Olympic memories aren't fading away for UConn's Auriemma, Nurse
|UConn guard Kia Nurse was Canada's leading scorer at 2016 Olympics|
However, it is clear that Auriemma came out of this Olympics significantly more energized than he was four years ago. One of the advantages of covering the UConn football and women's basketball teams (especially before the practice facility came to be) is I would occasionally catch up with Auriemma inside Gampel Pavilion. One of those meetings came on one of his first trips back to campus after leading the U.S. to the 2012 Olympic gold medal. The circles under his eyes had circles of their own and he looked completely spent emotionally and physically. This time around, however, he seems to have emerged from the experience with more of a jump in his step.
At American Athletic Conference media day earlier this week, I asked him about that.
"It was a much different experience when you know what is coming," Auriemma said. "I was able to change my approach a little bit and it was still difficult to come home August 22 and have our players show up Aug. 26th, that was hard.
"I knew my team and in 2012 I didn't know them. I knew what I was going to get and there was comfort level which made it easier for me, much easier transition."
Auriemma returned to UConn content that his team accomplished everything he was hoping they would. The story is a little different for junior guard Kia Nurse.
Nurse led her team into the Olympics after being her team's leading scorer in the FIBA Americas tournament which served as an Olympic qualifier and Pan Am Games last summer.
Canada faced France in the quarterfinals with the knowledge that a victory would give them a chance to play for a medal while a loss eliminated them from medal contention.
Canada was up by 13 points when Kim Gaucher scored with 7:30 left in the first half and took a five-point lead into halftime before it all began to unravel.
Nurse has had some many magical performances for her national team but she seemed to be pedaling uphill throughout the entire game. Perhaps it was the case that she missed much of the preparation time leading into the Olympics due to an offseason surgery, it simply wasn't her day or France was able to turn her into a jump shooter by cutting off her aggressive drives to the basket, but Nurse couldn't hit a basket. She finished 3 of 17 from the field in the 68-63 loss en route to a seventh place finish.
Nurse was hoping to return home with a medal. She joked that she would leave it with her parents and point out to her brother Darnell, a defenseman for the NHL's Edmonton Oilers, that despite the remarkable number of trophies he has accumulated, he couldn't top her achievement of earning an Olympic medal. Those conversations just may happen one day but not at the current time.
As time has gone on Nurse has learned the appreciate everything that her national team has been able to accomplish instead of a focusing on her disappointing performance against France.
"Every summer when I come back here and put my dreams (in focus) again," Nurse said. "I look back at my summer and realize how fortunate I was to have that experience, thinking about it if you want to be an experienced player you have to keep on playing. I've been fortunate to have that extra experience, find all of my strengths and weaknesses and work through them.
"My whole thing is we had three vets who were finished with the national team no matter what the outcome was and see how they carried themselves every day, the pride and passion they played with each and every day for the last four years of my career and all the years they were with the team. It was a shame we couldn't finish it off and the fairy tale for them and everything they put into the program. It was obviously disappointing but we are extremely proud of how far Canada basketball has come, when those ranking came out and we were six, we bumped up three spots that is just a testament of how far Canada basketball has come."
As Nurse referenced, the Canadian team will look somewhat different four years from now. Gaucher is 32, Shona Thorburn is 34, Lizanne Murphy is 32 and Tamara Tatham is 31 and the future of the team will rest with the seven members of the squad 25 or younger. Canada combined to go 9-3 in the 2016 FIBA Americas U18 Championships and FIBA U17 World Championships so perhaps players from those teams will be in the mix. There are also plenty of Canadian stars opening eyes at the collegiate level so it will be interesting to see what the team looks like in two years at the World Championships and in four years time as well.
"It is starting to get more towards my age group so all the players that I played with in the age divisions," Nurse said. "They are doing great things in the NCAA level, in the pro level overseas, for them to come up to the next level and play on the national team I think it is going to great."
A third person with UConn ties who went to the Olympics was also at media day in Philadelphia as former UConn forward Jamelle Elliott and current Cincinnati head coach Jamelle Elliott served as an advanced scout for the U.S. team.
"It is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Geno to think enough of me to be a part of this Olympic staff as a coach the best players in the world and try to go for a gold medal," Elliott said. "It was an unbelievable experience and it allowed me to reenergize as a coach being an assistant again, being around the coaching legends on the men's side Mike Krzyewski, Jim Boeheim, Tom Thibodeau just to hear those conversations and hear them talk about basketball it was unbelievable experience."