The United States were not competing at the EuroBasket Women in Latvia, but the Americans were in the Baltics. New USA coach Geno Auriemma and women’s national team director Carol Callan have been in the Arena Riga watching games and getting a feel for some of the players the Americans will go up against at the 2010 FIBA World Championship for Women. Auriemma earlier this year won his sixth NCAA title with the University of Connecticut women’s team. It’s a job he has held since 1985. Six times Auriemma has been named as the Naismith Coach of the Year.
He knows that coaching international basketball in the summers through the 2012 Olympics will present a whole new set of challenges. Auriemma gave this interview to Jeff Taylor in Riga for FIBA.com.
FIBA: Geno, we watched your press conference in April after USA Basketball named you as the coach of their women’s basketball team. Tell us again what this appointment means to you?
AURIEMMA: It's hard to put into words. I thought this opportunity would never come once it went to the WNBA format (USA Basketball changed its rules which previously stipulated the coach needed WNBA coaching experience). It's something that I always wanted to do. I've done a lot of things for USA Basketball over the years. Obviously to have the chance to coach the national team and to hopefully coach the Olympic team, those are the kind of things that every coach would want to do, especially for me since I've got some of my former players, who are so prominent, to get an opportunity to get back with them. It's just something that you never think is going to happen.
FIBA: For someone who has been coaching at UConn since 1985, you look to be in good shape. Are you drinking from the fountain of youth?
AURIEMMA: (Smiles) It has been a lot of fun for me. Maybe when you are doing something that's a lot of fun, you tend not to age. I've got a feeling that in the next three years, I'm going to age a lot.
FIBA: How is it that you have yet to become the Governor of Connecticut, considering all your success at UConn?
AURIEMMA: (Smiles) I've got a better job than the Governor of Connecticut so I don't know that I want to take a step down.
FIBA: Is it fair to say there's only one result that is acceptable for the USA women - winning gold medals at every tournament.
AURIEMMA: Yes, just like at Connecticut. That's how we approach things. That's the bar we've set. You get to the Final Four and you say, "Ok. Now the season starts. Let's see how we're going to do." At USA Basketball, it's not about, 'Are we going to qualify for the Olympics?' It's about, "Okay, when we get to the gold-medal round, who are we going to play?" Is that fair or unfair? It's like Brazil in soccer in the World Cup. There are just certain countries where you win the gold or it's a bad season. We know that going in.
FIBA: That appears to be the attitude that Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, two of your former players at UConn, have no matter what team they play for. They expect to win championships.
AURIEMMA: No question, and that's one of the reasons they have. You look at Diana and she won three (NCAA titles) at Connecticut, Sue two. They have each been on two gold-medal winning teams in Athens, and in Beijing. It follows them around because that's who they are. But there are other players on the team that are used to winning as well. I think Tamika Catchings is one of the all-time great winners, and certainly Candace Parker has had tremendous success. When you see kids like that, all of a sudden you understand why they play the way they do. It's because they're winners.
FIBA: This week in Latvia at the EuroBasket Women, you have spent a few days watching some teams you may face at the 2010 FIBA World Championship for Women. What do you think about them?
AURIEMMA: It's much different to what we see in the States. That's why it's good to come out here and see it. The main difference is that they (Europeans) are players that are much older, not 18-, 19-, 20-yearold players. They're older, more experienced. They understand the subtleties of the game. And that makes for a very interesting game. It's not always about who has the most talent because you've got a lot of clever players out there who can compensate for whatever they don't have. So I'm looking forward to it. My three days here have been great.