SAITAMA, Japan (AP) – There is definitely a UConn flavor to the women’s basketball played at the Tokyo Games.…
SAITAMA, Japan (AP) — There is definitely a UConn flavor to the women’s basketball played in the Tokyo Games.
The school that has dominated women’s football for the past two decades has branched out internationally with former players representing not only the US but also France and Canada.
It’s no coincidence.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma is recruiting more internationally.
“Some of these other countries have a basketball culture, their style of play is more like the style I like to coach,” he said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “There’s a discipline about them that I like.”
There are 10 current or former Huskies at the Tokyo Games as players or coaches in both 3-on-3 and 5-on-5 basketball. No other university has come close to having so many players in the history of Olympic basketball. There would have been an 11th, but Katie Lou Samuelson contracted COVID just before the teams left Las Vegas for the Olympics.
“It’s satisfying in many ways and humbling in many ways to see them,” said Auriemma, who coached the U.S. Olympic team in 2012 and 2016. “We’ve had someone on Olympic teams every year since 1996. I like to think it’s not an accident that just happens because of circumstances.”
The impressive run includes Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Breanna Stewart, Rebecca Lobo and Maya Moore. With Stefanie Dolson helping the 3-on-3 team win the inaugural tournament, 10 different Huskies have now earned gold medals in the Olympics.
“It feels like I’m seeing history in the making. Because last year it was Sue and Dee to see the people who came after me,” said the first Olympian Napheesa Collier. “I don’t feel like I’ve been out of college for so long and it’s cool to see people who are in college now playing in the Olympics. It’s a step back and observe a kind of moment.
“I grew up watching Sue and Dee. Feels like a full circle moment.”
American assistant coach Jen Rizzotti was part of the Huskies’ first title in 1995. She helped the 2016 Rio Games team as a scout and now sits on the bench to assist Dawn Staley.
“The 24-25 years that we’ve been represented here, that’s a pretty long time,” she said. “I don’t know if we expected this when it started years ago. It’s cool to see other countries picking up Connecticut players now. When I was still playing we didn’t have international players, Svetlana (Abrosimova) was the first and she was chasing me quite a bit.”
It was a Huskies reunion on Monday when the Americans defeated France 93-82. Gabby Williams, who played with Breanna Stewart and Collier in Connecticut, was on the French team because her mother is from that country.
“I mean, that’s UConn. We have great players everywhere,” she said. “UConn produces great athletes.”
It’s not just past Huskies playing in the Olympics.
The youngest of the UConn group, Aaliyah Edwards plays for Canada and joins Kia Nurse who played in the 2016 Olympics. She played just 31 seconds for Canada, which was eliminated in billiards. She is entering her second season at the school this year.
“UConn is a great program and the coach really takes pride in training you and developing you into a pro,” said Edwards. “It goes without saying. There are a lot of great Huskies here. I am honored to represent my country, Canada, on this podium and also show a little love to the Husky nation.”
Edwards said she didn’t see many of the Huskies growing up in Canada, but Nurse was someone she looked up to.
“She’s Canadian and grew up near my hometown,” Edwards said.
Auriemma plans to watch the rest of the Olympics with pride, despite the late start times for the East Coast games.
“It’s hard to put into words,” said the coach. “I don’t have the right way to express how incredibly proud we are of them here.”
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