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Don’t blame UConn women for their hoops success

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On Tuesday night, the University of Connecticut Lady Huskies go for a number of jaw-dropping records. Most importantly, they will seek to beat the Syracuse Orange for the NCAA Championship.

A victory will wrap up their 11th national title and fourth in succession. They would finish the year at 38-0, marking the fifth perfect season. All of their wins have been by double digits.

They are on a 73-game winning streak, second only to the 90-game streak they set a few years ago. The Huskies have won at least 30 games in 21 of the last 23 years.

Players come and go, but the one constant is Head Coach Geno Auriemma, who is completing his 30th season at UConn. During that time, he has coached 1,051 games and won 917 of those.

Women’s college basketball is not in the same conversation as the men’s game. Auriemma is part of the reason for that.

To those who say the women’s game is boring because of the success of UConn and their coach, they have a point. But what is the suggestion to make things exciting?

Tell his players to take it easy? Place a limit on the talent they are allowed to recruit?

That calls to mind the same complaints when Pat Summitt and Tennessee dominated the sport 20 or so years ago. They won eight titles and they were somehow killing the sport with their success.

Auriemma deals with that constantly. Recently, a Boston Globe columnist tweeted his view about watching the Huskies. “Watch? No thanks.”

The coach responded. “Don’t watch,” he said. “Nobody’s putting a gun to your head to watch.”

Both are right. It is difficult, if not impossible, to sit through 40 minutes of a monster truck rolling over a line of outclassed opponents. It’s not good television.

On the other hand, it is amazing to look at what Auriemma has built. When he took the job in 1985, the program had only one winning season in its history.

Unlike mere mortal coaches, Auriemma apparently does not recruit. He selects.

Sports have shown us that the team with the most talent does not always win. Auriemma clearly uses his basketball knowledge and ability to mold and motivate his individual players into a winning unit.

Watching them on television can be boring, but one cannot help but admire the program he has developed. In addition, everyone graduates from the women’s basketball program. That, too, is especially worthy of admiration.

For those who dislike Auriemma for his personality, his success, or both, he is not such a bad guy when coaching the U.S. Women’s Team in the Olympics. His squad won the gold medal in London in 2012 and he will again assemble and coach the 2016 team in Rio de Janeiro.

The list of his great players is long, including Dianna Taurasi, Rebecca Lobo and Maya Moore. Many are saying that UConn’s greatest player will be playing tonight.

Breanna Stewart is a three-time National Player of the Year (including 2016) and a three-time Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Tournament. Number four could come tonight.

The good news for other schools is Auriemma is 62 and will likely retire in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, the John Wooden of women’s basketball keeps making history.

Not that many are likely to be around to see the end of tonight’s game where more history is likely to be made.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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