he was in California at a coaching function sponsored by Nike.

"Bobby Cremins (the Georgia Tech men's basketball coach at the time) said Dean Smith is going to ask you tomorrow to play golf tomorrow so say yes. He said it is going to be me and you against Dean and Roy Williams and I said 'man, I do not want to be in the middle of this because you know Bobby just spent 15 years in the ACC getting his (butt) kicked by Dean and the competitiveness all of those guys have.' I got up the next morning at 7 o'clock, Bobby is there, I am there and Dean is there but there is no Roy Williams. Dean said Roy couldn't make it, he isn't feeling good so it is just the three of us. He said where are we playing, Cypress Point (in Pebble Beach, California). I am thinking Cypress Point, nobody gets to play at Cypress Point."

The morning of golf almost didn't happen as Cremins and Auriemma were wearing shorts, a violation of the rules at Cypress Point. One of the workers dug out rain gear worn by the caddies so they would be compliant with the course dress code and then came an experience Auriemma won't soon forget.

"We have to start on 10th hole. I hit a drive down the middle, I hit a 4-wood up on the green and I made a putt for a 3, an eagle," Auriemma said. "Dean Smith, I have never seen anybody more excited about what somebody else did in my life. I have great holes with some of my other friends who walk off the green. I have never seen a guy that excited. he ended up winning a lot of money even at his age, he was a competitive sucker and every time I saw him after it, he would remind me and say that to everybody 'you are not going to believe what this guy did on No. 10 at Cypress Point.'

"I kind of kept that with me all this time that here is a guy that has been one of the most influential coaches ever in college basketball and certainly the greatest innovator and greatest program builder that I have ever seen and he would remember to bring that up to make me feel good. I can remember it exactly how it all went down and they I spent the next four hours laughing my (butt) off at Bobby and how bad he wanted to beat Dean so I was really sad to hear that (Smith died) this morning."

On a happier note, Auriemma was thrilled to hear the Philadelphia coaching icon Herb Magee won his 1,000th career game at Philadelphia University.

"I watched the interview, listened to him talk and closed me eyes," Auriemma said with a laugh. "If somebody said 'this guy just won a lot of games, he is a basketball coach, where does he coach? Philadelphia.' As soon as he started talking, it is so typical and I loved his response. 'Coach, how do you feel?' (He said) 'relieved, glad this (stuff) is over.' That is so typical of guys form that area. I would say there isn't a person who has touched the basketball in the Philadelphia who doesn't know about Herbie Magee, not one."

So where does Auriemma know him from?

"Just from camps, every single camp, everywhere you went the shooting lecture that week was going to be Herbie Magee and nobody else is even close. I'll bet you he is still doing it at his age and he could still walk into our gym at his age and make more shots than any three guys on my team combined."

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