Former UConn players apply Auriemma lessons as coaches
STORRS, CONN. >> Tufts coach Carla Berube says Geno Auriemma would recognize a lot of the things she does in practice with her Jumbos.
After all, she learned them while playing on Auriemma's first national championship team at UConn.
Berube and her players are in Indianapolis this weekend, preparing to play Thomas More for the Division III national title, while Auriemma and the Huskies are there looking for their 11th Division I championship and fourth in a row. This season, all three NCAA women's championship games will be played at the same venue, Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Auriemma's influence isn't hard to find. Morgan Valley, who played on three UConn championship teams between 2000-2004, is an assistant this season with the Washington Huskies, who are in the Final Four.
"I kind of feel like we're his disciples," said Berube. "We learned so much from him and we have so much to give to others."
Auriemma has a growing coaching tree. The list of other former Auriemma players or assistants who went on to coach elsewhere also includes current and former head coaches Tonya Cardoza at Temple, Charlene Curtis, who coached at Wake Forest, Jamelle Elliott at Cincinnati, and Jennifer Rizzotti at Hartford.
Several others are assistant coaches, including Shea Ralph, who has been coaching with Auriemma at UConn for eight seasons.
"He tends to recruit high IQ basketball players," Rizzotti said. "And those are the type that end up getting into coaching."
All of them, Valley said, take something from Auriemma.
"I think it's probably the discipline," she said. "Just thinking of the other assistants, former players that he has, former players of his that are either head coaches or assistants are all pretty disciplined in their daily life as coaches."
Berube said she never thought about coaching until after college when she took a volunteer job helping out at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. But once she did, she found herself channeling her former coach.
"And a lot of it is not Xs and Os," she said. "It's how to be focused day in and day out, every practice, every day, every drill."
Berube said she brought her team watch a UConn practice a couple years ago, in part to give them a first-hand look at how hard the Huskies work every day. She also went to Hartford for a day this past fall to trade notes with Rizzotti.
But his former players say they don't spend a lot of time on the phone with Auriemma picking his brain. They see him and each other just a couple times a year — at the Final Four, at weddings, baby showers or on the recruiting trail.
Usually they talk family, not basketball.
"What I'm most proud of is they've all gone out and did it their own way and coached the way their personality coaches," said Auriemma, who plans to be in the crowd Monday night, cheering for Berube. "I think the biggest mistake that any one of my former players that went into coaching, the biggest mistake they could make is go out and say, 'Well, I'm going to do it exactly the way Coach Auriemma did it."'
For Ralph, becoming a good coach is not about copying Auriemma but doing what he showed her a coach could do — challenge, inspire, push limits.
That was a sentiment echoed by his other protégés, who say they expect the Auriemma coaching tree to grow as some of his better players begin to retire from professional basketball.
"The biggest thing I learned from him is that I wanted to have an impact other basketball player's lives, like he had on mine," Ralph said. "I think a lot of us feel that way."
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