Legends of the Game: Geno Auriemma

February 27, 2024
Today, we’re diving into one of women’s basketball’s best: current UConn head coach Geno Auriemma, whose (still unfolding) legacy combines a stretch of sheer dominance, the charisma to match, and an ongoing commitment to elevating the women’s game.
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Legends of the Game: Geno Auriemma
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🏀 The history

The beginning: Basketball wasn’t Auriemma’s first love. Born in Montella, Italy, he was first drawn to soccer and then baseball after immigrating to the U.S. at the age of 7. But basketball became the sport that stuck after he took it up as a sophomore in high school. A match made in hoops heaven.

  • Though Auriemma’s playing days were relatively short, he found his passion behind the bench. But it wasn’t until he accepted an assistant position at the University of Virginia in 1981 that Auriemma’s coaching star truly began to rise.

At the helm: After a successful stint with the Cavaliers, the basketball world took notice. In 1985, Auriemma’s decision to take the head coaching (HC) position at the University of Connecticut — without ever having seen the team’s facilities — would irrevocably change the landscape of women’s hoops. When you know, you know.

  • The UConn women had only one winning season before Auriemma’s arrival. In the 39 years since he became HC, they’ve only had one losing one — his first.
  • UConn’s hoops dominance came fast and ferociously: Auriemma was the third Division I NCAA HC to reach 1,200 career wins, but the fastest to do so. Despite the criticism that came with the Huskies’ complete domination, Auriemma’s tenure has ushered in a dramatic rise in the popularity of the women’s game.

The legacy: Auriemma has the statistics, the awards and accolades, and even the Olympic golds to cement his place as one of hoops’ greatest coaches. But his enduring legacy is intertwined with the evolution of the women’s game — a torch that was passed on to him by his greatest rival: Pat Summitt.

  • Summitt gave the women’s game legitimacy, propelling it into the spotlight, but Auriemma’s UConn program made it a revenue-maker, selling out games and consistently bringing in record-breaking audiences. History in the making.

🔢 By the numbers

Legends of the Game: Geno Auriemma
Source: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Two: Auriemma recently became the second-most winningest coach in Division 1 men’s or women’s basketball history, reaching 1,203 career victories with last week’s 73–53 dub over Creighton.

11: The number of NCAA Championships the Huskies have won during Auriemma’s tenure — an NCAA record.

22: The number of Final Fours UConn has advanced to in the Auriemma era, including an NCAA-record 14 straight, a streak that lasted until 2023. Never not dancing.

111: The (you guessed it) NCAA-record consecutive games UConn won from 2014 to 2017. The Auriemma-led Huskies have also notched dub streaks of 70 and 90 games and posted six undefeated seasons.

0.882: Auriemma’s winning percentage over his almost four-decade tenure at UConn, the best in college hoops history. Can’t stop, won’t stop.

45: The number of WNBA draftees that have attended UConn under Auriemma, including 26 players picked in the first round and five selected at No. 1 — Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Tina Charles, Maya Moore, and Breanna Stewart. Must be something in that Storrs water.

🗣 What other legends are saying

Legends of the Game: Geno Auriemma
Source: Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

“…what he doesn’t get enough credit for is developing women coaches. His assistants are all women, and he’s helped other women get jobs. He’s keeping the pipeline of young women coaches going, and that’s a real positive in our game.”

Stanford women’s basketball HC Tara VanDerveer (the lone NCAA HC with more wins than Auriemma), commenting on Auriemma’s women-dominated coaching tree in 2017. Continuing to plant the seeds and level that playing field.

"The relationships he has with his players — even after we graduate — speaks to the heart and soul of what he was a coach and [what] the program is all about. It’s about developing and bringing out the good — on the court and off the court — in the players themselves."

— WNBA MVP (and the Huskies’ all-time leading scorer) Maya Moore Irons, on how Auriemma’s holistic approach to coaching transcends hoops. Bigger than basketball.

“Really what makes him special, I always joke with him, it’s not your Xs and Os, buddy. It’s not that… it’s a little bit of that… But he does have this innate, unique way of tapping into people… seeing them for who they are, tapping into that and pulling it out.”

— Four-time WNBA champion and 13-time WNBA All-Star, the aforementioned Sue Bird, on Auriemma’s ability to extract the best out of his players.

“As a kid, UConn was my dream school. Seeing them win all those national titles and then visiting campus and seeing them up close, it was everything I've dreamed of and more… I want to be a part of what UConn has built. Women's basketball is what UConn is known for.”

— Current UConn superstar senior Paige Bueckers, on how the Auriemma-led Huskies’ consistent success and team culture drew her to the program…and kept her around.

📌 The bottom line

Legends of the Game: Geno Auriemma
Source: The GIST

Auriemma’s impact is tangible. In building a sustained UConn dynasty, he tapped into the market of women’s college hoops, provided opportunities for women coaches to thrive, and ultimately elevated the game.