SPORTS ILLUSTRATED devoted 8 pages and its’ April 13th cover to the Men’s NCAA Basketball Championship Game won by the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. The next day, Gino Auriemma’s UConn Huskies went 39-0 to complete a perfect season and win their 6th national championship. For their efforts, the Huskies got a one page spread in the back of the April 20th issue. So much for gender equity!
This is the third Auriemma led team to run the table and successfully complete their national championship quest undefeated. It’s a shame that they get very little recognition for their amazing efforts in the mainstream sports media. No worries though, because winning isn’t the main issue according to Coach Auriemma, perfection is. Perfection, Auriemma style has less to do with the game’s outcome and much more to do with how his team executes, both offensively and defensively. After blow-outs, Gino has been know to show his players a “lowlight” tape before the next practice that underlines all the things that the Huskies didn’t do well. Practice is then intensively geared to correcting those mistakes.
Auriemma takes a lot of criticism about his coaching style but having seen him in action both in practice and at games, and having talked to many of his athletes when I was on staff at UConn, what’s clear to me is that the man genuinely cares about his players and flat-out knows how to coach. As a result, his teams know how to play with intensity and how to do this under extremes of competitive pressure. Auriemma consistently finds ways to win even in the midst of hardship and loss. This year he lost the top recruit in the country to burnout before the season even started and the starting point guard in January to a season-ending ACL tear.
His attitude about coaching excellence and what it means to be a “winner” puts him in very good and rare company indeed. It reminds me of a guy you may have heard of before by the name of John Wooden. The Hall of Fame coach from UCLA and winner of 10 consecutive NCAA championships also believed that what was most important was executing to your ability. This is how Coach Wooden defined success, not by the game’s outcome. Not a bad model to follow if you ask me!
So props to the Lady Huskies. They earned it the old fashioned way with great team chemistry in an era when hype, selfishness and “me” dominate so many male teams.