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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Friday, February 26, 2016

UConn legend Rizzotti never tires of answering call from USA Basketball

Six former or current UConn stars were among those taking part in the U.S. national team training camp earlier this week.  But Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Stefanie Dolson and Breanna Stewart were not the only members of UConn royalty in attendance.

Jen Rizzotti was among those appointed to be court coaches by USA Basketball. Rizzotti has a long relationship with USA Basketball as a player and a coach.

Rizzotti was the head coach of the gold-medal winning teams at the 2010 FIBA Americas U18 and 2011 FIBA U19 World Championships and an assistant in 2006 when the U.S. won the FIBA Americas 18 championship. At the 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women, Rizzotti was asked to serve as an advance scout for the U.S. team and that is something she said she would be doing at the Olympics later this year as well.

"That has been dictated to Chris Dailey and I that we will be the scouts again for the Olympics and the staff so whatever (Olympic assistant coaches) Cheryl (Reeve), Dawn (Staley) and Doug (Bruno) need in terms of a live scout, a film breakdown or stats, that will kind of be my role."

Rizzotti's experiences with USA Basketball date back to when she was an All-American point guard at UConn. She tried out for the 1996 Olympic team and was a member of the Jones Cup team in 1996. She doesn't need to be asked twice if the folks at USA Basketball ask her to be involved with one of their teams.

"Immensely I enjoy it and the biggest reason is the people," Rizzotti said. "(USA Basketball Womens' National Team Director) Carol Callan is one of my favorite people in the entire world. She is great at what she does, she is fun to be around, she is smart, she is funny and she really understands what it takes to make a special occasion. She has been a part of all of my experiences, I have gotten to coach with great coaches, I have gotten to coach great players. The staff at USA Basketball is obviously phenomenal. I think we say this all the time that the teams that you are on and the experiences that you have are usually never about the places you go or the wins or losses, it is about the people you surround yourself with and they do a phenomenal job of getting great people around so I have really enjoyed myself every time I have done it."

Rizzotti received a tour of the Werth Family Basketball Champions Center shortly after it opened. But being in there for the training camp when her name was among those hanging with the other former national players of the year made for a bit of a surreal scene for her.

"It is a little bit humbling and you just feel proud of have been a part of it and that your name is up there with all the great players," Rizzotti said, "You see the precedent we set from '95 on and you are happy for the future, the legacy, what the kids have to appreciate now and just hope they are going to feel the same way in 10 years when they come back."

Rizzotti wasn't the only player who is or was a point guard at UConn checking out the festivities. Current UConn point guard Moriah Jefferson was a regular viewer of the practices, sitting in the far corner for all three days.

Rizzotti might have a deeper appreciation of what Jefferson means to this UConn team more than most people since she filled a similar role on the 1995 national championship team.

"She actually tried out for the 19-and-under team I coached maybe as a sophomore or junior. Breanna was the youngest on that team and (Jefferson) didn't make that team," Rizzotti said. "I remember watching her in tryouts and Geno asking about how she is doing and I remember saying that she is very fast and skilled but she doesn't really know how to control a team yet, she doesn't know how to set the offense, she doesn't know how to organize that group and provide that leadership that a team full of all-stars needs.  To watch her now and not just her senior year but since her sophomore year, she is one of the best players at the country and one of the best players to play that position here, it has been amazing. She put a lot of effort not just into the physical piece of the game but much more into the mental side of the game. It is a lot of fun to watch her play. She doesn't have a gear lower than fifth, she doesn't take possessions off and is able to play at a high level for the entire game if she needs to. That comes from practice, you don't get that because you want to but because you do it every day."

Speaking about point guards, another one who had a strong showing at the camp was UConn graduate assistant Jasmine Lister who not only organized the team of male practice players as she does with the Huskies but had the added benefit of being able to serve as the point guard of the group.

On Monday she was hitting 3-pointers, dishing off assists, getting to loose balls. When Lister, a former Vanderbilt star, was pressed into duty with the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks due to a string of injuries during the summer, she played against the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena. I remember writing then that if you had to pick out the current college graduate assistant with no previous WNBA experience with the exception of the 2014 training camp with the Seattle Storm, it would have been impossible to say Lister was that player. I had the same feeling watching the U.S. practices as Lister looked very much like she belonged. As she left the facility on Monday, USA Basketball CEO/Executive Director Jim Tooley made a point of telling Lister how well she played. Her current boss was also impressed.

"She was Bob Cousy, player/coach," UConn and U.S. head coach Geno Auriemma said. "She had those guys exactly where we needed them and they played in a way that we need them to play. Jas coaches them, she ran the offense, she is going to be a heck of a coach down the road."

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