Belliveau helped Auriemma lay solid foundation for UConn women's basketball 999 victories ago

Published on Saturday, 16 December 2017 22:24
Written by Carl Adamec

Journal Inquirer

She is standing next to Geno Auriemma in the picture of his first UConn women’s basketball team from 1985-86 and is the assistant coach not named Chris Dailey.

But while Kim Belliveau is an answer to a trivia question today, she may have been the best-known person on the staff among the girls/women’s basketball world in the state at the time.

A star guard at Putnam High, she had gone on to have a record-breaking career at William Penn University in Iowa where she helped lead the Lady Statesmen to the 1981 AIAW Division II national title before returning home and starting work on her masters degree at UConn.

Three decades after moving on from UConn to pursue coaching and teaching opportunities in California, Belliveau remembers the old days with fondness and marvels at the heights that Auriemma and Dailey have lifted the Huskies since it all began. Top-ranked UConn will try to give Auriemma his 1,000th career win Tuesday night when it takes on Oklahoma in the Hall of Fame Showcase at Mohegan Sun Arena.

“I’m just really proud of what they’ve done,” Belliveau said on Thursday. “Back then, no one really cared much about women’s basketball. But look at what they have built - from the championships, from the fans going to games, and games being on national television. I have an appreciation for what they’ve done. They’re on top, but I also know where they came from and where they started. I’m proud to say that I have a degree from UConn and that I coached at UConn.”

Belliveau spent two seasons on Auriemma’s staff before serving as an assistant at Fresno State (1987-1989) and San Jose State (1989-1991). She then became the head coach at Cabrillo College in Aptos, California, a position she held until 2000, and is in her 27th year as a kinesiology instructor at the school.

She first made her name for herself as a three-sport athlete at Putnam High. On the basketball court, she led the Clippers to the school’s first two Quinebaug Valley Conference tournament championships and was twice named to the Class S All-State team. At William Penn, she graduated as the school’s all-time leader in assists (734) and scored 1,264 points in 152 games. She would be inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012.

In 1985, she received her masters in sports management. That May, Auriemma came to UConn and his first hire was Dailey.

That summer, Belliveau met up with a former high school basketball rival, Cathy Bochain, who had graduated from UConn two years earlier as its all-time leading scorer.

“I wanted to go coach and teach,” Belliveau said. “Cathy Bochain was on the selection committee that helped pick Geno and Chris. I spoke with Cathy and learned they were looking to hire a second assistant. I had a connection through Cathy, so I applied and Cathy put in a good word for me. So that first year it was the three of us.”

Auriemma and Dailey made strong first impressions on her.

“Geno was charismatic. He just had a great personality,” Belliveau said. “And he was smart. You knew from the start he knew the game and knew exactly what he wanted to do. What he wanted was to build something that was great.

“Chris was very driven but also very down to earth. She was dedicated, loyal, and it was easy to see that she and Geno were on the same page and wanted the same things. They were different people but you knew they would work great together to get it done.”

Before their arrival, UConn had just one winning season and a record of 92-162.

The Huskies’ home then was the Storrs Field House. Gampel Pavilion was still about four years away from being completed. The Werth Champions Center was a fantasy.

“We practiced in the Field House,” Belliveau said. “And it was never just us. The track team would be running around the track that surrounded the court or there was someone with something going on. The roof would leak. We figured we’d work hard and things would get better.

“We had one office. Geno had a desk. Chris had a desk. My desk was a coffee table with a love seat to sit on. We had a phone. We did the best we could.”

Win No. 1 came at Iona on Nov. 23, 1985. The Huskies set a school record by winning seven in a row to start.

Reality set in with the start of Big East play. UConn had two five-game losing streaks, including one to end the regular season. But the Huskies were able to avoid the dreaded 8-9 game of the Big East Tournament for the first time with their seventh-place finish and center Peggy Walsh became the first UConn player named to the all-Big East first team.

“They were not players that he had recruited so there was skepticism and some players didn’t buy in at first,” Belliveau said. “And UConn wasn’t getting big-time recruits and high school All-Americans back then. But Geno still had high expectations for them and held them to a high standard. He demanded that they played hard all the time.”

A loss to Villanova in the Big East quarterfinals ended the season at 12-15. The next year, Belliveau’s last, the Huskies finished 14-13 to start a streak of winning seasons that continues to this day.

Auriemma will take a 999-135 record into Tuesday’s game and his winning percentage of .881 is No. 1 all time. UConn’s 11 national championships is a record and its 18 NCAA Final Four bids shares the top spot. The Huskies have won 23 regular season league crowns and 22 league tournament titles. They own four of the five longest winning streaks in NCAA history, including their 111-game run that ended last March.

“Geno and Chris helped put women’s basketball on the map,” Belliveau said. “They have the national championships and all this success and long winning streaks, and I’m like, ‘Who does that?’ You could never have imagined it.”

But she knows exactly what she’ll be doing Tuesday when Auriemma and the Huskies look to make some more history.

“I’m going to be in Lake Tahoe,” Belliveau said. “I’m from New England, so I want snow at Christmas time. But I wouldn’t miss it. I’ll be with some friends and we’re going to find a sports bar there and watch it.”

No one, though, had a better view of how it all began.

Posted in New Britain Herald, UConn on Saturday, 16 December 2017 22:24. Updated: Saturday, 16 December 2017 22:26.