Kansas men's basketball coach Bill Self among those who marvel at Auriemma's accomplishments

Published on Monday, 18 December 2017 20:00
Written by CARL ADAMEC


Bill Self’s Hall of Fame coaching career has gone full circle.

He started as an assistant with the Kansas men’s basketball team in 1985, and became the Jayhawks’ top guy 18 years later after stops as an assistant at Oklahoma State and head coaching jobs at Oral Roberts, Tulsa, and Illinois.

He’s checked about all the boxes on the list of accomplishments, including the 2008 national championship. But would he like to travel around the country with his team riding a 90- or 100-game winning streak?

“No,” Self said with a smile.

“But we actually have to deal with something similar because we’ve won the Big 12 for 13 straight years. We’re everyone biggest game. It makes it harder but it also prepares you for the postseason.”

So Self, who was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in Springfield as part of the Class of 2017 in September, can relate to the daily trials that Geno Auriemma deals with as coach of the UConn women.

He appreciates what Auriemma - who will go for win No. 1,000 Tuesday when the top-ranked Huskies take on Oklahoma in the Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase at Mohegan Sun Arena - has done.

“It’s excellence,” Self said. “I think that Geno would be successful coaching men, pros, anywhere. He’s a ball coach. The things that they do at Connecticut culturally are the same things that are successful regardless where they coach.

“He takes players that are talented, talented people, and puts them in situations where they have to get better. Anything less than doing it the best you can is unacceptable. What’s amazing about Geno’s run, and Mike Krzyzewski at Duke is the same way, is that he has not relaxed. He is just as intense now at getting better and coaching the Huskies as he was back when he got the job.”

Auriemma, in his 33rd season, will take a 999-135 mark into Tuesday’s game. The Huskies own 11 national championships and have been to 18 Final Fours and the last 29 NCAA tournaments. They have also won 23 regular season conference titles and 22 conference tournament crowns. They have the three longest winning streaks - 111, 90, and 70 - in NCAA history.

Kevin McGuff has gone against Auriemma as an assistant at Notre Dame and as the head coach at Ohio State over the past 20 years. He was on Muffet McGraw’s staff when the Irish won the 2001 national championship - beating UConn two out of three that season including in the Final Four semifinals. He is 0-3 against UConn at Ohio State.

“Geno’s won most games before the ball is tipped,” McGuff said. “Obviously they have recruited some of the best players to have ever played the game so they have had the talent. But I believe that it’s the culture that he’s built with his program that has separated him from everyone else in the country.

“He has standards about the people that he brings in. He has expectations that he does not waver on. Those things over the years have just steam-rolled into this unbelievable culture where the expectations are sky high and their kids meet them on a daily basis. That’s what leads to all the special things they do.”

Louisville coach Jeff Walz knows only one side when it comes to UConn. He is 0-13 against the Huskies since taking over the Cardinals’ program a decade ago, including losses in the 2009 and 2013 NCAA finals.

He hasn’t lost his sense of humor.

“Hopefully, Geno can make it to 1,000 this year,” Walz said with a laugh. “If he continues to let Chris Dailey coach, he’ll be OK. I’m not sure what he’s done to get to (999), but I know what Chris has done.”

Dailey, UConn’s associate head coach, has been on Auriemma’s staff since he was hired in 1985. She has also coached seven games that Auriemma has missed, going 7-0 with Big East tournament titles in 1989 and 1997.

Auriemma would become either the third or fourth women’s coach (North Carolina’s Sylvia Hatchell goes for her 1,000th earlier Tuesday against Grambling), joining late Tennessee mentor Pat Summitt (1,098) and Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer (1,018) in the 1,000 club.

Auriemma, 63, will get there the fastest.

“It’s quite an accomplishment,” Walz said. “Go back and look at the undefeated seasons he’s had or losing one game in a season. It’s remarkable what he’s been able to do.”

Posted in New Britain Herald, UConn on Monday, 18 December 2017 20:00. Updated: Monday, 18 December 2017 20:03.