STORRS - Shea Ralph came out of the UConn women‚Äôs basketball team‚Äôs locker room at St. Louis‚Äô Chaifetz Arena on Dec. 4 for the second half with her game face on.
But before heading to the Huskies‚Äô bench, she made a quick turn to where her daughter, Maysen Beatrice Garrick, was sitting. Ralph lifted her six-month-old into the air with a smile that lit up the building.
‚ÄúShea‚Äôs such a good mom,‚ÄĚ UConn senior All-American Katie Lou Samuelson said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs funny. Shea is always so intense and then you see her with the baby and it‚Äôs different when she shows her softer side.‚ÄĚ
Maysen checked into the world‚Äôs lineup on June 26, weighing seven pounds and six ounces and at 20 inches long. She‚Äôs the first child for Ralph and husband Tom Garrick.
At age 40, her life has changed forever.
‚ÄúBasketball has always been such a big part of my life and it still is,‚ÄĚ Ralph said. ‚ÄúBut Maysen‚Äôs given me a new perspective. I wake up every day knowing that I have so much more responsibility and that there‚Äôs someone who really depends on me.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs so amazing, I can‚Äôt even begin to describe it. You would never think someone so little can change others so much. I just shake my head over and over and over. She doesn‚Äôt know how much of a difference she‚Äôs made in our lives. We could not be happier. She‚Äôs happy and healthy and always so, so hungry. She‚Äôs a blessing and brought us a happiness that I have never felt before.‚ÄĚ
Ralph is the first assistant to give birth while a member of coach Geno Auriemma‚Äôs staff. Of course, Auriemma successfully recruited Ralph - a native of Fayetteville, North Carolina - to play here a decade after he was hired in 1985.
The oldest of Auriemma‚Äôs three children, Jenna, was born when he was an assistant to Debbie Ryan at Virginia. Jenna is the mother of his three grandchildren.
The Hall of Fame coach gets it.
‚ÄúThere‚Äôs a new priority in Shea‚Äôs life that puts her in a different frame of mind,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúOne thing about Shea is that she‚Äôs all-in on everything. She was adamant that having a family was not going to change her as a basketball coach. But what it does is that it changes you as a person when you have that responsibility.‚ÄĚ
A UConn practice at the on-campus Werth Champions Center is as demanding as ever. The 11 national championship banners and the names of All-Americans, national Player of the Year winners, and Olympic gold medalists that are on the walls are reminders of what came before them.
But after the final shots have been made and the players have given all they have to give, they find the extra energy when Maysen makes her appearance with her mother.
‚ÄúWhen Shea brings the baby to practice, though she is not on the court, everyone is aware that she‚Äôs there and everybody makes a point to have some contact with her,‚ÄĚ Auriemma said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs been really refreshing for everyone. Sometimes we make basketball like it‚Äôs this life-or-death situation. This has been, ‚ÄėPractice is over, the game is over, let‚Äôs go play with the baby.‚Äô ‚ÄĚ
Ralph‚Äôs name is on the wall at Werth and in the Huskies of Honor at Gampel Pavilion. In 2000, she was a consensus first-team All-American and the NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player when the Huskies routed Tennessee in Philadelphia for the program‚Äôs second national championship.
Though knee injuries cost her a chance at a professional career, she brought the same qualities that made her successful as a player to coaching. She was an assistant to Agnus Berenato at Pittsburgh when the Panthers earned their first NCAA Tournament berth (2007) and first Sweet 16 bid (2008). Since Ralph returned to UConn in July 2008 to replace Tonya Cardoza on Auriemma‚Äôs staff, the Huskies have added six national championships and 10 straight Final Four trips to their resume.
Basketball runs deep for Maysen‚Äôs father as well. Tom Garrick was a star at the University of Rhode Island and played four years in the NBA and another six years overseas. He went into coaching after retiring and is now in his first season as the head coach of the UMass-Lowell women.
‚ÄúBefore Maysen was born people were like, ‚ÄėIs she going to be a point guard?‚Äô ‚ÄĚ Ralph said with a laugh.
Of course, Maysen‚Äôs maternal grandmother, Marsha, was an All-American at North Carolina in the 1970s.
So, hoops have to be in her future, right?
‚ÄúI want her to do the things that make her happy, whatever they are,‚ÄĚ Ralph said. ‚ÄúWe have to wait to see what they are. If one of them is basketball, that will be great. We‚Äôre going to be there and support whatever she wants to do.
‚ÄúWould I like to coach her? I don‚Äôt know. I think there are good things that can come out from having a parent coach their child. I would love trying to teach her. But I would also want her to learn from others besides her father and I. We‚Äôll want her to understand that we‚Äôll be there to help but we have to be able to separate that we‚Äôre also her parents.‚ÄĚ
Ralph said it‚Äôs been fun watching Maysen grow and seeing her personality develop. She certainly seems to enjoy the attention she gets after practice.
Another change for Ralph came the day before Maysen was born, June 25, when she and Garrick - the couple has been together for about a decade - got married.
‚ÄúWe wanted to be a family when she was born,‚ÄĚ Ralph said.
And while she‚Äôll have her family at home, her UConn family will support her every step of the way.
Once a Husky, always a Husky.
‚ÄúThe staff has been amazing and I appreciate everything that they do,‚ÄĚ Ralph said. ‚ÄúAnd they did so much for me when I was away during the summer. CD (associate head coach Chris Dailey) took a lot off of my plate, Coach Auriemma, too. They‚Äôve all been so great, the coaches and players, and so welcoming to having Maysen around. It means so much to me.‚ÄĚ
To the top-ranked Huskies (11-0), who start a two-game road trip to Texas with Thursday‚Äôs showdown at No. 7 Baylor, Maysen, too, is family.
‚ÄúShe is so precious,‚ÄĚ UConn point guard Crystal Dangerfield said. ‚ÄúIf Shea needs a babysitter, I‚Äôll be ready.‚ÄĚ